WELL, SINCE WE'RE IN the market for bad economic news, here's some more: European inflation has hit 4 pc. This almost certainly means the European Central Bank will raise interest rates when it meets Thursday. That's bad. That's very bad.
The reason, of course, is because it will increase the interest-rate spread between the Federal Reserve and the ECB, which now stands at two percent. The cost of funds for banks in the US is now 2 pc and in Europe it is now 4 pc. This difference may not seem like a lot, but since capital flows are uncaring about human feelings, any moves will further exacerbate the already-alarming disparity between the dollar and the euro, and thus make all sorts of goods from abroad more expensive. Like, say, oil.
Just one month ago it looked as if the ECB would actually have to start reducing its benchmark rate late this year or early next. But the Europeans, who remember their bouts with high, super-high and hyperinflation from the earlier part of last century, have a pathological aversion to inflation and so will fight it at any cost -- even if it means helping wreck their economy in the process (and perhaps ours).
It is true that inflation is too high for comfort at this point, but at the same time I wonder -- is it so bad that we need higher interest rates? Certainly these folks think so, but I'm not convinced. The last thing we need is a Volcker-esque strangling of the economy like we saw in the early 1980s.
True, Volcker faced a far different situation -- with inflation running at 14 pc, he had to break the cycle of inflation no matter the cost. Today, on the other hand, inflation is running about ten points lower, which in theory would give our economic masters a little leeway in balancing the inflation-growth equation. It would be nice if they used some of it.
I SAW AN INTERESTING REPORT on The Consumerist, a commercial-watchdog site, which reported on the story of a man who found himself needing an oil change someplace in -- God help him -- Idaho. As such, the driver -- a San Francisco resident driving a Honda Civic -- was in dire straits, and found the only place he could have his car's oil changed was at a Wal-Mart.
Somehow, due to general incompetence, the staff at the Wal-Mart managed not to change his oil -- and then offered up the excuse that things got tricky with fancy foreign automobiles. The writer, whom I would again note lives in San Francisco, then complains about Wal-Mart most vociferously.
For the record, I don't believe one can castigate the entire Wal-Mart chain for the incompetence of its staff at one store in some backwater Idaho town, nor do I think high officials at Wal-Mart would be pleased to learn about this incompetence. The episode does, however, reinforce the importance of finding a decent place to get one's oil changed, and doing it in a locality where there are multiple service providers, thus allowing the Magic of Competition to do its work.
For my money, I've found the Valvoline Instant Oil Change chain a decent service-provider in this regard. For one thing, they let you stay in your car, which allows you to see the work being performed. They have a series of checks and balances their staff uses to make sure there are no missed steps or mistakes made, such as leaving the oil cap undone. They have never, in my experience, used high-pressure sales tactics and the one time I had a worker get too enthusiastic about trying to sell me an optional service, his manager yelled at him. (The work in question had already been done three visits beforehand). The one bad experience I had with oil changes was with the Jiffy Lube chain, after workers at a store in California somehow left some kind of tiny hose in my car's innards; I discovered this when an oil-change worker in New Hampshire shouted, "What the hell is THAT?" roughly a year later. But despite my bad experience with Jiffy Lube I would not rule out getting my oil changed there; it's just that I have found a competent and pleasant alternative. Plus, Valvoline's not bad on price.
Some commenters on The Consumerist have criticized the driver for knowing precious little about cars, but I don't see why that is all that relevant. I certainly know little about cars; I have a vague idea of how to change the oil and transmission fluid myself, but I am smart enough to have people who do that for a living take care of it. It makes little sense for me to try doing all that when I can have experts do it for the equivalent of $20. (The oil change costs more, of course, but when you factor in the cost of motor oil, $20 is about right).
And now, a plug for the domestic auto industry: one of the minor reasons behind my purchase of an American car was my experience growing up in Michigan, where the Big Three even now still command 90 pc of the auto market. Driving an American car means I don't have any worries about finding a mechanic to service it.
This is not an issue in the major cities anymore, but I do think that in certain rural markets it may be difficult to find mechanics who can service foreign automobiles, particularly high-end foreign cars. For that matter, when I was growing up, foreign cars (and by extension, the people who drove them) weren't particularly popular in certain circles -- and, if this report is any indication, they're still not. Since I travel back to Michigan once a year or so, not having to deal with dirty looks from my fellow freeway travelers isn't a positive -- but conversely, it's not a negative I have to deal with either.
IN THE INTERESTS of full disclosure, I must note the angry man is the brother of a friend of mine. Still, I'm impressed with the guy's gumption -- I think most people, myself included, would have simply just switched banks.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS reports: amidst flaccid demand for their services, Nevada brothels are offering gas cards, price discounts, and stimulus-check specials to customers.
This can't be a good sign for the economy.
LAST YEAR, WHEN I took my massive two week long-driving vacation around the East/Midwest/South, I started out the trip watching an NFL Films special on -- of all teams -- the Houston Oilers. I was doing last-minute things, such as making sure the stove was turned off, while in the background this special was airing. As I was going about my work, I heard the stentorian voice of Harry Kalas intone, "The 1988 Houston Oilers tested the waters of greatness."
What? What did he just say? I thought to myself. Tested the waters of greatness? You have got to be kidding me. Of all the hackneyed, trite phrases to use -- I love it!
As such, I resolved to use it myself somehow, and with my new banner, I am glad to have a use for it. I might add the 2008 Grand Rapids Rampage -- in the fifth panel on the banner -- are testing the waters of greatness, and I wish them well in their playoff battle against the Arizona Rattlers Monday night on ESPN2.
I DON'T KNOW HOW I MISSED THIS -- but I did. It's this year's "Get Your Story Straight" commercial for the NFL Network, which as always saves the best joke for last:
AS AN HONORABLE MENTION, I'd also present a short clip the college kids came up with on college football. This is primarily because it mentions a certain Midwestern university, much to my chagrin:
AS PART OF MY DAY JOB -- which, I would note, is entirely separate from my work here at The Rant -- I recently appeared on WMUR-TV's "New Hampshire's Business" segment. The link leads to a special on-line segment that was also taped.
RADIO TALK HOST Hugh Hewitt has some explaining to do. I can assure readers that on June 25, Hewitt -- I will not refer to him as Mr -- said the following on his syndicated radio program, which is broadcast on more than 100 stations throughout the United States:
By the way, I -- I'm still trying to find two tickets to the Ohio State-USC game. And none of the USC people will give up their tickets to me. I'd pay fair price. They -- they know Ohio State's gonna slaughter the Trojans. They know that they're gonna slaughter the Trojans, and therefore they do not want me there at the bloodbath, since it's probably the last football game we'll ever get to see before the United States gets blown up by the Islamists under Obama. I -- I would like to see Ohio State slaughter USC. This is what I'm living for right now. I'm keeping -- all the bad news, I just focus on the Ohio State upcoming slaughter of USC. So if you are a USC fan willing to sell me two or perhaps even three USC tickets to the Ohio State game, firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you're a Buckeye fan with those tickets back in Ohio, I'll trade you some Browns tickets. New York Giants, Monday night game? Think about it. Hugh Hewitt Show.
These comments have caused certain bloggers to heap much derision upon Hewitt, although they have not focused on the prime issue. Yes, it is true Hewitt deserves a 15-yard penalty for dragging politics -- that awful, wretched curse of politics -- into a discussion about college football, which is pure and glorious and wonderful. But I don't care about that. That is politics, and as such is simply red meat for the mob.
What I do care about, however, is that Hewitt is an admitted Ohio State fan. A passionate one, in fact. Furthermore, I note that Hewitt -- according to this blog -- is also an admitted Notre Dame fan, and again, a passionate one.
True, Hewitt grew up in Warren, Ohio, a wretched burg northwest of Youngstown. This might explain his Ohio State fandom. True, Hewitt attended a Catholic high school while living in Warren, which might explain his Notre Dame fandom -- even if he is a reported Presbyterian.
But, ladies and gentlemen, Hewitt also is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Law.
We have a major problem here.
You see, it is not as if Hewitt went to Notre Dame or Ohio State for his undergraduate work, which would partially excuse him from his delusional antics on behalf of those schools. Oh, no. Hewitt went to Harvard. Since we all know Harvard is the Michigan of the East, this only worsens his transgression against the institution which launched his career. Whether he likes it or not, he is a Michigan man, and as such he must root for the Wolverines above all or be scandalized for not doing so.
I mean, really. It was bad enough that Michael Moore, who attended the University of Michigan at Flint, has appeared on film wearing a Michigan State cap. But this perfidy is far more serious than Moore's transgression. Since his sin is more pathetic than reprehensible, Moore could easily be redeemed, for like all Spartan fans he also hates Ohio State. If he would simply drop his Spartan allegiance and return to the Michigan fold, I am sure Michigan's Alumni Directorate (our motto: imperium supra omnes) would not hold any hard feelings.
Yet one wonders whether Hewitt could even be redeemed; indeed, it is even possible he does not want to be redemeed from his wretched existence. Shocking, I know, but we cannot ignore unpleasant realities. Certainly his reported love for Notre Dame only compounds his treachery. It does not matter that Charlie Weis is a nice guy; you don't root for Notre Dame above your alma mater. Here's the truth: that's just wrong.
Given all this, I must ask Hewitt's radio listeners: can you trust a man who openly roots for the enemies of an institution where he received a degree? Furthermore, can you trust a man who would inject politics into the sacred realm of college football? Finally, since we have established Hewitt's perfidy when it comes to his college football loyalties, does it not stand to reason one can trust nothing out of the man's mouth? I mean, my God. Any man who would throw the beloved Michigan Wolverines under the bus to root for that school (and that other school) is ... well, a sad case.
As a result, I call upon fans of the University of Southern California Trojans to OPENLY MOCK Hewitt for his perfidious football loyalties and refuse to sell him any of their tickets for the game between Ohio State and USC. Besides, it's almost certain he will try to lowball you on the tickets, and then get in a snit when you hold out for market price. Ohio State fans in the Cleveland area, who might be tempted to spring for Hewitt's offer of Browns-Giants tickets, should also refuse to trade -- any man who would trade Browns-Giants tickets is a cad, a scoundrel and a fool. The Browns are going to be good this year; the idea one would give up tickets to a great game like that is further proof of Hewitt's inherent weirdness.
And if all that doesn't get Hewitt back in the Michigan tent, maybe we can have him exiled to France or something.
FOR THOSE READERS unfamiliar with the grand sport of arena football, the above statement may seem a bit strange, especially when one hears about arenaball teams scoring 60, 70, or even 80 points in a game. But this was the case last night in Manchester, when my beloved Manchester Wolves (6-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, crushed the Albany Conquest (4-9) 50-33. There was some beautiful defensive ball played last night and I can't say enough good things about how well our defense performed.
We must have sacked Albany's quarterback six or seven times during the game -- I wish I could give an exact number, but I lost count of how many sacks we had. For that matter, I lost count of how many sacks our rookie lineman Larry McSwain, out of UAB, had during the game, but it must have been three or four. His fellow UAB alum Bradly Chavez, who has fast become a fan favorite, had not one but two fumble recoveries -- including one beautiful play where he recovered a fumble for a touchdown. He simply scooped up the ball and was off to the races.
I have long contended the smart thing for players to do when they're going after a fumble is simply to fall on it: that ensures the ball doesn't slip from their grasp in the recovery attempt. On the play prior to Chavez's scoop for six, I had politely reminded the team about this, as Albany had fumbled the ball on that play too but managed to recover it after a prolonged fight. OK, I was actually screaming, "Fall on it! Fall on the ball!" But I suppose that advice goes out of the window when you're a hands guy.
In any event, defense won this game. Defense also kept Albany in it: despite stellar opening play on Manchester's part, the Conquest made a crucial interception of our quarterback, James Pinkney, as Manchester was seeking to extend our 13-0 lead. This allowed Albany back into the game, and before one knew it, it was halftime and the score was 20-20 -- and Albany started out with the ball in the second half. But Manchester's defense really stepped up in the second half -- I mean, they got a safety, for Pete's sake -- and so did our offense, which powered home in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Everyone had a lot to be proud of in this game, although being a perfectionist I was a little concerned about the interceptions our quarterback threw.
Although Manchester's victory was not a surprise, I was surprised to learn upon my arrival at home we were still in ninth place in the af2's American Conference. The stupid Quad City Steamwheelers (7-6) of Moline, Ill., somehow managed to wallop the Green Bay Blizzard (9-4). God, how I wanted Green Bay to win that game -- had they done so, they would have probably pushed Quad City down into ninth place. But the news was not all bad last night. Somehow, the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder (3-10) of Youngstown, Ohio, beat the Louisville Fire (7-6), putting Louisville uncomfortably close to the hot seat. And the pathetic Stockton (Calif.) Lightning (3-10) beat the Tennesee Valley Vipers in Huntsville, Ala., to put TVV at 8-5 on the season. If the Peoria Pirates (4-8) can beat the Lexington Horsemen (7-5) tonight, that will really make things interesting.
The Wolves get a well-deserved rest next week, but will come back in the following week to play the Thunder at home. Sweet. Here's looking forward to a 7-7 record as of July 12.
THEY DID IT AGAIN! Loyal Rant Readers who may recall my "Adolf Hitler, Dallas Cowboys Fan" post will not be surprised at my argument one could as easily contend Hitler would be a fan of the Dallas Desperadoes. After all, both the NFL and AFL franchises are owned by Mr Jerral Jones and as such are evil. Also, both Dallas squads are quick becoming known for playing fabulous during the regular season, only to get knocked on their asses during the playoffs.
Well, much to my surprise -- and I think everyone else's -- the New York Dragons stepped up last night and beat Dallas on Dallas' home turf, 77-63. Heh. Beautiful. Last year, Dallas went 15-1 in the regular season, yet lost to the 7-9 Columbus Destroyers in the first round of the playoffs. This year, Dallas went 12-4 in the regular season, yet lost to the Dragons, which were 8-8.
Oh, joy and rapture. I mean, Dallas had a great squad again this year, and an unstoppable offense -- and having seen them play live, I can attest to this. But how wonderful was it to learn they had lost, lost, lost, and to New York of all teams! Perhaps this schadenfreude is unseemly, but as one catchy pop song puts it, "It felt so wrong, it felt so right." Yeah.
New York goes on to face the No. 1 ranked Philadelphia Soul next week.
Good luck with that.
This afternoon's AFL game is Colorado v. Utah, while on Monday night we'll have a double-header: Orlando at Cleveland and Grand Rapids at Arizona. The Colorado-Utah game will be on ESPN and the Monday night games will be on ESPN2. Here we go, here we go, here we go!
