July 31, 2008

Analysts: Ramirez Trade to "Pull New England Out of Recession"

Financial Rant

BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox's decision to trade outfielder Manny Ramirez in a three-way swap that saw Ramirez head to the Los Angeles Dodgers should pull New England, and perhaps the nation, out of the current economic recession within nine months, financial analysts said.

Financial experts said trading Ramirez to the West Coast, a move that would effectively end public knowledge of the outfielder's notorious antics, would spark a productivity boost in New England that could cut unemployment in half, increase durable-goods orders by one-fifth, and boost consumer confidence. This was directly attributed to the fact that New England's baseball-mad populace -- who follow the sport with a devotion not seen elsewhere in America -- would not spend hours talking about Ramirez's latest stunts at the office.

"Now that Ramirez has been exiled to Los Angeles, where more people would pay attention to Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin berating his defense, New England finally can get back to work," said economist Fred Carsten of the Rozelle Institute in Wakefield, Mass. "Untold man-hours of productive time will be freed up, which should spark an economic rebound that will push the Northeast towards unparalleled prosperity."

Signs this might actually happen were evident on the streets of Boston last night.

"It's like some great weight has been lifted from my shoulders," said Dorchester resident Alvin Peters, a data-entry clerk. "I think I'm going to have a good night's sleep, go into work tomorrow feeling great, and finish all those reports my boss has been wanting."

"I haven't wanted to go to work for years," said Ted Wojciechkowski, a viral marketer from Brookline. "But now, I think I can live with the soul-crushing existence of my job without Ramirez being a distraction."

Carsten warned, however, that any economic recovery could be sidelined if New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady were to get injured this fall, although he noted such an incident would cause a burst of productivity and increased consumer confidence in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New York, and southern Florida.

It is unclear how the greater Los Angeles market will react to "Manny being Manny," but most analysts believe the impact will be relatively small, citing the greater popularity of football, basketball, soccer, arena football and hockey among Angelenos. Experts also believe the lack of attention publicly paid to Ramirez's antics will lead the outspoken player to become a shambling, withdrawn remnant of his former self within two years.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 28, 2008

A House Divided

WITH LESS THAN ONE WEEK before the beginning of football's pre-season, I realized one thing to which I'm especially looking forward this season: the spirited debate which takes place between various members of my family, both immediate and extended, on professional football.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, my family is a very tight-knit bunch. But when it comes to the world of football, we Kepples have multiple and competing loyalties, to the point where spelling them all out reads like a plot-line in a James Clavell novel. Take my immediate family, for instance. I support the Pittsburgh Steelers. My father does as well. But my brother is a die-hard Cleveland Browns supporter who hates Pittsburgh with all his being and would like nothing more for them to go 1-15. My mother, meanwhile, has thrown her support to the Browns, although she still roots for Pittsburgh if they're not playing the Browns. I support the Browns if they're not playing the Steelers or their potential victory won't affect the Steelers, and my father does the same. This annoys my brother to no end, as he would not root for Pittsburgh if his life depended on it. (This is not unusual for Cleveland fans).

But it doesn't stop there. My uncle, the Rev. Uncle Dave, is a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, despite being a man of God. As a result, I suspect his entire family may support the Bengals as well, with the known exception of Cousin Dan, who gave up on the Bengals and started rooting for -- ugh -- the Indianapolis Colts. Fortunately, the rest of my extended family are Pittsburgh Steelers fans, as far as I know, so Dad and I can count on them for moral support.

Fortunately, few of my friends have alarming sports loyalties. My friend Chris is a New England Patriots fan, but this is allowed because he grew up in Massachusetts and suffered during the long march of the Nineties. My friend Simon From Jersey is a devout Detroit Lions fan, so there is absolutely no way I can get upset with him. For one thing, the Lions are my third team; for another, they're the Lions, and as such each season is bound to end in disappointment. My friend Geoff is also a Lions fan, but every time he mentions it, it is with an air of resignation. He knows how things will almost certainly turn out.

But as of now, we're all undefeated. As of now, we all have hope.

Let the -- uh, discussion -- begin.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Hometown in the News Again

AP: KALAMAZOO POLICE nab suspect hiding in trash can.