WELL, OK, SO GEORGE CARLIN doesn't explicitly say football is better than baseball in this classic routine, and instead just compares the two sports. But if you ask me, the differences between the sports he points out stand as clear and conclusive proof -- to me, anyway -- that football is better than baseball. Yes, it may be a matter of preference, but ... I mean, it's football. How could it be anything but the best sport on earth?
It's a shame Mr Carlin died, as I'm sure everyone has heard. I saw one of his live performances in Las Vegas some years back; he was quite funny and definitely full of spit and vinegar.
OK, THERE'S GOOD NEWS! The American schedule for Canadian Football League broadcasts is out!
Unfortunately I shall not actually get to, you know, follow any of the games. Not on television, not over the Internet, and not over the radio. This is because of the following:
The only television broadcasts in the United States are available on stations I don't receive. It is not a question of upgrading my cable package, either: I couldn't get these stations if I tried. America One doesn't have any New England affiliates, and the only other cable TV alternative is some premium option on Cablevision's system. Nor, from what I've been able to tell, would satellite television -- which I can't have anyway -- allow me to get the games.
Also, Comcast doesn't carry ESPN360 -- it's Comcastic! -- which means I can't stream the games over the Internet. TSN's pay-per-view Web casts are blacked out in the United States. Thus, the only option is SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The options there are far too expensive to justify buying it for Canadian football.
So I'm screwed.
Way to manage, hosers! Way to manage!
THE RANT notes with amusement the following summation of WALL-E, the new Disney movie for children arriving in theatres this Friday:
WALL-E is the story of the last little robot on Earth. He is a robot and his programming was to help clean up. You see, it's set way in the future. Through consumerism, rampant, unchecked consumerism, the Earth was covered with trash. And to clean up, everyone had to leave Earth and set in place millions of these little robots that went around to clean up the trash and make Earth habitable again.
Well, the cleanup program failed with the exception of this one little robot and he's left on Earth doing his duty all alone. He doesn't know he can stop working. But it's not a story about science fiction. It's a love story, because, you see, WALL·E falls in love with EVE, a robot from a probe that comes down to recover the last plant left on Earth, which curious little Wall-E has picked up. He absolutely falls in love with her.
According to Wikipedia, the speaker of these words was no less than John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Mr Lasseter reportedly made these remarks in a presentation to investors at Disney's 2007 Investors Conference, and a PDF transcript with his remarks in it is hosted at Disney's Web site. You're welcome, I'm sure.
My question: did any of the investors at the conference raise an eyebrow at this? I mean, for God's sake, it's The Walt Disney Co., which last time I checked made a lot of money off rampant, unchecked consumerism. (Not that I disapprove of rampant, unchecked consumerism, mind you).
So I'm torn here. In making a movie that implicitly bashes rampant consumerism, yet was undoubtedly made with an eye towards encouraging rampant consumerism through the purchase of toys, books and myriad other merchandising opportunities, has Disney achieved capitalist enlightenment or plumbed a new depth of soulless, hypocritical greed? I can't say I know the answer to that. But I bet the investors were happy, if perplexed at first -- as we can see in this dramatization:
EXECUTIVE: Thank you, John, for that exciting presentation. Now, we'll turn to the FY 07 forecast, and --
INVESTOR: Excuse me! Excuse me!
EXECUTIVE: Yes, sir.
INVESTOR: Uh, Mr Lasseter said the backstory for the movie involves an Earth littered with trash due to rampant, unchecked consumerism.
EXECUTIVE: Yes, sir.
INVESTOR: Uh, do we really want to bring that up?
EXECUTIVE: I don't understand.
INVESTOR: Don't we make billions of dollars a year encouraging rampant consumerism? I mean, Christ, everywhere I go with my kids, it's Little Mermaid this, Buzz Lightyear that, I want I want I want. Not that I mind this, of course.
EXECUTIVE: Well, "To infinity and beyond!" has always been our revenue target!
INVESTOR: Right. Which is great! I mean, I want families to spend their hard-earned money -- preferably all of it, and even money they don't have -- at our theme parks, on our merchandise, and on our videos. Especially because we've got a net profit margin of like 14 pc. But aren't we running a risk implicitly bashing the very thing we want to encourage?
EXECUTIVE: But don't you see? That's our selling point!
EXECUTIVE: People want a feel-good summer movie they can take their kids to see, right? Well, this is certainly one of them. Parents can feel like their kids are learning a valuable lesson, while at the same time tempering their own consumerism. But they'll just limit it to other things, or buy carbon credits, or do something else inherently useless. They won't limit it when it comes to buying our merchandise, which their kids will love! And demand.
INVESTOR: But the DVD boxes to all our videos could fill Yellowstone.
EXECUTIVE: You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Besides -- we're not Lucasfilm!
SECOND INVESTOR: You know, you can't argue with that logic.
INVESTOR: Well, yeah, but ...
EXECUTIVE: Did I mention we have a whole bunch of gelato left over from lunch? It's free!
EXECUTIVE: That's right! FREE GELATO!
I'm not saying. I'm just saying.
LET'S SAY YOU'RE A business student studying for the GMAT, the standardized exam students applying to graduate business schools must generally take. One day, you stumble across a site that promises to divulge information about current test questions for the sum of, say, $30. You are concerned about your potential performance on the GMAT, and are wondering whether you should spring for membership. Should you?
As we will see, the answer is a definite No.
Apparently, one such site enticed more than 1,000 prospective business-school students to sign up to get these questions, according to Business Week magazine. Due to bad planning, however, the site was apparently incautious about its operations, and the people who run the GMAT found out about it. One $2.3 million judgment later, the operator of the site has fled to his native China and the GMAT folks are in possession of the site's hard drive. As a result, Business Week reports, the students who paid to use the site are about to reap the whirlwind of Academic Justice, which as we all know is pitiless, merciless, brutal and swift. Stakes are so small and all that.
This to me is not so much an ethical question -- although there are ethical questions surrounding it -- as it is an introduction to how the business world works. In the real world, companies jealously covet their intellectual property, and are not about to have some upstart steal it and undercut a particularly lucrative business line. Nor will they stand idly by when threats to their brand's reputation exist. Nor, when presented with such threats, will they hesitate to chop off the heads of the people responsible.
Along those lines, the colleges themselves will not hesitate to chop off the heads of prospective or current students if they are judged guilty of using this site. After all, they have their own brands and reputations to protect. Thus, unless a student is particularly brilliant or naive, he will get cashiered out of the place faster than one can say Jack Robinson.
True, the students could offer defenses. Good luck with that, kids. If there's enough evidence, it will stick. The students might even sue. Again, good luck with that -- try getting a lawyer to take that on contigency.
I do realize one could argue the offense is relatively minor; but even minor things have a way of turning into major things. For instance, let's say your company acquires a contract to build a school in some foreign country, by which I do not mean China. To get the contract, you have to offer a bite or two of your apple to the local big shots. No big deal, right?
Well, contract in hand, you go about building the school. But as part of the deal you have a local partner who has also greased various palms to get his action. To keep up his profit margin, he uses substandard materials to build the school. There's almost no way anyone will notice -- until disaster hits in the form of an earthquake. Then everyone notices, because the school collapses and a lot of people inconveniently die. Now, you are in real trouble.
If you had done things above board in the first place, you might not have gotten the contract, but you wouldn't find yourself in some life-altering situation further down the line. The same principle applies here. In business, doing the right thing isn't just doing the right thing -- it's the smart thing, and a course of action that generally will save you time and trouble in the future.
"Blue Devil must taste like chicken."
-- commenter CardsOneCatsTwo
in the Louisville Courier-Journal
HOW BAD IS DUKE FOOTBALL? Consider the following. The Duke Blue Devils backed out of a contract to play the University of Louisville Cardinals in football. This annoyed the Cardinals, which sought to enforce a contract provision that would require Duke to pay $150,000 per game if a team of "similar stature" could not be found to play Louisville as a replacement. But Duke's lawyers successfully argued their team was so bad that pretty much any other college team would do -- and according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, a Kentucky judge agreed with them! The newspaper reports:
“At oral argument, Duke (with a candor perhaps more attributable to good legal strategy than to institutional modesty) persuasively asserted that this is a threshold that could not be any lower. Duke’s argument on this point cannot be reasonably disputed by Louisville.”
Kentucky courts interpret contract terms “according to their plain and ordinary meaning” barring any ambiguity. According to Shepherd, finding a suitable replacement literally meant any NCAA Division I team would suffice – including those in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA.)
After the teams played their initial game in 2002, a 40-3 U of L victory in Durham, N.C., Duke opted out of the remaining games in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Louisville is annoyed at the ruling, but we'll see what happens. What we do know, though, is that Duke football sucks. Really sucks. We also now know that Duke is honorless and fails to live up to its commitments, and will resort to legal scheming if need be to worm its way out of those. True, this won't really surprise anyone, but at least now we have proof.
However, Duke's refusal to play Louisville should alarm members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Although I consider the ACC a second-tier football conference -- especially when you match it against the SEC -- it does have several likable teams in it: Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. All three teams are glorious examples of college football excellence, and I almost always root for Wake and Clemson when I see them in games. The conference also has other storied football powerhouses in it, such as Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, but like most Americans I despise those teams and hope they go 0-12 each season.
But all ACC teams -- good and evil -- should take pause at Duke's cowardly refusal to play Louisville. Louisville, after all, is a member of the Big East -- a conference in which several teams now in the ACC once played, but whose schools opportunistically left back when it sucked. As such, Duke's withdrawal reflects poorly on everyone in the ACC, and other schools in the conference might want to consider whether they should continue to play Duke in football. After all, if Duke can't play against the big boys in Louisville, why should they play against Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Miami?
Fortunately, a solution is close at hand. Let Appalachian State join the ACC as a football-only member, while allowing Duke to remain as a non-football member, and send Duke football down to the Southern Conference, in which the ASU Mountaineers now play. Unlike Duke, the hardy ASU Mountaineers have proven -- much to my distress -- they can play and beat football powerhouses, and have no compunction about taking anyone on.
Speaking of which, ASU plays Louisiana State University in LSU's home opener this year.
Please, God. Please.
P.S. Fans of the North Carolina Tar Heels may understandably want to gloat about the pickle in which their hated rivals have found themselves. Don't. You went 4-8 last year, you haven't won a conference championship since 1980 and you haven't won a bowl game since 2001.
I guess that's what happens when you sell pretty much everything for under $10 -- but you'd think Steve & Barry's would thrive in less-than-optimal economic times. I mean, it's Steve & Barry's. Every male college student in America shops at Steve & Barry's. Christ, even I did back in the day.
SO I WENT TO SEE "Get Smart" at the theatre today. I was actually pleasantly surprised -- it turned out quite good, I thought, and it was a much better movie than the paid critics had suggested. It was a well-written and well-shot movie that stayed true to the spirit of the original television show, while updating the franchise for a modern era that wouldn't have any familiarity with the "Get Smart" of the Sixties.
A few points to note:
* Steve Carell IS Maxwell Smart. He really does a fantastic job with the character and the role, and makes it his own, without trying to act like Don Adams, who ... well, was Don Adams.
* Anne Hathaway is smoking hot. It was the first time I had ever seen her in a movie, and I was impressed. Not just pretty, either -- there was, well, there there, as Gertrude Stein might have put it. An excellent choice for the role of Agent 99, particularly because she has the same type of intellectual charm Barbara Feldon had in the old series.
* The casting in this film was downright brilliant. Brilliant. I mean, it hit all the right notes.
* A plot point involved my favorite musical piece of all time. Talk about hitting all the right notes! (Sorry).
* Some of the jokes fall a little flat, but only some -- there are plenty of other funny scenes to carry things through, such as the scene in the trailer where That Guy (aka Champ Kind, Sports) gets stapled in the forehead.
* The cameo with Bernie Kopell -- who played Siegfried, the main villain in the old series -- was inspired too.
So, to review -- good summer escapist fare, funny, enjoyable, go see it.
OK, BAD NEWS AND GOOD NEWS. First the bad news.
Fortunately, I was out with friends last night, so I didn't have to watch the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (10-2, damn them) defeat my beloved Manchester Wolves (5-7), my city's minor-league arena football team. We lost 69-40. This loss can be fairly described as unfortunate. Since the Quad City Steamwheelers (6-6), based in Moline, Ill., also lost this weekend, a win would have put us in playoff position for the moment. Playoffs in the af2 are NBA style: eight teams from each conference of the 29-team league make the playoffs, with seeding along those lines. Right now, in the American Conference, we're No. 9.
Now we are one game behind the playoff contenders, with just four weeks to go before the post-season. Not the best position to be in, although it is one that may be improved upon. Now I must root for the Louisville Fire -- at home -- to lose to the Lexington Horsemen tomorrow night. That would tie up the 7th and 8th placed teams in the conference at 6-6, and improve Manchester's chances of making it into the playoffs. The good news is that our remaining four games are against relatively weaker teams, and given this, a sweep is not out of the question. So there is certainly reason for hope and every expectation we'll make it into the post-season; it's just that being 7-5 would be a heck of a lot more comforting than being 5-7.
But hey, it's exciting. It's especially exciting due to the second piece of bad news, which is that I consider it very unlikely I'm going to get a Canadian Football League broadcast feed here in New Hampshire this year. God bless it. I checked the Web site for the New England Sports Network, which carried CFL games here last year, and on kickoff Thursday they're broadcasting repeats of old Red Sox games. Not a good sign. The CFL's Web site is useless and continues to pledge that a U.S. broadcast schedule "is coming soon." Right.
CFL games are apparently being broadcast on the America One network this year, but sadly for me there are no America One affiliates in New England. The games will also apparently get broadcast on ESPN360.com, but my cable provider doesn't carry ESPN360.com, which is Comcastic. About the only place I was able to find information about this was the CFL fans' forum, so I am guessing I am, to use the technical term, shit out of luck.
If I find out any further information, I'll pass this on to Loyal Rant Readers, who have expressed interest in the CFL's U.S. availability. I do realize I could stream the games on-line from TSN for the bargain price of $9.99 per game, but the value-for-money equation doesn't work. I'd pay $1.99 or $2.99 per game, but not $9.99, which would be better spent on 2.25 gallons of gasoline, if you ask me.
I would say this, however. I realize the CFL's primary focus is growing the sport in Canada. That said, I can't understand why a deal wasn't reached to secure truly wide-ranging broadcasts of the CFL in the United States. I can see why ESPN or ESPN2 wouldn't work, just because they have the college football franchise. Versus, the seeming natural choice for Canadian football, also has college football.
But Gad -- you'd think the CFL would at least cobble together something to get the games broadcast everywhere. You'd think the sport would do great in July and August, when football fans are downright dying. Eventually, you'd think that would help generate interest in the sport south of the border, and revenues from the broadcasts would grow accordingly.
Feh. But now to the good news.
The good news is that the Arena Football League's playoffs are here -- and I have two teams in the hunt. True, with 12 out of the league's 17 teams in the playoffs, it would be difficult not to have two teams in the hunt, but let's not quibble about that for the moment. My teams, as Loyal Rant Readers will imagine, are the Grand Rapids Rampage (ranked No. 6 in the American Conference) and the Cleveland Gladiators (ranked No. 4 in the National Conference).
I about fell out of my chair when I saw the Wild Card schedule, for I was delighted to see that I'll be able to watch ALL of the Wild Card games, despite the peculiarities of my work schedule (I work Saturdays, for those of you who don't know). The full schedule may be found here. My predictions, for what they're worth:
* No. 3 Dallas easily defeats No. 6 New York.
* No. 4 Cleveland defeats No. 5 Orlando.
* No. 4 Utah will probably defeat No. 5 Colorado, although it will be a tough go.
* No. 6 Grand Rapids defeats No. 3 Arizona.
Here's to a great couple days of football next weekend!
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION, a British lobby that promotes the interests of local Governments there, has done the world a service this past week. The group wrote a letter to its members warning them they must use plain English if they want the people they serve to have any hope of understanding them. As such, it drew up a list of 100 words and phrases they ought avoid, ranging from "empowerment" and "sustainable communities" to "core value" and "facilitate." Better to use phrases like people power, environmentally friendly, belief and help, the agency said.
As an American, I can sum up my reaction in two words: many thanks. After all, as an American, I am subjected to an incredible and debilitating amount of jargon on a daily basis -- not only from the Government, but from business and sports leaders. I hope the worldwide coverage of the LGA's letter will cause people everywhere to recognize the value of clear yet precise language. This is not merely a selfish consideration, either. My greatest fear is that some American businessman will inadvertently stumble across a lethal combination of jargon from the commercial, sports and Government arenas, resulting in an economic and political panic that will make tulipmania look like a cocktail party:
IMPORTANT EXECUTIVE: Thanks to a bit of trickeration, we were able to audibilize on the ground and commit to a synergy-enhancing deal proving accretive in the third quarter, all while balancing stakeholders' interests with our revenue guidance, which will be in line with our previous estimates, and --
ANALYST (on mute): Dear God! He's mad!
SECOND ANALYST (on mute): SELL! SELL! SELL!
What's that? No, I'm not overreacting. Crises in confidence often start out with small things, don't they?
Anyway, since we're on a crusade to clean up the English language, here is my list of words and phrases that should be taken out in the back and shot. In no particular order, they are:
AUDIBILIZE: This alleged transitive verb is drawn from the world of American football, where a quarterback changing the play at the line of scrimmage "calls an audible." Use a form of change or quick change instead.
UTILIZE: You mean use, so use that instead.
TRICKERATION: Just because ESPN sportscasters use the phrase does not mean you should. Use trickery or deception.
IT IS WHAT IT IS: Athletes and their coaches can gain style points with the public through using more refined language. Try It can't be helped or, even better, The die has been cast. Julius Caesar said that, you know!
INCENTIVIZE: Instead of incentivizing the sales team, you gave them bonus targets.
ENHANCE: You mean improve.
ALLEGEDLY: Avoid this word through writing better. Do not write: John Smith allegedly robbed the Sixth Fourth Bank on Main Street. Rather, write: Police have charged John Smith with robbing the Sixth Fourth Bank on Main Street.
AT THIS JUNCTURE: Unless you're Dana Carvey doing an impression, forget it.
STAKEHOLDER: Group or party.
E- or WEB ANYTHING: Online.
WORKING FAMILIES: The working poor, or the lower-middle class, whichever is applicable.
VERY LOW-INCOME: Dirt poor.
WELL OFF: Rich.
WEALTHY: Filthy rich.
HOMESITE: House lot.
USER FEE: Use tax.
PARTNER: In business, partner should be reserved for a colleague who has equity in your business. Do not use it when you are describing a company with which you do business or have a relationship. Especially do not use it in reference to the consultancy you've hired.
NEXT GENERATION: The (goddamned) kids.
ENTERPRISE: Corporation; a large company.
AT THE END OF THE DAY: At the end of the day, this is superfluous. Just strike it and say what you actually mean to say.
Well, now that I've thrown that out on the stoop -- oops! -- I hope it will, in some small measure, help people realize that if you say what you mean it can help you achieve your goals faster. Either that, or it will help spawn a resurgent interest in using Latin phrases, which could only be a good thing. For now, vale.
It's Time for an Installment of ...
STUCK IN THE KITCHEN WITH BEN
A new -- and occasional -- Rant feature
WITH THE ECONOMY the way it is, I've suddenly rediscovered the virtues of cooking at home. It's a heck of a lot cheaper than going out, I'm not half bad at it, and much to my surprise it actually is somewhat of a stress-reliever. (Of course, the fact I like spicy food helps).
Anyway, I had some success with a new recipe I dreamed up with ingredients on hand tonight, so thought I would share it. As such, here is my recipe for Bachelor Carnitas, so named because it's so easy to make that even a cookery-challenged bachelor like me can make it.
Time: Let's say 20 minutes
1 lb. pork, cut into strips
2 tablespoons cooking oil
3 heaping spoons of recaito
something green and crunchy (lettuce, cabbage, etc.)
jalapeño pepper slices (canned or bottled works)
proper tortillas (corn, dammit, corn)
1. Get out a skillet. Throw in the vegetable oil and recaito, and turn the heat to medium. While waiting for the skillet to heat up, slice the pork into strips.
2. When the skillet gets nice and hot, throw in the pork. Stir fry it.
3. As the pork is cooking, prepare the sides -- which in this case are your lettuce or cabbage, your peppers, and your tortillas. You can microwave the tortillas and get everything else ready as the pork is cooking, but don't ignore the pork lest it burn. You want steady heat on the pork, but nothing too hot, or you'll boil off the recaito and burn the meat.
4. When the pork is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the heat. Serve. Before taking the stuff to table, throw the skillet in the sink and spray it down thoroughly, thus aiding cleanup.
1. Pork. Pork is the other white meat. Also, it is inexpensive. The pork for this dish cost $2.18 at the store. True, it was on sale, but still. $2.18 for like a pound of meat. If you're clever, you'll cut it fine and get as much off the bone as you can.
2. Recaito. A bottle of recaito will cost you $2. You will get roughly six servings out of this, and so the recaito for tonight's meal cost perhaps $0.33. You will find this is an invaluable aid in your cooking. Recaito is a cilantro-based seasoning which also includes green pepper, onion and garlic. As a result, buying the stuff saves you from actually having to buy cilantro, green peppers, onions and garlic for use in the kitchen. Recaito is your friend.
3. Cooking oil. Negligible cost.
4. Lettuce/cabbage. Cost -- oh, anywhere from $0.25 to $0.50. After all, you're not going to use the whole stupid head of cabbage or lettuce on one meal. If you live alone like me, you can buy a seven ounce box of fancy lettuce for $3.29 and have it last the entire week. Since I used one ounce, we'll cost this at $0.47.
5. Jalapeño peppers. Let's say $0.10. A giant jar of jalapeños will cost, I don't know, $2 or $3, and even though I am an enthusiastic fan of jalapeño peppers, even I only used a few tonight.
6. Corn tortillas. Cost: $0.76. If you are lucky, you live someplace where corn tortillas are relatively cheap. Sadly, they're not cheap anywhere, not even Mexico. For my meal tonight, I was forced to pay $2.29 -- Dear God -- for 12 corn tortillas, which works out to $6.05 per kilo. That's just wrong. When I was in Los Angeles several years ago, I could get a kilo of fresh tortillas for $2 -- so I would like to think one could get a kilo for $3.50 or $4, even in Manchester, N.H. I must find a good Mexican grocery.
Anyway, the grand total for my meal tonight worked out to $3.84, which ain't bad at all. (I was starving, so I ate the whole stupid thing). If you made this for two people, you'd need more of everything except the meat and recaito, so that works out to like $4.73 -- or roughly $2.36 per person.
However, I realize some readers may say, "But Ben! I need to impress my girlfriend with my cooking skills! What do I do? I can't just make one dish!"
The quickest way to deal with this is to cook some rice and black beans, which go well with anything. A package of this costs about 89 cents and can be made in about 20 minutes. Start these off before you start cooking the pork and you should be all set. Also, buy some ready-made guacamole -- the real stuff, not that soya-based industrial crap -- and have it handy in the fridge for serving with the tacos. It will cost you like $4, and reputable producers such as Calavo Growers Inc. are now packaging the stuff in tiny serving sizes. (Calavo is based in Santa Paula, Calif., and as such is Avocado Central. I know this because good friends of mine live in Santa Paula, and have an avocado tree in their backyard. God, I miss California).
Also, remember to cook the pork thoroughly. This does two things. First, it renders the fat on the meat. This is good, because it adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Second, it prevents you from an unpleasant experience a few hours later. It is pork, not steak, so act accordingly.
That's it for this edition of "Stuck in the Kitchen With Ben!" Tune in next time, when your humble correspondent finally figures out how to boil water without it boiling over and causing a mess on the stove.
SO I HAVE A FRIEND who has disturbing sports loyalties. Consider: I walk into the office Tuesday and my friend has taped on his door a picture of Kobe Bryant slam-dunking a basketball over some hapless Boston Celtic. As a quasi-fan of the lowly Los Angeles Clippers, and as such someone who passionately hates the Lakers, I was instantly annoyed at this. As such, I was forced to harangue and harass my colleague, as we can see in this dramatization:
ME: The Lakers?!
FRIEND: Yeah, I'm a fan of the Lakers.
ME: Are you wrong about everything?! Jesus. The Lakers, the Yankees -- I bet you like the Cowboys!
FRIEND: I do not like the Cowboys! I've always hated the Cowboys!
ME: Well, who do you like?
FRIEND: San Diego.
ME: San Diego?!
FRIEND: I was born there. Look, where I grew up, we had nothing. Nothing!
Yet my friend's wrongness does not stop there. In the Premiership, I accused him of liking Arsenal -- I hate Arsenal -- and he responded that he liked Chelsea instead. True, that's not as bad, and it could have been Manchester United, but still. Pick a team like Everton or Tottenham Hotspur or something. He is not an ice hockey fan, but if he was, I'm sure he would have picked an annoying team -- like the Philadelphia Flyers -- to support. Oh, and he roots for Germany in international soccer. Who the hell roots for Germany? (For the record, I root for Scotland, and barring that, any underdog, which means I was rooting for Austria in the two nations' recent matchup).
When Canadian football starts next week, I'll have to remind him to root for the Toronto Argonauts.
After the Lakers got humiliated at the Garden Tuesday night, the picture came down; but I didn't say anything. He is my friend, after all. Besides, even though we root for different teams, I can't antagonize him too much. That's because he is a rare commodity where I live -- someone who does not root for New England sports teams. This is important, because when the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots play on Nov. 30, I stand a good chance of finding the next workday rather difficult. If I arrive at work, and half my department serenades my arrival with shouts of "Guarantee! Guarantee!" -- well, I'll need to hide in his office.
THE NEW YORK TIMES reports today that the J.M. Smucker Co., the Ohio-based food conglomerate, plans to move production of the iconic White Lily brand of flour to two factories in the Midwest. The expected result of this is that the company's flour mill in Knoxville, Tenn., will close, as J.M. Smucker bought White Lily from Texas-based C.H. Guenther & Son Inc. in 2006. The unexpected result is that the fans of the baking flour are furious.
Apparently, the flour made in Knoxville and the flour made in the Midwest don't come out the same, and no one knows why. The company insists customers won't notice the difference between the two, but in a blind taste test the Times had carried out, two bakers noticed it clear as day. Now, Southern bakers are anxious and worried that their favorite flour will effectively go the way of the dodo.
Boy, I bet the accountants didn't plan for this.
Although, in a way, it makes sense. After all, the peculiarities of New York's water system are supposedly why it is impossible to replicate New York-style pizza outside of the Tri-State Area. We all know you can't get a decent cheesesteak outside Philadelphia, that you shouldn't order clam chowder outside New England, and that if you want really good Mexican food, you go to the Southwest. Perhaps something similar is at work here. Even if the stuff is made exactly the same way, perhaps there's something different in the inputs, or shipping the flour has an effect; it could be one of a thousand variables that's different.
If I was working for Smucker's, I would embark on an ambitious plan to head this potential marketing disaster off at the pass. First, I'd keep making the flour in Knoxville, but would make sure distribution from the Knoxville plant was solely performed around the South. If the costs of the firm's inputs went up, raise the price accordingly -- or even better, shrink the package. Market the hell out of it as a necessary good for proper bakers.
But I'd also keep making the flour in the Midwest. After all, the company undoubtedly spent a great deal of money getting those plants ready to handle White Lily production, so divert that product to northern markets. Northerners won't know the difference; they have not been exposed to the Southern product and the brand will undoubtedly prove superior to the flours already on the market for baking. If there are differences -- and at least a few folks will notice those -- blame them on the Northern water or the Northern eggs or whatever other input might cause them. If worse comes to worst, just rebrand it.
What? It's not an entirely disingenuous plan, and it will prevent a marketing disaster that could end up as disasterous as New Coke. Plus, it means jobs for the Midwest -- relatively well-paying jobs for hardworking, God-fearing Midwesterners. I don't care what Smucker's does to the flour if it provides jobs for the Midwest. Jobs, jobs, jobs, dammit.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS has found itself in a bit of hot water this week. Apparently, the news cooperative was upset a blogger had posted several items relying on AP content, with excerpts of between 39 and 79 words in each of the offending entries. This prompted the AP to send a letter to the blogger in question telling him to remove the items; the blogger then went and told the entire Internet, and everyone got angry about it.
Now the AP has backtracked, realizing it didn't handle the matter well. Still, they're not entirely backing down, as The New York Times -- and not the AP -- reports:
The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.
The A.P.’s effort to impose some guidelines on the free-wheeling blogosphere, where extensive quoting and even copying of entire news articles is common, may offer a prominent definition of the important but vague doctrine of “fair use,” which holds that copyright owners cannot ban others from using small bits of their works under some circumstances. For example, a book reviewer is allowed to quote passages from the work without permission from the publisher. Fair use has become an essential concept to many bloggers, who often quote portions of articles before discussing them.
I would be sympathetic to the AP's claims if a blogger in question had copied the entirety of its story, did so without providing a link back to the original piece, and then offered no original commentary of his own. That would be outright theft, and in a situation like that, the AP would have every right to say, "Hey. Wait a minute."