Predicted defense: But your honor, I was looking for soda cans.

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Man Shoots Lawnmower, Claims Property Rights as Defense

A MILWAUKEE MAN faces a felony charge after using a sawed-off shotgun to shoot his lawnmower after the machine wouldn't start, the Associated Press reports. Apparently, Keith Walendowski, 56, justified his action by saying: "I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want."

Silly man. This is the United States of America.

Of course, even if the United States was still a free country, Mr Walendowski might have faced criminal charges. It will come as no surprise to learn Mr Walendowski was not sober during this incident, and it is the height of foolishness to handle weapons in such a state. Also, the guy used a sawed-off shotgun, which is not exactly a precise weapon. As a result, blasting the lawnmower in a densely-populated urban area could prove risky to any unfortunates in the immediate vicinity.

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

Oil and Speculation

ROGER BOOTLE has written an important column in The Telegraph on the commodity markets. It is worth reading, particularly as it addresses the matter of speculation in said markets -- and is cleverly written, as we can see with this quote, addressing the potential of a commodities collapse:

Mind you, not everyone would be a winner. In such a scenario all of those who had bet on sharply higher commodity prices would lose out. Would some banks find themselves nursing substantial losses on commodities? Believe me, if there's a way of losing money lying out there somewhere, they will find it.

Speaking of the oil markets, it's worth noting the Chinese are going to essentially send their entire country on holiday for the duration of the Olympics. I'm just pointing this out.

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

This Recession is Really Starting to Hurt, Part III

NEW YORK POST: Depression-era styles return to fashion. Although there would be certain advantages to reviving parts of the Thirties -- swing music! train travel! -- I would suggest this is not one of them.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:15 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 27, 2008

Fixing Albany

AFTER THE MANCHESTER WOLVES (9-7) finished off their season with an impressive and exciting 46-45 win over the Corpus Christi Sharks (8-8), I was scanning the headlines on ArenaFan and found a rather interesting story about the Albany Conquest. As in, the team's for sale. As in, the team's for sale for just a quarter of a million dollars.

Hmmmmm. Let's see ... oh, drat. I don't have the money with me. Well, let's look at my books, then -- oh, drat. I'm short. Plus, even if I did have a quarter of a million dollars, that wouldn't be enough money to rescue the Conquest. To do it right you would need at least a million bucks on top of that. Sadly, the Conquest is a money-losing franchise and so you would need a lot of capital to right the ship.

But I do think it could be done. Albany has some particular hurdles that must be overcome, but they can be overcome with the right amount of grit and hustle, by which I mean salesmanship. First, though, let's look at some numbers.

It costs about $1 milion -- now, perhaps $1.1 million or $1.2 million -- to run an af2 franchise for a year. That we know, based on a Forbes magazine story written a few years ago which featured my team, the glorious (and profitable!) Manchester Wolves. It is possible you could get away with less but since you don't want to cut corners, you should expect to pay that kind of money. So let's settle on an expense figure of $1.1 million.

This consequently means that you need revenues of at least $1.1 million to avoid nasty calls from your bankers. So how do you get $1.1 million in revenues? Well, let's look at the revenue breakdown. According to the Forbes article, 47 pc of revenue for a typical af2 team comes from ticket sales, 33 pc from corporate sponsorship, 10 pc from merchandise and concessions, 9 pc from radio and television advertising, and 1 pc from "other." Broken out for our example, that means selling $517,000 worth of tickets, getting $366,666 in corporate dollars, $110,000 from merchandise and concessions, and roughly $100,000 from radio and television.

The two big areas where a front office can do well are on the ticket and corporate sides. Everything else will follow.

Now the corporate dollars require salesmanship. Your corporate sponsors want value for money. How do you do that? Sell ads and tickets. Sell naming rights to the field. Sell ads on jerseys. Sell ads on the padding. Sell ads on the banners around the field. Do business in-kind: you feed my players one night a week, I promote you during each game and invite people to eat at Joe's with the team. Throw in some free tickets as incentives for companies -- they can be used as free morale-boosters for the troops. You provide free stuff for giveaways and we'll promote the hell out of it. Give away gasoline. Give away a car. But promote, promote, promote.