However, it is difficult to be sympathetic when the AP is going after a blogger for excerpting as little as 39 words from a story. That's downright ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous when clever bloggers, such as Patrick Nielsen Hayden, reveal the Associated Press sells rights to private parties to quote from its stories, starting at $12.50 for excerpts between five and 25 words in length. "In this spirit," Mr Nielsen Hayden wrote, "I will shortly be putting up my own Web form through which people can PayPal me money in exchange for my promise to not blow up the moon."
Now, it is one thing to sell reprint rights for a story; that is standard practice for any newspaper. But charging for a quote or two is not only silly -- there's that whole pesky fair use doctrine -- but cheap.
As for these standards to be developed -- well, good luck with that.
You see, here's the trouble. The AP is a cooperative and a wire agency. This means two things. First, nearly all of its copy comes from its member newspapers. Second, when the AP does write about important happenings, the important happenings are usually important enough so that one can also read coverage from major newspapers, or from competing wire services, or from foreign news outlets, or from high-profile bloggers.
As a result, nobody actually needs the AP to do what they're doing; AP copy just happens to be awfully convenient. But it wouldn't be all that inconvenient to go elsewhere. Why, it could take as long as fifteen or thirty seconds for a competent blogger to do some searching and find a story -- usually more in-depth, I might add -- from a local AP member paper; a local AP member paper, I might add, that isn't going to complain when bloggers send traffic its way. Most bloggers just quote a little from stories; say two or three paragraphs. If their visitors are really interested in a story, they'll click through the provided link and read more. This, in business terms, is known as a "win-win." This, in business terms, is known as "free advertising."
Yet the AP apparently doesn't see it this way. They're entitled to their position -- but if you ask me, they're setting themselves up for something like this:
"Xai Jian, best customer!" Indeed!
REPORT: Kansas man who crashed his car into house blames "brain freeze" from icy frozen drink.
LOOKING AT THE MARKET today, I am reminded of the very old and very true short-seller's saying that the market can stay irrational longer than one can stay solvent. We have more than 1.2 trillion barrels of oil in the ground, and supply still outstrips even heightened demand, yet oil nearly hit $140 per barrel this morning. Double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble, said the witches in Macbeth, and look at all the trouble they caused with their advice.
It is a bubble, and it will burst -- the only question is when. Already, we are seeing what the experts pleasantly call "demand destruction" as the result of higher prices -- no surprise there. That will only continue as Governments around the world, who subsidize gasoline for their people, reduce or eliminate those subsidies because they have become unaffordable. If you ask me, only China, which has a trillion of our dollars in its coffers, will be able to keep those subsidies going over the long term -- and even then, if they are smart, they will reduce those subsidies over time.
Unfortunately, I haven't a crystal ball that can tell me the exact moment oil will start to correct, and sadly, the oil market is not like the Dutch tulip market, which famously crashed in 1638 when traders held an auction, got no bids for their bulbs, and then collectively said, "Oh, shit." It may be a while before the oil market has a similar realization, and I make no predictions as to when that might happen. I do, however, think investors might want to consider investing in sectors that are currently out of favor, as that's generally how profits are made: buy when no one else is interested and sell when everyone is interested. That's what David Herro, the chief investment officer of Harris International, has recommended. It might not be a bad strategy.
Although I'm pretty damned certain oil is in a bubble, I am less certain when it comes to the run-up we've seen for agricultural commodities. Right now, I think there's definitely a lot of froth in the marketplace, and it's likely we are seeing some form of bubble at present. However, the economics behind the run-up in agricultural commodities are somewhat different than with oil. About the agricultural markets, we know the following:
1. Everybody needs to eat.
2. People continue to be fruitful and multiply, particularly in developing nations.
3. The developing nations are getting richer.
4. The first thing people, particularly in poorer nations, do when they get more money is improve their diets.
5. More people + more money = higher prices for food, particularly quality food.
6. Food security is crucial to the stability of developing nations.
7. Prices for food are inherently based on agricultural yields. As yields improve with time, prices fall.
History shows us our present situation is nothing new, which may or may not be comforting, depending on one's viewpoint. When the Black Death swept through Europe in the late 1340s and early 1350s, and killed off a third of its population (in some places, half), it created a fundamental change in the continent's economy. It was one of the few times in history that labor got the upper hand over capital. With so few workers, their wages improved markedly in real terms, even as demand for goods and services (mostly goods) fell due to what one might call demand destruction.
(As an aside, this created a huge mess for Europe's feudal-based "Governments" at the time. Remember, no one knew anything about economics back then. Plus, it threw a wrench into the whole social order, as merchants and other upstarts started wearing fine clothing and eating well and worst of all, started putting on airs. For more on this, Google "sumptuary laws.")
Anyway, the plague survivors discovered that because their competition had conveniently died, they were able to reap great economic benefits from their lords and masters. But as in all things, this did not last, as the economic historian Fernand Braudel pointed out (see Civilization and Capitalism, Vol. I). In Swabia in 1550, as Braudel notes, a man named Heinrich Muller wrote that things had changed:
In the past they ate differently at the peasant's house. Then there was meat and food in profusion every day; tables at village fairs and feasts sank under their load. Today, everything has truly changed. Indeed, for some years now, what a calamitous time, what high prices! And the food of the most comfortably-off peasants is almost worse than that of day-labourers and valets in the old days."
In 1550, the start of the Iron Century (so named because life pretty much sucked), there was an extra factor that entered into the equation: the galleons carrying immense quantities of gold and silver from New Spain. Sadly, the Spanish crown was feckless and had a thing for starting wars, and spent the gold extravagantly. Since the currency of the age was based on precious metals, and people didn't understand how inflation worked -- that wouldn't come until a few decades later -- it ruined Spain's economy and made life difficult for everyone else.
The long and short, however, was that food prices skyrocketed -- and stayed high up until the 18th century, when developments in agriculture kicked off improvements in yields that have continued up to this day.
But getting back to the modern age, let's look at the situation. The world population continues to rise, and more people than ever have money to spend. Even the poorest trader will splurge on chicken or beef -- especially beef -- once he gets a bit of extra pocket money. India and China's middle classes are expanding rapidly, and with that comes a demand for better food. We know demand has been so high in certain places that nations are cutting exports for staples such as rice, thus creating higher prices on the world markets for remaining stocks. This does not mean there are shortages -- but it is certainly indicative of greater demand.
The question, thus, is this -- will yields improve going forward, and by how much?
I do not pretend to know the answer to this question. Nor do I know whether the present run-up is a "bubble" or simply a matter of fundamentals. But it is something to keep in mind going forward if one is considering the agricultural markets and the companies operating in them. For if yields improve markedly, long-term prices will fall. If they do not, prices will almost certainly rise.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: I am not an investment advisor and do not work professionally as a money manager. As a result, you should consult with someone who does that for a living before making investment decisions. You should always read a prospectus or similar document detailing the potential risks and rewards of an investment before sending money. You could lose a lot of money investing. You'll almost certainly lose it if you invest in commodities, which is a fool's game. Also, there's a hell of a lot of risk investing when prices are high with the hope they're going to go higher. You don't want to buy high and sell low, so keep that in mind. All rights reserved, yada yada yada.
WE NOW HAVE PROOF POSITIVE that George Will's sociopathic love for the game of baseball has clouded his faculties. This proof may be found in Dr Will's latest column, published in The Washington Post and many other newspapers, in which he argues against the use of instant replay in the sport. I would not normally argue with Dr Will's observations on baseball, as he loves the game and I do not; but he crossed a rather sharp line in his latest work. Namely, he dragged football into it.
In doing so, Dr Will dragged America's greatest sport in the mud, delivering an insult that was not only maliciously unfair and unwarranted, but remarkable for its preening hypocrisy. He wrote as follows:
But it is not true that cameras positioned around a ballpark can answer every question, or even be more definitive than are baseball's remarkably skilled umpires, who render judgments close to a play. And even if cameras could deliver certainty, it is foolish to think that all other values should be sacrificed to that one.
In the NFL, coaches' challenges, which trigger replays, contribute to the sense that a game consists of about seven minutes of action -- seriously: Use a stopwatch, and you will confirm that -- encrusted with three hours of pageantry, hoopla and instant-replay litigation.
Oh, no he didn't.
Football's pace and timing, although sometimes unsettling to the outsider, is indicative of the strategy and cunning each team must employ throughout the game. Just as wars require devotion to planning and logistics, so too does football. Unlike baseball, with its petty emphasis on individual achievement and occasional tactical brilliance, football focuses on cooperative success and strategic excellence.
Furthermore, the questions facing referees in football are far more complex than those umpires in baseball face. For the umpire, there are two main questions: whether a runner is safe or out, and whether a hit ball is foul or fair. For referees in football, there are many more questions that regularly crop up, ranging from whether a player unfairly held an opponent to whether a player had possession of the ball as he was heading out of bounds. Since these questions are often decided when a dozen or more men are fighting for the ball, instant replay helps answer questions the human eye may detect imperfectly, in situations that are far more complex than the one-on-one interaction typical in baseball. Besides, the stakes in football are so much higher.
Also, as a baseball fan, Dr Will has some nerve in criticizing football for its pace and timing. In football, there is generally about one play a minute, perhaps a little less. Compare that to baseball, where one can get up, go to the bathroom, stop by the concession stand, talk with a colleague from the office, buy a souvenir and return to one's seat all while the same batter is at the plate. Then, after a stultifying session of futility, in which the batter vainly swats at the balls hurled at him, he will fire off a long fly or useless ground ball that will result in him being out, if not retiring his entire side. This perhaps explains why baseball became America's national pastime prior to the development of the Model T. It also perhaps explains why Dr Will is not a fan of the designated-hitter rule. I mean, God forbid The Powers That Be try to make the game more exciting.
As much as Dr Will may not like it, the era of Babe Ruth -- just like the era of leather helmets -- is over. Accept it and move on. However, Dr Will's unwillingness to accept modern improvements to the game is perhaps best summed up in his final analysis. He writes:
Baseball, like many sports, involves fast, muscular, semi-violent striving. There are inherent limits to how much precision is possible in enforcing rules. Or desirable: Human error is not a blemish to be expunged from sports, it is part of the drama.
Baseball probably will and probably should adopt replays, but only for the few "boundary" decisions. And only after considering how to make this concession to technophiles a prophylactic accommodation, one that prevents an immoderate pursuit of perfect accuracy until the rhythm of the game is lost and the length of the game is stultifying.
I've got news for you, Dr Will: the rhythm of baseball was lost a long time ago, and the length of its games, its season, and its wretched postseason are already stultifying. I'm sure it could be made worse, but it's already pretty grim: particularly in the miserable depths of summer, when the pre-season is just days away and baseball crawls to its 100th game of the year.
Finally, I would note with disdain Dr Will's bizarre claim that officiating errors are dramatic as opposed to blemishes. These are not the words of a sports fan: they are the maunderings of a sadly-detached mandarin suffering a bad case of ennui. Back here on Planet Earth, sports fans invest a lot of time and energy and love into the games they so enjoy, and they deserve officiating that is correct, just and fair. Given Dr Will's thoughts on other matters, I would have thought he was a passionate supporter of the rule of law, fair play and excellence unmarred by official incompetence. Sadly, we see he is prone to supporting tradition for its own sake -- and last time I checked, blind obedience was not a trait encouraged among free men.
For a rather profane -- and funnier -- look at the trouble with baseball, The Rant would refer readers to Every Day Should Be Saturday's canonical essay on the topic, "Die, Baseball. Die."
TO: The Powers That Be @ CONCACAF, Whomever You Are
FR: Benjamin Kepple
RE: Round Two Qualifying
DEAR SIRS: I am watching the Round Two qualifying match between the United States and Barbados, which you have somehow managed to get broadcast on ESPN. Look, I don't know how to put this, but it might be a good idea to figure out a new scheme for World Cup qualification. My idea runs something like this:
1. Did you get into the World Cup last time around?
2. You get to go to the third -- or even fourth -- round for qualifying right away.
I mean, this is really rather pathetic. Don't get me wrong, it was cool seeing the United States score in the very first minute. But now it's the 89th minute and the US is ahead .... 8-0. EIGHT TO NOTHING. I mean, this is somewhat embarrassing for the poor Barbadians. Not only has their country been humiliated on national television in the United States, they now have to play a second game against us on their home turf, or wherever the nearest qualifying stadium can be found. That's probably not going to turn out any better.
Oh, sure -- I realize that it would be a grand coup were the tiny Caribbean island to somehow beat the Colossus of the North, but the likelihood of this event happening is roughly the same as the likelihood a cement mixer will crash into my apartment. It would be better if the smaller nations were given the chance to compete against each other, and then the best of them could face off against the big players like the United States and Mexico. Maybe, when qualifying for the 2014 World Cup comes around, we can shape things up.
WHEN I WAS A STUDENT in beautiful Ann Arbor, Mich., I would routinely watch Canadian television via my cable firm's CBC feed out of Windsor, Ont. Occasionally, this particular affiliate would run one of those time-filling commercials advertising its own existence, and I remember being struck by the affiliate's tagline: "Television We Can Call Our Own."
This, in a nutshell, is why conditions are acutely unfavorable for any NFL franchise -- much less the Buffalo Bills -- to succeed in the Canadian marketplace, and why any investor who supports the Bills moving to Toronto will be in for a nasty surprise. But if you ask me, all this talk of an NFL team moving to the True North puts the cart before the horse. A better question to ask is: why would the Bills leave Buffalo in the first place?
True, there is no denying Mr Wilson's statements that the team will be sold upon his death. With the team worth some $821 million, according to Forbes magazine, Mr Wilson's heirs would almost certainly face a staggering estate tax bill if the team were to pass directly into their hands. Still, even if the team was sold to outside investors, I don't see why they would necessarily leave Buffalo.
This is because the Bills' finances are sound. It may be in a small market, but according to Forbes, the team has the seventh-best operating income in the entire NFL. At $34.6 million, that works out to about 18 percent of revenues, which are $189 million. It's worth noting that revenue figure is $5 million higher than that of the (evil) Indianapolis Colts, which only pull in $184 million each year. Furthermore, the Bills have a debt-to-value ratio of just 9 pc, the fifth-best such ratio in the league. If you ask me, these numbers suggest the Buffalo Bills are one of the best-run teams in the league.
So why would a new owner go and screw that up? No, really. Why fix something that isn't broken?
We know that as football continues to grow in popularity, the value of the franchise should rise accordingly, if only from ever-increasing television revenues. But not only would any new owners make money there, the fact the team is financially sound will represent a immediate and perpetual return on investment. That's a known quantity. If you ask me, a sharp businessman would recognize that, and would prefer that over the unknowns associated with moving the team somewhere else.
Besides, why would a new owner -- and the league -- risk the backlash that would inevitably result from moving the team? Buffalo has been in the league for decades upon decades -- the idea of moving it would spark howls of outrage. When the Cleveland Browns left for Baltimore back in the Nineties, all of Northeast Ohio felt it had been stabbed in the back, and team owner Art Modell became one of the most hated villains of all time. (It is The Rant's humble opinion that Mr Modell will burn in Hell). One would think those are headaches everyone involved would wish to avoid.
Simply put, it doesn't make sense to take Buffalo out of the NFL picture, and I'd be shocked if anyone would seriously consider doing that after a thorough analysis of the situation. It would make more sense to buy an expansion team -- for which there are several suitable cities (Los Angeles, Los Angeles again, San Antonio, Orlando) -- or buy and move a team that didn't have such history, fan support and general likability. *cough* Jacksonville *cough*
As for this idea of moving Buffalo to Toronto, I would suggest proponents of this idea have not fully considered how Canada works. There are a few things to consider here that, when fully analyzed, will show why such an idea is untenable.
First, football is not the most popular sport in Canada. That would be ice hockey. Although for most Americans hockey is the disease-ridden tree on the landscape of sport, this is not the case in Canada, where pretty much everyone loves hockey. Football, on the other hand, is a distant second in terms of popularity.
Second, one of the defining characteristics of being Canadian is not being American, viz.
No, really. That commerical's funny, but it's not a joke. That sentiment is very real. It is so real, in fact, that the Canadian Football League has proclaimed "This is Our League" as its marketing slogan for the year -- with all the nationalist sentiment that suggests. I realize the idea of Canadian nationalism may prompt some raised eyebrows -- they do have trouble celebrating Canada Day, after all -- but just because they're not flag-wavers does not mean Canadians don't have a lot of pride in their country.
Although it naturally went unnoticed on this side of the border, it seems to me rather extraordinary that Mark Cohon, the CFL's commissioner, wrote a column -- published in no less than the National Post yesterday -- rallying his countrymen to the CFL's banner. Folks, give it a read: it essentially calls Canadians to general quarters. Over football.
In such an environment, it seems to me cooperation from the CFL would be key for an NFL team to succeed in Toronto, which after all has a CFL squad of its own. But given the present state of affairs, it seems unlikely the CFL would sit idly by as the NFL planned to invade their home turf. Of course, the Canadian Government also has no plans to sit idly by -- one Canadian senator has already introduced a bill to essentially keep the NFL out of Canada.
Now, I personally have my doubts about the future of anything that comes out of the Red Chamber, much less a bill about football that could turn into a pesky international trade issue. After all, Canada would not like it if we suddenly kicked its softwood lumber industry in the teeth again. Still, one never knows how these things turn out, and even if nothing came of it, it's certainly a sign as to how many Canadians would view the NFL's intrusion into their territory.
This is not to say the NFL shouldn't do more marketing in certain border areas where American football teams have Canadian fans. We already know many Canadians in Ontario's Golden Horseshoe are Buffalo fans; it seems a smart move, then, to also market the Lions to southwestern Ontario, the Seahawks to British Columbia and the Patriots to the Maritimes. This would help build the fan bases needed for any future northward expansion, or at the very least generate revenue from now-untapped markets. It also seems reasonable to believe that, just as we suffer when the Super Bowl ends, there are Canadian football fans who suffer when the Grey Cup ends, but whom we're not reaching for some reason. As such, reaching out to them would be a good idea.
In the meantime, if the NFL is going to consider international expansion, it needs to turn not north but south. American football is gaining popularity among Mexicans, to the point where Mexican colleges have their own league and several conferences within it. Let's also not forget how well the 2005 regular-season game between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers went: the game was a stinker, but by God they sold out Estadio Azteca. 103,467 fans in attendance. Given the huge differences on the ground in these two countries, I'd suggest that if there's money to be made in international expansion, it will be made in pesos, not in loonies.
I AM PLEASED to report the Manchester Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, have improved to 5-6 on the season, and did so in impressive style this evening. Let's review the Youngstown tune-up we pulled on the hapless Mahoning Valley Thunder (of Youngstown, Ohio) this evening:
* We scored 79 points against the Thunder. That's high even for arena football. It is not the all-time record for Manchester or any other team -- the team's record in a game is 80 points, which I saw them pull off a while back, and the all-time scoring record for a team in af2 is 103 points. It was, however, enough for the Wolves to set a new team record in terms of points scored on the road.
* We had three turnovers in the game -- two fumbles and one interception. Sweet.
* For a good portion of the game, we were up by more than 30 points. Double yoi!
* The Thunder only managed to score one touchdown in the third quarter -- and that followed two possessions in which we forced two turnovers.
* Did I mention we scored 79 points? I watched the game using the af2's clever Internet television broadcasting system. I can't say enough how much that rules. Anyway, our offense was absolutely unstoppable -- our guys were routinely yards away from the enemy's defensive backs, and often practically walked into the endzone. Oh, it ruled.
Of course, being a perfectionist, I did notice some things that somewhat concerned me. Youngstown should not have been able to score 55 points in that game. True, much of this was because of the downright sick play of wide receiver Clenton Rafe, who was all over the field and zipping past our players right and left. Mr Rafe scored most of Youngstown's touchdowns and turned in a downright impressive performance; fortunately, in this league, it requires all eight players on the field doing well for teams to win.
So our defensive backs, basically, need to keep on the ball -- pardon the pun -- and work hard in practice this week on coverage. That said, I have to give credit to No. 2, Trey Bell, formerly of the Grand Rapids Rampage, who made our interception tonight. He read the quarterback perfectly and it was a beautiful pick.
Also, I was a bit concerned about our kick coverage -- it seemed too easy for Youngstown to punch the ball out into good field position, even after their players initially bobbled the ball on several kickoffs. That's something, perhaps, to work on. In addition, our quarterback, James Pinkney, is playing fantastic. But Mr Pinkney should feel free to throw the ball away if he finds himself in trouble as opposed to trying to make a play; that was our one turnover tonight.
I realize this may seem a bit much, considering Manchester has won four games in a row, is one game shy of .500 and four of our five remaining games are against relatively weak teams. But we have to play division leader Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- on the road -- next week. They're 9-2. They've won 17 games in a row at home. And they scored 77 points tonight against a good Tennessee Valley (Huntsville, Ala.) Vipers* squad.
The playoffs are in sight!
* What's that? Yes, the Tennessee Valley Vipers are in Alabama. But they're really close to the Volunteer State. Look, I'm sure they had a good reason for calling the team what they did.
** Also -- last -- but not least -- The Rant hopes No. 5, wide receiver Emery Sammons, heals up quickly from the injury he sustained tonight. But I certainly admire Mr Sammons' guts -- he was hurt once in the evening, but came back and fought on before getting hurt again. That's dedication.
SO I WAS BORED last night and was watching the Red Sox beat Baltimore when, much to my amazement, I saw a commercial for the Applebee's chain of restaurants that didn't make me turn white as a sheet and sweat in dreadful anticipation of the horror to come. This event so stunned me that I wondered if it might not be a turning point for the modern middle-class atrocity known as the chain restaurant.
Like most arrogant and over-educated young sophisticates, I have long regarded Applebee's with contempt and disdain. This chain, among all chains, has been the most egregious offender in the $70 billion industry's campaign to trick Hard Working, God-Fearing Americans from Working Families into believing the overpriced, processed industrial slop set before them is indicative of quality, upper-middle class dining. But much to my surprise, the commercial did not go down this route. Instead, it focused on the fact that it had a lot of cheap specials that tasted good, and for good measure slapped its rivals over at Ruby Tuesday's and T.G.I. Friday's in the closing.
What? No pseudo-celebrity chef? No supposed culinary masterpieces? No lame-o attempts at conveying the chain is hip and with it? And I can get a meal for like $10 plus tax and tip? Truth in advertising? What an idea! True, it will take me a long time before I'm ready to actually return to an Applebee's, but I'm not going to say this didn't open the door just a crack to the idea. Plus, I have to admit I kind of liked seeing them stand up for themselves. You tell those bastards over at Friday's who's boss!
Now, I should note that despite my remarks above, I am not opposed to chain restaurants. Why, I even ate at one this evening. I ate at this particular restaurant, part of a regional chain, because they have this calamari dish I like, their advertisements don't insult my intelligence, there is no nonsense about premium-this and featuring-that, and the staff are sharp. When I was done eating, my waitress brought me my check quickly, I left a nice tip, and the mission was accomplished. That's all I wanted, and it was done. Why other chain restaurants have problems with this boggles my mind.
For instance, take the Olive Garden. I am not fundamentally opposed to a casual Italian restaurant chain. They make a good basic salad. The food's not bad. I will never dine there again if I can help it, and I am proud to say it has been five years since I have. This is not simply because every time I think of the Olive Garden, I think of Joe Queenan placing a shroud over the "zuppa toscana," but because the place is a mockery of all the values that make Italian restuarants wonderful. (Also because it reminds of a relationship which I completely screwed up, but that is neither here nor there).
Consider: has anyone ever visited an Olive Garden where you haven't had to wait an unseemly long time for a table? I certainly haven't. Every time I have visited, there has always been an annoyingly long wait, even if the restaurant was half-empty. I once had to wait even though I turned up at like four o'clock. Such waits would be understandable if I was at, I don't know, Gino's East in Chicago, or Chez Jay in Santa Monica, or The Baricelli Inn in Cleveland. It is not acceptable at the fucking Olive Garden, which I would note is most certainly not Le Bec Fin. And what the hell are they doing anyway, making me wait? It's uneconomic! Get me in and out as quickly as possible and give the table to the next revenue source, I mean, customer.
Also, there's the whole rigamarole involving the Peddling of the Crappy House Wine, which Prof Doug Shaw has so eloquently denounced on his Web site. I mean, for Christ's sake -- the Olive Garden, at least one of them here in New Hampshire, has Riunite on its wine list. Riunite!
God! I thought I was a heartless capitalist, but I couldn't sleep at night if I served up Riunite or Sutter Home and passed it off as something worthy of drinking while enjoying a fine meal. I'm just not that cold-hearted.
Don't get me started on TGI Friday's either. Although I've eaten there recently, primarily because it had the good idea of selling reasonably-sized portions of food at reasonable prices, this latest ad campaign of theirs with that spiky-haired supposed chef makes me recoil with horror. For one thing, no grown man should have a haircut like that. For another, the guy comes off -- as the kids say these days -- as a complete douchebag. As such I have transferred my extreme dislike of him to the chain as a whole.
Still, there is hope. It may be that people will respond to Applebee's latest venture, prompting the company to realize it has a winning idea, and chain restaurants everywhere will dump the fraudulent bozoism that for years on end has oozed like a pustulent wound from their operations. Alternatively, T.R. Brennan's here in Manchester -- my old neighborhood watering hole that burned down in a fire on Christmas Day -- will rebuild and I'll finally have a good place to get breakfast again.
I can only hope.
THE OLDER I GET, the more convinced I am that saving and investing is equivalent to war. Specifically, World War I and its horrific trench warfare.
Certainly the past few months have felt like trench warfare. One day, we take a trench and make money. The next day, we lose it and our gains from the day before. The day after that, we lose several more trenches, and soon after regain them again. In the end it will prove a winning battle -- for the market has always gone up -- but in the short term the only winners are the rats. In this case the rats take 20 pc of the profits and annual management fees around two percent, growing big as dogs in the process.
But this present nastiness will someday end, even if it takes longer than we might hope. True, it is not guaranteed -- if the Black Death returns or hydrogen bombs vaporize the developed world, then we're sunk all around and we'll all have more pressing concerns than our investments. But barring a major disaster, it will turn -- there is nothing in history that suggests that will not be the case. Population growth creates wealth. Technological advances create wealth. Industrial production creates wealth. The development of new goods and services creates wealth. Wealth itself begets wealth.* It has always been and it will always be so.
The trouble is, no one knows when this will happen. It may take one year, or three, or five, or ten. It may have great pitfalls along the way. But it will happen eventually. As a result, my strategy -- as painful as it is right now -- is to hold the line on my investments and continue plowing money into my dollar-cost averaged accounts. If it pays off -- and I make no guarantee that it will -- then I should eventually have a handsome profit from these activities. It is a comforting thought, even as I log into my retirement accounts each day to see just how bad the damage has been. True, I could retreat from my positions, but my fear is that doing so would cause my retreat to turn into a rout. Instead, I've decided to hold the line.
* Wealth begets wealth, but one must be judicious in how one approaches that, as an Old Story -- I think it was one of Andrew Lang's -- illustrates.
Long ago there was a well-off merchant who happened across a wise man, and the wise man promised the merchant he could greatly increase the man's wealth. The merchant was naturally intrigued, and entrusted the wise man with his money accordingly.
Some time later, the merchant paid a call upon the wise man. "Behold," said the wise man, "look upon thy gold coins, for they have married coins of silver." The merchant was duly impressed with the increase in his wealth, and he bade the wise man continue with his plan. A year later, the merchant returned to find his wealth had increased even further. "Behold," said the wise man, "thy gold and silver coins, joined in matrimony, have beget children of copper." The merchant was overjoyed.
Five years later, the merchant returned to the wise man, downright giddy with the thoughts of how much money he would have after five years had transpired. But when he arrived at the wise man's abode, the wise man looked at him, puzzled. There was no money for him. The merchant was horrified and demanded to know what had happened. "Alas, my lord," said the wise man, "I am sorry, but your coins have all passed away."
LOYAL RANT READERS may recall the -- ah, enthusiastic -- response I received when I declared that basketball was not a real sport. Well, news today reveals that not only is basketball not a real sport, it's crooked too. At least that's the reasonable conclusion I drew from the explosive allegations just released in the Tim Donaghy matter.
First, some background. Mr Donaghy was a referee for the National Basketball Association until it emerged Mr Donaghy was a scoundrel and a cad. Mr Donaghy had not only bet on the games he was refereeing, but had passed on inside information to bookmakers, and these activities caused a great hue and cry when they were discovered. However, when Mr Donaghy pleaded guilty to related charges back in August, the scandal eventually died down. The public largely accepted that Mr Donaghy had been a rogue agent.
Unfortunately, the NBA -- committing one of the classic blunders -- did not see fit to let sleeping dogs lie. The league claimed, in a letter to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, that Donaghy owed it $1 million in restitution over the whole affair. As Mr Donaghy is due to be sentenced next month on the matter, and potentially faces a rather long spell in the yank, this did not go over well. So, Mr Donaghy's counsel, John F. Lauro of John F. Lauro PA, did some beautiful lawyering.
Not only did Counselor Lauro smack down the NBA something fierce related to the restitution demand, he also innocently included details of all the secrets Mr Donaghy revealed to the prosecutors, in a letter to the court showing how cooperative Mr Donaghy had been with the Government. This tactic was so beautifully executed -- and in the middle of the NBA Finals, no less! -- that The Rant believes Counselor Lauro can now, under the General Principle Rule, shout in court at the NBA's lawyers, "You wanna know what happened? We just whooped your ass!"
The allegations are particularly serious too. They include charges that referees favored a team to cause a playoff series to reach seven games; that referees were told to avoid calling fouls on certain players; and that referees, despite policy, were socializing with coaches, accepting free meals, and so on. So much for your Lakers-Celtics rivalry -- now, people are asking whether you can trust the NBA.
I am not a basketball fan, so I don't know the answer to that one. Although I do think basketball -- due to its fast pace, innumerable rule violations and petty emphasis on fouls -- is uniquely open to these types of issues. With football and baseball, the pace of the game is slower and the fouls are concrete: one either held a player or did not; the player is safe or he is out. Plus, with instant replay and video closeups, everyone can see whether a call was made correctly or not. But with basketball, where fouls routinely are called for no discernable reason, or completely ignored if convenient, that "cut and dried" aspect of the game doesn't seem to exist.
I don't know how one would go about fixing this, but something needs to be done -- if only to assure the fans they're watching an honest game.
WELL, HERE'S TODAY'S SHOCK ITEM: Tennis is Australia's No. 1 sport. No, that's not a typo -- I did not mean to write No. 14 sport. Tennis is the No. 1 sport Down Under, according to no less a source than the Sweeney Sports Report, which knows Australian sports like nobody's business. Amazingly, a full 57 percent of Australians are interested in tennis, while a full 34 percent of Australians attended matches where other people played.
I have to admit I'm a bit -- uh, well, gobsmacked -- about this. I mean, for God's sake, it's tennis. It's a game where the fan's greatest reward is to work out some kinks in his neck. It's a game where a score of zero is referred to as "love." It's a game where you have to dress properly to attend the matches and a game where the preferred fan conduct involves absolute silence. Don't get me started on tennis snobs, either. All of these things explain why only one percent of Americans consider tennis their favorite sport, while in the hierarchy of American sport, tennis ranks below professional bowling.
True, what little I know about Australia comes from a brief reading of their papers once in a while and various American stereotypes of the place, but still -- it's Australia. It's our most dependable ally, the one country we can count upon when the chips are down, and everyone in America loves Australia and its people. So I guess I would have thought Australians would have chosen a more, well, manly sport, like rugby league.
Now that's a sport. It's something like American football -- it even has a gridiron-like field -- except the players are crazy and don't wear any padding. Their teams have even real names. Also, there's that whole University of Michigan connection. Yet rugby league only comes up sixth in popularity, with just 42 percent of Australians interested in the game and only 15 percent attending games.
I just don't understand it. So if any of my Australian readers -- I've got to have one, surely -- could help explain this strange state of affairs, believe me when I say I'd be all ears. However, there is one bright spot to the report -- golf is down to its lowest level of interest since the Sports Report began. That I can understand!
OK, THIS SUCKS. Here I am, all ready to watch the pivotal matchup between the Los Angeles Avengers and the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League, and what do we have on ESPN2? A college baseball game between Fresno and Arizona State. A horribly long and wretched college baseball game, which 24 minutes into the AFL game is only in the top of the 8th inning. A game in which Fresno is leading 11-5.
You have got to be frickin' kidding me. We've got a game with major playoff implications going on, and we're forced to watch a blowout of a college baseball game?
Fortunately, I somehow managed to get a radio feed from Utah to listen to the game, which is turning out to be a shootout. But -- this is ridiculous. Even worse, I think the college kids are deliberately stretching out their game so they can take advantage of every second of their 15 minutes of fame. I've already missed the entire first quarter and at this rate, will miss the entire first half.
I hate spring. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. Well, if I'm lucky, the future Class A kids will wrap up before midnight, so I can see the fourth quarter.
WELL, ISN'T THIS SPECIAL? A Tennessee man who collapsed upon receiving the Holy Spirit at a church service, and as a result struck his head, has sued the church over the injuries he sustained in the incident. Matthew Lincoln has charged the Knoxville-based Lakewind Church failed to have seconds at the ready to catch him, and as such is responsible for what Mr Lincoln contends are severe and permanent injuries. The lawsuit, which Mr Lincoln's attorneys filed in the Circuit Court of Knox County, Tenn., can be seen in full here.
I must say that Mr Lincoln, who is asking for $2.5 million in damages, is a very gutsy man. After all, it takes a certain bit of gumption to sue one's own church. It especially takes gumption when the proximate cause of one's lawsuit is none other than One Person of the Triune God. After all, if the Holy Spirit had not entered Mr Lincoln, Mr Lincoln would not have collapsed, and as such would not be in the situation he finds himself now.
Now, I realize some of my readers -- actually, most of my readers -- are looking at their monitors with confused looks on their faces. Surely, you are thinking to yourselves, Kepple does not actually believe in all this speaking in tongues and collapsing in agony bit. Well, here's my take on all that.
I fully believe there are usually other reasons -- with perfectly logical and scientific explanations -- which underlie these reported experiences of speaking in tongues and collapsing and what not. However, at the same time, I can't rule out the possibility -- no matter how odd it seems -- that the Holy Spirit may very well enter at least a few of these people and cause these effects. The Roman Catholic Church, in its great wisdom and intellectual majesty, apparently doesn't rule it out either, and I looked through the Catechism pretty thoroughly. I would particularly note Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article Five ("The Anointing of the Sick"), and in particular Paragraph 1508, which reads as follows:
The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church."
I take this as meaning that if He wants to give you a surprise, He can and will.
Now, I must say I do feel badly for Mr Lincoln, as the injuries his attorneys describe in the lawsuit do sound rather severe. However, part of me thinks Mr Lincoln might be better served through going to the library and picking up a copy of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, or a similar work which looks at the theological issues surrounding human suffering. For this case does bring along with it a whole host of serious theological and legal questions, such as:
-- What exactly would God think about one of the faithful suing his house of worship over an incident that He indirectly caused? Furthermore, if the parishioner won his case, how would God react?
-- Would God be upset if the church's insurer paid the damages? After all, that $2.5 million would have to come from somewhere and I doubt the church has $2.5 million. If the insurer did, this would consequently mean higher insurance rates for the church in future, leaving less money for charitable works, keeping the parsonage kept up and all that. What would He think of this? True, if one trusts in the LORD, the LORD shall provide; but still, that is $2.5 million.
-- If the Holy Spirit did in fact enter Mr Lincoln, wouldn't that mean the Holy Spirit is a natural defendant in this case? Surely He would share some of the liability for Mr Lincoln's situation. But how do you parse that out? Although Tennessee allows joint and several liability, thus allowing all the claims to get passed to the church, shouldn't jurors consider whether the Holy Spirit is at least partially liable for Mr Lincoln's injuries? I mean, not only did the Holy Spirit contribute to them, He knew full well He would do so, as He is omniscient and exists outside of time as we know it.
-- Since no one has deposed God since Pontius Pilate, how do you address these concerns? Could one use the Defendant's past statements in lieu of a deposition?
-- If the Holy Spirit did not actually enter Mr Lincoln, would that not mean Mr Lincoln was partially or totally liable for his injuries, and knew or should have known he was in a situation where the potential for injury would have occurred? And even if the Holy Spirit did enter Mr Lincoln, did he not have a responsibility to make sure he knew everything was safe and ready prior to the laying on of hands?
-- How much of a mess will voir dire be on this one?
Actually, that voir dire process should prove pretty important in this case. You'd have to question jurors on their theological views pretty closely, I think. Do they believe in free will and predetermination? Do they believe in charismatic practices such as the laying on of hands? What do they think of the Book of Job, which deals with issues like this? If it gets to that point, it will be interesting -- but I doubt it will. God knows, as the old saw has it, that a bad settlement is preferable to a good trial.
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!
An occasional Rant feature
LOYAL RANT READERS are clever folk. You know your culture from your trash, and your plastic from your cash. You know your green from your red, and the quick from the dead. This is likely why "Your Search Engine Queries Answered!" is perhaps the most popular feature here at The Rant, because we take great pleasure in eviscerating those poor souls who are ... well, perhaps not as sharp on the uptake as those who regularly read these pages. Let's see if I'm on the ball this time around.
QUERY: can you burglarize your own home
ANSWER: I shudder to think why I got multiple queries about this, but the short answer is Generally Speaking, No. Normally, you can't burglarize your own home because burglary necessarily involves trespassing, and you can't trespass in your own home. But this gets tricky in many respects -- too many to go into here -- so talk with a lawyer.
QUERY: bud light market to senior citizens
ANSWER: Well, who else would drink the stuff, except for older Americans who grew up drinking watered-down American-style lagers? It's a natural target market for them. Also: can we take the phrase "American-style lager" out in the back and shoot it? Jesus. Our standing in the world is bad enough already without having the United States permanently singled out as the home of wretched horsepiss beer.
QUERY: why dont fans know coors as the official beer sponser of the nfl?
ANSWER: Beats me. They are who we thought they were!
QUERY: weirdest place ever in oregon
ANSWER: For my money, it's Eugene -- but you know what? Oregon is a very big and a very weird state. There may be amazing stretches of weirdness that I haven't even encountered there.
QUERY: satanism rituals witchcraft secret organizations sheboygan county wi history
(NOTICE: Upon receiving this query, Mr Kepple burst out laughing at his desk for a good 60 seconds, and then thought about some Wisconsin housewife sacrificing a casserole during a Black Mass, which prompted him to burst out into even more laughter. Consequently, he was unable to answer this question. We apologize for the inconvenience. Buy more. Buy more now! -- Standards Department, Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant Inc.)
QUERY: about how many taco bells are in the united states
QUERY: how to handle tough guys
ANSWER: One must remember the stereotypical "tough guy" -- that is, a swaggering galoot of average or limited intelligence, not the quiet guy in the corner who is almost certainly armed -- is usually compensating for his own inadequacies. He may not be all that smart; he is almost certainly not well off. As a result, all he usually wants is respect, of which he gets very little in his life. Thus, one should politely reason with the tough guy in a spirit of respect and friendship while at the same time not showing any signs of discomfort or fear, which will only goad his overpowered id. For instance, if you have unknowingly hit on the tough guy's girlfriend, it would be wise to offer your apologies and suggest you didn't realize she was accompanied for the evening.
I generally believe intellectual reason will confound the tough guy where he can't figure you out, or at the very least take all the fun out of the idea of beating you to a pulp. That said, don't provoke the idiot or get into a fight either, because then things could get very serious very quickly, and that will usually end up badly for all parties concerned.
QUERY: what does 4 minutes to save the world mean?
ANSWER: You left the iron on.
QUERY: i want to get rid of my canadian coins
ANSWER: Ah, don't we all. Unfortunately, I don't have any other suggestions other than donating them or putting them into tip jars in places that don't deserve tip jars, like Dunkin' Donuts. Banks are notoriously unreasonable about dealing with Canadian coins, even though they're practically worth the same -- if not more, occasionally -- than their heavier, better-designed American counterparts.
QUERY: stupid american football team names
ANSWER: I've covered this elsewhere -- you've undoubtedly seen it -- but I must say I've seen some stupid English football team names in my day. Oh, and Scottish. Like Heart of Midlothian. Hearts and their supporters -- who booed the Pope, for Christ's sake -- can rot in the fiery bowels of perdition. It is only because God is merciful and forgiving that Hearts have not had Tynecastle Stadium -- with its pathetic capacity of 17,420 -- smitten with a Sodom-esque hail of fire and brimstone. Well, it's either that or because He is patient and works in mysterious ways, and has undoubtedly set in motion plans for Hearts to end up at the bottom of the Scottish Football League's Third Division. In any event, Hearts will pay dearly.
QUERY: could a worm climb in to the toilet
ANSWER: Yes. Yes it could. Lots of things could climb into the toilet. You can solve this problem, however, through heavy application of Lysol.
QUERY: how do rats get in the toilet system
ANSWER: They're very clever.
QUERY: does arthur miller vilify linda as a hopeless idiot who cannot even save her family from demise
ANSWER: How should I know? The only things I know about Arthur Miller are: a) he was a playwright; b) he is a 1938 graduate of the University of Michigan and c) he married Marilyn Monroe. These three facts alone convince me of Miller's greatness, to the point where I don't need to read any of his work. You see, to be honest, I like plays, but I don't like reading scripts of plays. They don't and can't translate from stage to page, and when it comes to reading, I far prefer novels.
This is, by the way, why I consider Cervantes far and away superior to Shakespeare and why I am glad I spent a term in high school studying Don Quixote instead of well, Shakespeare. Anyway, I have no idea who Linda is, no idea why she can't save her own family, and no idea why Arthur Miller would vilify her. That's as I like it.
QUERY: i need love sweet love
ANSWER: Take a number!
QUERY: how to steal coins out of coin machine
ANSWER: Behold, the infighting is so fierce because the stakes are so small.
QUERY: what's the point of god if free will always prevails?
ANSWER: Uh, that doesn't make any sense. For one thing, you can't really argue whether there's a point to God, because that puts a human spin and need on the Almighty. The LORD is the LORD and that's all there is to it, and who are we to question His motives and actions? (See: Book of Job). As for free will, here's a theological primer to that whole subject.
QUERY: monetary units of russia a hundredth part of a rouble
ANSWER: Those would be kopeks.
QUERY: discharge hospital acute care patient won't leave
ANSWER: That's a new one. Most people usually want to get out of hospital. Certainly I do whenever I end up in one; the places smell of death and disease and industrial cleaning products. Or perhaps they just smell of industrial cleaning products, which I now associate with death and disease based on my several hospitalizations over the years. Anyway, I hate hospitals, hate visiting hospitals, and hate being in hospitals. Thus, we can determine the patient in question is insane and should be committed to the psychiatric unit, unless they don't have any money, in which case you should contact your general counsel.
QUERY: a teeanager shoul be allowed more freedom essay
ANSWER: That's the last thing we need -- teenagers with more freedom. Unless, of course, that involves the freedom to work and to be economically useful to society. Although I wouldn't be opposed to lowering the drinking age in return for a corresponding increase in the voting age.
QUERY: basketball is the best fucking sport in the world
ANSWER: Run along, son.
QUERY: what are the laws of pitbulls in newton iowa
ANSWER: Why the hell do you want a pit bull? Get a real dog, like a golden retriever -- a dog that actually does something other than cause property and casualty damage. I mean, think of your family -- do you think your family wants to be known as the people with the pit bull? The neighbors pay attention to this kind of thing.
QUERY: is usaf insane
ANSWER: I will not allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to besmirch the good name of the U.S. Air Force.
QUERY: how many ounces does a punch bowl hold?
QUERY: why did americans fall for disco
ANSWER: You know how if your foot hurts, but you give your elbow a really bad bang, you focus on the elbow and forget about your foot? Kinda the same deal.
QUERY: pronounce nivea baby name
ANSWER: Well, that's -- wait, what? Someone named their baby after a man's face-moisturizing lotion? Dear God in Heaven.
QUERY: the subway® chain is a national sponsor of the american heart association s start! heart walk. learn more here... (approximately 200 words following deleted for clarity)
ANSWER: If the Subway chain's marketers were responsible for typing that into my search-engine box, they can pre-emptively fuck off for being so completely and utterly lame. However, I am sure they were not responsible for such a thing.
QUERY: loy norrix little shop of horrors stage play cast
ANSWER: What do you mean, a "stage play?"
QUERY: compare and contrast the belize general election to the upcoming u.s general election
ANSWER: Belize has elections? Who knew?
QUERY: write a narrative essay i am 50 miles from gas station my car has broken down now what i have to do?plz complete a 500 words essay.
ANSWER: Here's a better idea. Why not drop out of school and just go straight into an entry-level position involving a lot of physical labor? I mean, if you're too bloody lazy to write an essay that should start and end with the phrase, "Call AAA," then you're probably wasting your time trying to get an education. Then again, you could actually -- wait for it -- use your brain and think of, I don't know, a scenario to get yourself out of a pickle you'll undoubtedly find yourself in someday, because you're clearly not the type to think independently or ahead. Try it -- it gets easier with practice!
QUERY: allergy to pollen spiritual meaning
ANSWER: And the LORD said unto Satan, behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. -- Job 2:6
QUERY: my wife left me because i only make 40000 per year
ANSWER: Well, you're probably better off without her. After all, it stands to reason that with time your income will increase as you gain experience and increased job responsibilities at your work; thus, your income of $40,000 per annum -- which is not really all that bad in most places these days -- will undoubtedly increase. The good news, though, is that your wife did not consider this, which means that she probably won't take you for alimony in the ensuing divorce proceedings.
QUERY: i was made fun of because i sucked at basketball
ANSWER: So play football. Unlike basketball, that's a real sport.
QUERY: 20 thousand dollar diamond ring
ANSWER: That's quite a ring. I always thought I would spend between five and ten thousand on a ring, but don't let me talk you out of it. If you want to spend twenty grand then go for it.
QUERY: pimped out sables
ANSWER: I don't even want to know.
QUERY: suing a stockbroker
ANSWER: Good luck with that!
QUERY: should men look after their wives financially
ANSWER: YES. That's your job, for God's sake. Even if you're not the sole breadwinner, you don't want your wife eating cat food when you're dead. So make sure the papers are in order.
QUERY: soy milk in san miguel de allende
ANSWER: See the expat from New Orleans who owns the bagel shop off the Jardin. If there's anyone who can find soy milk in San Miguel, I'm betting it's him.
QUERY: michigan state sucks!
ANSWER: You'll have no argument from me there.
QUERY: roman punishments treadmill
ANSWER: I've always considered the treadmill as bad as the flagellum.
QUERY: casa carino telephone san miguel de allende
ANSWER: Call Casas Elegantes, which I can assure you is an excellent way to secure lodgings in San Miguel. Sadly, I do not have the $10,200 per week or $34,000 per month required to stay at Casa Carino.
QUERY: manchester wolves game june 6 2008 who televises?
ANSWER: This depends. If you are in the Manchester area, you should go to the games themselves, which are fun and inexpensive. If you are not in the Manchester area, you can download a television viewer from the af2's Web site. I use this to watch the away games and it works extremely well on modern computer systems.
QUERY: cut off your nose to spite your face
ANSWER: I would never -- ever -- do such a thing. Really. Honest.
QUERY: effects of the gallic wars
ANSWER: Rome won.
QUERY: how does today s slavery manifest itself?
ANSWER: Generally through debt slavery or other pernicious scheme, where poor sharecroppers or workers are perpetually up to their eyeballs in obligations to their landlords or bosses. It's not technically slavery, but may as well be given the economics of the situation; the debtors must keep working to pay their debts, which never go down. Outright slavery has generally been outlawed throughout the world, but still exists under cover of secrecy in several countries. If we include in this mix workers who are paid nothing but subsistence wages for their work, and have considerable deductions for room and board taken out of their pay, then ... well, I'd put the number at 100 or 200 million, even if only about 30 million are held under what one would consider traditional slavery.
QUERY: who is benjamin kepple?
ANSWER: Benjamin Kepple is a 32-year-old journalist, professional misanthrope and dedicated football fan living in Manchester, N.H. He is a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., an alumnus of the University of Michigan and passionate defender of the Midwestern United States and its people. His interests include professional football, business and finance, theology, economics and foreign policy. He is not really interested in politics or bad television, although he certainly does own a television so he can watch sports and CNBC. Tall, single, nice eyes, iffy dancer, very good memory, overweight but much less so than in the past. That about covers it, I think.
And that about covers it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time for even more depressing silliness.
TO: Commissioner Mark Cohon
FR: Benjamin Kepple
RE: U.S. Broadcasting Schedules
Dear Commissioner Cohon,
In your open letter to fans of the Canadian Football League on Friday, you made a point of saying the league would "focus on our other efforts to continue the strong momentum of our business and our game" following the collapse of talks to extend a cooperation agreement with the National Football League. I am confident these efforts are progressing well and I look forward to this year's season, as well as the future establishment of CFL teams in Ottawa and Halifax.
I would, however, note these efforts would be bolstered if the CFL were to enter into a wide-ranging broadcast agreement with American cable channels so the entirety of the league's games could be widely broadcast in the United States. Unfortunately, since I live in Manchester, N.H., I have traditionally only been able to watch live broadcasts during the first half of the season, along with the Grey Cup. It would really be cool if I could watch CFL games during the entirety of the year, as I root for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and would like to follow the squad closely all year if I could.
Which reminds me: your season starts in less than three weeks, and yet the CFL's Web site has not yet published the U.S/International broadcast schedule. Why is this? How can I plan to watch the Roughriders if I don't know when they are going to air? This greatly concerns me, as the Canadian Football League is an integral part of my strategy to survive the horrible seven-month drought without regular football broadcasts. As a result, I hope the CFL will announce the schedules soon.
Thank you for your time and attention.
P.S. Je peux t'envoyer une copie de cette lettre en français pour vos dossiers, si vous avez besoin d'un.
GUY VANDERJERK -- I mean Vanderjagt -- has returned to the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, according to published news reports.
Good. Now that the Argonauts are stuck with Mr Wide Right, it should mean even smoother sailing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, whom I think all can agree are due to win the Grey Cup again this year. True, the two teams are in separate divisions, but they do play each other during the year, and so I'm excited to see the Argos tilt the scales even more in the Riders' direction. Yeah.
Mr Vanderjagt, an Ontario native whom you-know-who famously dismissed as that "idiot kicker," was the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. However, some observers -- like me -- believe this accomplishment is overrated. After all, the teams he played for hold games indoors and as such, don't have to deal with pesky things like "wind" and "rain" and "snow."
HERE'S THE SITUATION: You're in a mall. However, due to bad planning, you are in the mall because it offers temporary refuge from a horde of flesh-eating zombies, whose undead nature is driving them to attack the living and consume their brains and force them to watch reality television shows. Assuming you've kept your wits about you -- there's something to be said for running around witless in terror in these situations -- you face three choices:
1. What weapon -- you get one -- would you use?
2. You get one theme song to blast on the speakers.
3. You can have one famous person -- real or fictional -- to fight alongside you.
I should note, before I go any further, that I learned of this quiz at Dean's World, which is having a rather lively discussion on the matter. In this discussion, we have learned that a flamethrower would be a bad choice for a weapon -- crap -- and that one can make a good argument for having Barack Obama fight the zombie hordes with you. However, my thoughts on the matter are as follows.
For one thing, I must say that if I do happen to find myself in a mall during a zombie invasion, it will represent an utter failure of my disaster planning. At present, my plans to deal with major disasters generally involve sneaking out of the country before things get wretchedly serious, and showing up in Mexico on a tourist visa. This will give me six months in Mexico to wait things out and plot my eventual triumphant return to the United States, where I can buy up property on the cheap with profits from clever speculation in the currency markets. Although being a hero would have its benefits, I'm don't see how they compare with living a quiet and well-off existence in the beautiful highlands of central Mexico.
But let's say things have fallen apart and I'm stuck in a mall with zombies running around every place. OK, fine. My weapon of choice is an AK-47. Why, you ask? Well, a Kalashnikov is rugged, reliable, and so easy to use even I -- who have never fired a weapon in my life and have no plans to do so -- wouldn't shoot myself in the foot with it. It's so common that I should be able to find another one if mine breaks. Plus, I can switch easily between the semi-automatic and full automatic modes, meaning I can conserve ammunition while dispatching zombies, and then unleash death at 600 rounds per minute if I'm surrounded. Terrorize this, you brain-eating scoundrels!
So now that I have my weapon, I need a soundtrack to go along with my saving humanity. There are plenty of options here, but I think I'd go for something upbeat. "California Soul" by Marlena Shaw is upbeat, and it would work great if I had an entourage playing the song along with me. Plus, since I can listen to a song for hours without getting tired of it, that would work great as a theme song. Other possibilities include Eminem's "Lose Yourself," or perhaps "The Real Slim Shady," or even -- if I'm feeling ironic -- "Land of Confusion" by Genesis. Also, I understand Slim Pickens works too in these situations.
Along with that, if I'm fighting the zombie menace, I get to wear a suit and a power tie (properly loosened, of course). It's my thing.
But who would I want to fight alongside me? This is perhaps the toughest question of all, since I can choose anyone. The natural choice, of course, is Jesus Christ. If Christ can raise the dead, and send Legion into a herd of pigs, then He isn't going to blink twice at a zombie menace. But choosing the Son of God, although clever, is still lame in the grand scheme of things. Cheating, really. So, if I had to choose a character, I would pick ...
Now, I realize Loyal Rant Readers will respond to this choice by saying, "Who?" But let me explain. Mortimer is a bounty hunter and a very good one. He is a fantastic shot. Also, he's played by Lee Van Cleef. Lee Van Cleef, people. The man's got style. Also his characters are usually smarter than the others in the old Westerns, as one can see in his portrayal of Mortimer. I could work with a man like this.
True, I did think of other characters that would work out. For instance, Inspector Harry Callahan. But that clearly wouldn't work. Oh, it'd work for a while, sure, as Callahan went around knocking out zombies with a frickin' hand cannon. But I think we all know where it would go. As Callahan's partner, I wouldn't make it two-thirds of the way through the adventure. So while Callahan takes a break to beat up Hal Holbrook or get some lady's phone number, I'd get conveniently massacred. No thank you.
Then, there's Jules Winnfield from "Pulp Fiction." This would work because Jules is handy with a weapon, and would use a particular twelve-letter obscenity at appropriate times. Also, we could use his 1974 Chevrolet Nova to escape from the mall. But this also might not work, because we know what happens to Jules' partner, and again, if I am fighting the zombie hordes, my goal is to, well, live. So he's out.
So I think Mortimer is my logical selection here. Plus, there's one other potential side benefit. Mortimer may find that after the zombie horde is defeated, he will run off and leave me with the cache of gold / diamonds / banknotes because I've earned it. Other potential partners would probably demand at least half.
What's that? Well, I don't care if you don't like it. Go get Snake Plissken to fight the zombies and see how well that works out.
Admittedly, the Manchester Wolves' four-and-six record may not seem a lot to cheer about. It is, however, something to cheer about when you consider the following:
* The Wolves have won three games in a row.
* Two of these victories have come against some of the af2's best teams: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which was 7-1 when we played them) and Florida (which was 8-1 prior to tonight's game).
* The Wolves' defensive play has contributed mightily to these victories.
The progress the Wolves, my city's minor-league arena football team, have made in the last few weeks is nothing short of stunning. I don't know what they did to bring it about, but they finally got things moving all ahead full. Tonight's game against the Florida Firecats was proof positive of how well the team is playing.
We beat Florida by the resounding score of 47-35 this evening. As Loyal Rant Readers know, when your arenaball team holds an opponent to under 40 points, your defense is playing awfully well, and when they hold them to under 30, it's usually a rout. Although tonight's game didn't turn into a rout, it certainly had the potential to have gone that way, given the play of our defense.
To be sure, things weren't perfect: two of Florida's touchdowns resulted from what can charitably be called "blown" pass coverage. I expect our coach will put the players through hell this week as a result, as it is difficult to defend pass plays when your nearest player is several yards from the opposing team's open receiver. But aside from that, the defensive play was brilliant, particularly that of our defensive line, which punished Florida's quarterback severely. The man had to throw the ball away several times under pressure, was sacked at crucial moments, and near the end, as Florida was trying to gain a score that would have put them back in the game, defensive lineman Joe Crear forced a fumble -- which we promptly scooped up. Beautiful. Also beautiful: two goal-line stands that kept Florida out of the endzone and resulted in turnovers on downs.
Then there's the offense, which performed amazingly well. Aside from one unfortunate turnover -- a fumble after a reception -- the offense was unstoppable. Although our 47 points may seem a bit low for an unstoppable performance, don't let it fool you -- that was simply a function of Florida's drives taking long, not Manchester failing to score. We scored right out of the gate and didn't look back, and some of the scoring plays were downright brilliant. My favorite play? Well, our quarterback, James Pinkney, threw a bullet at our star ironman* wide receiver/ linebacker, Bradly Chavez, and as Chavez went for the ball it touched off its fingertips. It flew into the endzone, where one of our other ironmen, wide receiver/defensive back Steven Savoy, caught it. The crowd went wild. Chavez was on the ground, lying on his back, bemoaning the lost catch -- and then he realized it was a touchdown. He too started clapping.
Chavez, who has fast become a fan favorite, made some impressive plays himself. The most impressive was a long touchdown pass which he caught in the endzone and managed to hang onto, despite ramming into the dasher boards and flying out of the endzone -- along with the defender. But he had possession in the field of play, and the touchdown stood.
Simply put, this is the type of game I wished my folks had seen in Cleveland last week, when the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League -- the big league -- played the Dallas Desperadoes. Tonight, the officiating was nearly impeccable (perhaps entirely so), there was plenty of defense, and the crowd was very much into it. Very very much into it. I also thought the announcers, as I've noted before, again handled the crowd brilliantly. It's amazing how the sight of the "Noisemeter" on the jumbotron can whip people into a frenzy.
In summary, although the Wolves are now 4-6 and are presently ranked ninth in the conference -- meaning they're one spot out of playoff contention -- this is a team I really feel good about. The best part is that the hard part of the schedule is now pretty much over.
We have six games left in the season. Two of these are against the pathetic Mahoning Valley Thunder, which at 2-8 are yet again proof that Youngstown, Ohio, can't get a break to save its life. Two of these games are against the Albany Conquest, which is not a bad squad, but one that has hit a rough patch and can be beaten. We have one game to play against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton -- which we know we can beat, although it won't be easy -- and our final game is against the Corpus Christi Sharks, which is an average squad.
It is likely we will win four of these games. It is certainly possible we could win all six. If we go 8-8 we have a good shot at the playoffs and at 10-6 we would almost certainly make it into the post-season. That would rule. It would especially rule because I'm feeling good things about this team. This is a team that is rising at the right time, and a team that seems to have that special spark about it. Whether they'll be like the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers of 2005 remains to be seen, but they certainly seem to have that potential.
There's even more reason for arenaball fans to be excited about next year. One does not want to get ahead of oneself, but it would appear we're due to get some new teams into the league in 2009. This would rule. If one looks at the Wikipedia page for the league -- gotta love the wiki -- and delves into the source material, it seems very likely we'll have teams in Buffalo and Milwaukee; quite likely we'll have a team in Alberquerque; somewhat likely we'll have a team playing in Mississippi (we'll see if they can find a venue for 2009) and potentially -- as in, there's an outside chance -- teams in Yakima, Wash., and Saskatoon, Sask.
Dude. Yakima? Saskatoon? I am so there -- so frickin' there. God, please let this happen.
In the meantime, though, hats off to the Wolves for another excellent performance.
* In arena football, an "ironman" plays both offense and defense.
IT MAY BE TIME for the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to give up and start over. When it takes one billion Zimbabwe dollars -- which have already been revalued once -- to buy one American dollar, you may as well start hoarding canned goods and ammunition. Which is perhaps what Zimbabwe's leaders have been doing all these months as the country's economy goes through its death throes.
What's that? You think I'm kidding? Fair enough. The article linked above was, after all, published this morning. The exchange rate now stands at close to two billion Zimbabwe dollars for every US$1, according to this handy money-transfer site. Fortunately, the RBZ has starting printing special agricultural bearer checks in amounts up to Z$50 billion, which means they could actually hold value for as long as -- oh, let's give it a week or two. If the farmers are clever they will put their money into the Zimbabwe stock exchange, which has shot up to 900 billion points. (No, that's not a typo).
At this point, the RBZ has two options. It could create a new dollar and revalue, and take the big step of not printing any more money, or it could say the hell with it and go for the record. Back in 1947, the Hungarian pengo hit the downright silly exchange rate of roughly 47 octillion to the dollar. Yes, octillion. Or, if you prefer, 47 thousand trillion trillion. However, as I am sure the RBZ's directors would prefer not to go down in history as the worst economic managers of all time, maybe the first option would work.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL'S "Real Time Economics" blog has published a rather alarming post about how the Baby Boomers have once again failed to change the world for the better. Not only that, they've failed to even provide for themselves.
The Journal tells us the Baby Boomers -- collectively, of course -- have thrown out the life-cycle theory of consumption, which holds that people save a lot when they are in middle age. Instead of saving 30 pc of their money like their forebears, today's middle-aged folks are saving just 20 pc of their income at best and as little as 10 pc at worst. This, the newspaper writes, has left them woefully unprepared for retirement -- and only one-third of the Baby Boomers are adequately prepared for their old age.
This is alarming because I think we all know who will have to pay for all this -- and it ain't the kids who spent their youth playing the tambourine and singing along with the Cowsills.
WELL, HERE'S TODAY'S "Sun Rises in the East" headline: "Newfound savings penchant could retard growth." Gee. You don't say.
Of course, before everyone starts bemoaning the complete inability of Americans to save, let's note the "savings rate" is a bit of a misnomer. The rate doesn't include capital gains in housing or investments, and those are important savings vehicles for many people. That also explains why they don't save as much: if you have a million dollar stock portfolio and $250,000 equity in your house, you're not exactly worried about not being able to pay the electric bill. Still, as a matter of course, I suppose we should be happy that people are starting to shore up their finances to the point where the savings rate is no longer negative.
TODAY'S ALARMING NEWS: Mr Bill is now a pitchman for MasterCard-branded debit cards.
First thought: Oh nooooooooooooooooo!
Second thought: Let's see how long that goes before Mr Sluggo tells Mr Hands that Mr Bill is overdrawn, and must now pay three $39 overdraft fees for the $2 coffee, $4 crueller and $1 newspaper he bought on the way to catch his train in the morning. Oh noooooooooooooooooo!
SOME TIME BACK, I briefly noted -- thanks to the work of Mr David Malki ! -- that it would be nice if if I could get rich without hustling suckers and idiots. However, there are times I think there's something to be said for hustling people who are easily parted from their money, particularly when I see a good idea that someone else developed.
The latest good idea which I should have considered sooner may be seen at "You've Been Left Behind!" This site, the creation of Massachusetts-based You've Been Left Behind LLC, exists to provide evangelical Christians a way to alert their unsaved friends and family about Christ's saving grace in the event of the Rapture. Yes, that Rapture, where the LORD our God calls home all the God-fearing, right-thinking Christians of the world, while the rest of us (the Pointedly Non-Elect) are condemned to suffer through the Tribulation prior to the Last Day.
The Tribulation shall be terrible indeed: there shall be shortages and hyperinflation, and every mountain and island shall be removed from its place, and the Horsemen shall alight upon the withered globe, spreading pestilence and death and agony. Also the Oakland Raiders will win the Super Bowl year after year. However, the good people at You've Been Left Behind offer us hope. For just $40 per annum -- I mean, each year -- You've Been Left Behind LLC will save important documents and e-mail them out to family and friends when the Rapture comes. This is because anyone who would spend $40 each year on such a service is so gullible -- I mean, so pure in heart -- that the LORD will sweep them up to His presence without so much as a by-your-leave.
So the service is part estate-planning and part spiritual tool -- as we can see in the "Why?" section of You've Been Left Behind's Web site, which says:
We all have family and friends who have failed to receive the Good News of the Gospel. The unsaved will be 'left behind' on earth to go through the "tribulation period" after the "Rapture" ... Imagine how taken back they will be by the millions of missing Christians and devastation at the rapture. They will know it was true and that they have blown it. There will be a small window of time where they might be reached for the Kingdom of God. We have made it possible for you to send them a letter of love and a plea to receive Christ one last time.
You will also be able to give them some help in living out their remaining time. In the encrypted portion of your account you can give them access to your banking, brokerage, hidden valuables, and powers of attorneys' (you won't be needing them any more, and the gift will drive home the message of love). There won't be any bodies, so probate court will take 7 years to clear your assets to your next of Kin. 7 years of course is all the time that will be left. So, basically the Government of the AntiChrist gets your stuff, unless you make it available in another way. You can also send information based on scripture as to what will happen next. Each fulfilled prophecy will cause your letter and plea to be remembered and a decision to be made.
"WHY" is one last chance to bring them to Christ and snatch them from the flames!
I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade, but I live in the United States of America. The Government already gets my stuff and there is nothing I can do about it. So it's not exactly going to make a lot of difference if Randall Flagg suddenly shows up three weeks after the Big Surprise and starts forcing us all into work camps. Besides, let's face it -- if the Tribulation was really a Tribulation, one doubts that brokerage statements or other valuables would prove, well, valuable to anyone dealing with the End Times. You don't need to save money -- and you certainly won't invest it -- if in a scant few years Christ Himself is dividing us up into sheep and goats. That would take all the fun out of it.
Along those lines, while I am sure the nation's probate courts will be pleased to realize the End Timers have such faith in their workings, it seems unlikely one would need anything more than a codicil to his will to have his wishes carried out. If millions of people suddenly go poof, it is not much of a stretch to think a proper probate court would agree to let their survivors get the vanished folks' Ford F-150s.
For that matter, what's all this bit about flames? Who the hell says Hell is hot? Here at The Rant, which operates under Roman Catholic principles, we believe Hell is very much in line with Dante's vision of it. Thus, it could well be cold. Really cold. Or even temperate. It all depends.
Of course, as a Roman Catholic, I do not believe in the Rapture, which is an invention of the 1830s. However, for my evangelical brethren who do believe in it, I would suggest that one could keep the $40 per year and instead engage in some smart estate planning. After all, no man knoweth the day nor the hour.
CLEVELAND, Ohio, May 31 -- I CAN ASSURE READERS I am becoming more like my father with each passing day. As the latest proof of this, I would note my extreme disappointment with the Arena Football League, which on Saturday evening single-handedly destroyed months of work in which I've tried to convince my immediate family that arena football is a legitimate sport, worthy of their support and attention.
You see, my father -- Mr Kepple -- does not like it when his investments do not pan out. I don't like it when my investments fail either. I especially don't like it when Mr Kepple spends a considerable amount of money to get the family fabulous seats for an AFL game, all in honor of his eldest son returning home for a weekend, and the game turns into a complete fiasco because of the referees officiating the game. In fact, it was the worst officiating I've seen in more than a decade of being a very passionate football fan -- including the Jan. 15, 2006 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. In this case it not only cost the Cleveland Gladiators football team a victory over the hated Dallas Desperadoes, but perhaps a spot in the AFL's playoffs.
As Loyal Rant Readers know, I'm not even a fan of the team. My AFL loyalties lie with the Grand Rapids Rampage, which after a brief flash of glory earlier in the year is again in the league's basement. Furthermore, although I generally watch AFL games on television, my true loyalties are to the Manchester Wolves of the arenafootball2 development league. So it should be pretty clear that I don't have a dog in this particular hunt. However, as a Wolves season ticket holder, and someone who actually travels outside New England for the sole purpose of watching arena football, and someone who blogs about the sport, I do feel as if I have a vested interest in arena football and its future. Saturday's game did not provide a reasonable rate of return on that interest.
For readers unfamiliar with the particular fiasco I am discussing, I would direct you to The Plain Dealer's coverage of the game in question, which contains several enlightening quotes from the Gladiators' top brass, who rightfully blast the officiating. But here's the gist of it all.
Now you should know there were three arguably iffy calls in this game: one the officials were probably right about, one the officials' judgment could reasonably be questioned, and one in which the officials were flat out wrong -- to the point where everyone in the stadium knew it but them.
The first call happened immediately at the end of the first half, in which Dallas was leading 34-31 and had the ball in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Dallas QB Clint "Golden Boy" Dolezel -- whom even I must admit is a fine quarterback, even though I hate Dallas -- threw a deep ball on the last play. One of Cleveland's defensive backs managed to intercept it deep in Gladiator territory, and ran it back for a touchdown. The crowd was electrified. The players were charged. It was an amazing and beautiful play. Yet the zebras called a clipping penalty against the Gladiators, negating the play and ending the half.
That was a heartbreaker. It was not, however, much of a clip -- at least in my judgment. It wasn't even a block from behind; it was a front block, more like a dive, in which the intent of the player was to try and slow up the defender trying to stop Cleveland's man from making a touchdown. Now on this one, the officials may well have been right -- but to me it seemed a bit much.
However, the officials were certainly NOT right when in the second half, Dallas was driving for a touchdown and their running back clearly fumbled the ball on the three yard line. After a scrum, Cleveland recovered it -- but this was negated after the braindead officiating crew somehow ruled Dallas' player was down by contact. The man was no more down by contact than I was in the thirteenth row. Furthermore, I was on the opposite side of the field and even I could see it was a clear fumble -- so how the officials thought the man was down by contact amazes me. When the replay was broadcast on the jumbotron, the crowd erupted in a massive tirade of hate and fury, because the call was so obviously wrong.
Now I can certainly understand that human beings make mistakes -- and spectacularly bad ones at that. But the next play did not help matters. The play on which the fumble was made was a third down, and thus Dallas was now facing a fourth down on which to make a touchdown. Cleveland successfully sacked Dolezel and got the ball back on downs. Or Cleveland would have, had not the refs called a defensive back for holding in the endzone. At this point, my reaction was, "You have got to be kidding me."
As Gladiators president Bernie Kozar put it later -- Bernie Kozar, ladies and gentlemen -- "I can't wait to see the replay on that one." Neither could I -- but sadly, our attempt to record the game at home proved unsuccessful. Perhaps the referees were correct in making that holding call, but it certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Anyway, as one might imagine, Cleveland lost and Dallas won. But the outcome of the game did not bother me. What really bothered me was the fact that I had spent months talking up the game of arena football to my skeptical family, and my family clearly left the game unimpressed with it, even if they were polite about the whole thing. The crappy officiating was the big reason why. I asked my younger brother -- who before the game had uncharitably described the sport as a "clusterfuck" -- whether he had enjoyed the game despite the officiating. His response was, essentially, that one could not separate the two. I can't blame him. And I am embarrassed. Greatly embarrassed.
OK, Ben. Deep -- breaths. Deep -- breaths. Bad air out, good air in.
I do have to give the Gladiators credit for putting on an excellent show regardless of the crappy officiating. I particularly liked the stunt where they blindfolded fans and gave them a chance to win a prize if the fans -- still blindfolded -- managed to stumble from the endzone to midfield, where they had to grab a helmet or something. Anyway, this proved exceptionally enjoyable when one of the excited fans took off like a shot from the endzone, only to run smack into the Gladiators special teams' unit heading out for a kickoff. Oops.
Also, I can assure the Gladiators their cheerleaders were a big hit. However, as a football purist, I am not a fan of having the cheerleaders cheer in the aisles. This is not to say I do not like the cheerleaders; I am a man, after all, and I am not going to complain too much if a pretty girl wearing very little is rallying the troops not fifteen feet from my seat. However, when the pretty girl obstructs my view of the football on the field, that's problematic. I am there to watch football, not dancing girls.
I do, however, have to give a demerit to the Gladiators' announcers, who did not manage the crowd as well as one might have hoped. True, the crowd itself was less interested in the game than one might have liked, but crowds can be massaged. The Manchester Wolves do an excellent job of this at their games and routinely get the crowd fired up on crucial third and fourth downs; but the Gladiators' man was off key in doing this. Improving this might help the team. I have been assured the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team also does a good job of this, and routinely goads the crowd through flashing the Pittsburgh Steelers' and Michigan Wolverines' logos on the scoreboard; perhaps doing that might really tick off -- I mean, fire up -- the crowd. Just a thought.
Also, now that I've vented my spleen, I would be remiss if I didn't note the Manchester Wolves are now 3-6 after upsetting the Albany Conquest and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers in back-to-back wins. Sadly, I have not been able to see the team carry out these wins. Like many football fans I am superstitious and now wonder if my presence at future games will jinx the team. Still, I do feel I should get out there and support my team, especially since it is now playing excellently and has learned some very important lessons. Plus, like all true sports fans, I don't let disappointments get me down. Here's to a victory against Florida on Friday night, and to the playoffs later this summer!