Let's break it down even further when it comes to ticket sales. There are eight home games in a season, meaning one would need $64,625 in ticket sales per game for that portion of the break-even price. An Albany Conquest season ticket holder this year paid anywhere from $33.75 to $9 per game for a ticket, depending on location, with most going for $16 each. If we assume the really good seats cancel out the endzone seats, let's say the average is $16 each. Thus, if the team could sell 4,039 season tickets, they'd break even on that component right from the get-go. The average overall attendance in Albany the past year was about 3,700, according to ArenaFan.

There are two problems I see with the Conquest's strategy as is. First, they've made many of the tickets too cheap. Second, there are no discounts for youth or seniors -- at least, none that I saw on their tickets page. Both these things are serious errors in my mind and will be difficult to correct. After all, since you've devalued the tickets (and the team isn't all that good) you have little power to increase prices. Second, in not discounting tickets for youth and seniors, you're creating a mental barrier for potential buyers.

So how does one fix this? Volume. Raise the adult prices a little bit -- there's some breathing room there. For instance, the single-game sideline seats could be sold for $20 instead of $18 without too much blowback. But youth tickets could be sold for $10 and senior tickets for $15. Be ruthless in cutting prices for kids. Kids mean adults. That's the iron-clad equation of minor-league sports. Kids mean adults.

Let's say you have a family of four wanting to buy sideline tickets for a season. This year, they would have paid $512 for season tickets. Now, I don't know about you, but to me $512 is a lot of money. Here's a better idea. Sell the adult tickets for $18 each (a $2 increase over now) and sell the kids' tickets for $5 each. That brings in $368 -- not too much less -- but your family of four is going to think, "Wow. Football games for the kids cheap." The kids will be happy, which makes the parents happy, and it's good for everyone. (The Wolves offered really cheap youth season tickets this year, and I thought it was particularly inspired).

If you were able to attract just 50 new families with this pricing scheme, it would translate to $18,400 in revenue. If you attracted 500 new families, it would translate to $184,000.

One final thought on promotion: af2 teams should work hand-in-hand with the athletic departments of their local middle and high schools. That's a natural fan base. Run football clinics, offer discounted tickets, do what you have to do, but do it. It'll be good for the players on your team and good for the kids and, one would hope, good for the bottom line.

Oh, there's also the whole football part of the equation. That's the easy part. But Albany's hapless performance on the field needs to be fixed. My guess -- and this is just a guess -- is that a good team on the field would translate into 1,000 or 1,500 tickets sold a game at the very minimum. Also, the team make sure to work with its loyal fan base and get them more involved with the team. That will excite them even more and spread the word to their friends and family.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:32 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 24, 2008

Kiwi Name Officials: "Yeah Detroit" Banned, "Number 16 Bus Shelter" OK

A NEW ZEALAND JUDGE made a nine-year-old a ward of his court so the girl's embarrassing name could be changed, the BBC reports. This may seem a bit much, but not when you consider the girl's given name was Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

Of course I'm not kidding. People are stupid. We know that. However, the frequency and scope of humanity's stupidity -- which is sometimes enough to make one wonder why God gave man free will -- was fully expressed in the BBC's report, which read in part as follows:

Judge Rob Murfitt said that the name embarrassed the nine-year-old and could expose her to teasing.

He attacked a trend of giving children bizarre names, citing several examples.

Officials had blocked Sex Fruit, Keenan Got Lucy and Yeah Detroit, he said, but Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence and Midnight Chardonnay had been allowed.

One mother wanted to name her child O.crnia using text language, but was later persuaded to use Oceania, he said.

The mind boggles. I mean, what were these people thinking? One would think that even a high school education would give a parent enough sense these days to avoid naming one's child in text speak. For that matter, one would think people would have enough God-given sense to avoid burdening their get with none too subtle clues about the children's place or manner of conception. Furthermore, given the American tendency to indulge in such silliness, one wonders if we shouldn't have a legion of mandarins scouring birth certificates for embarrassing names.

I must admit surprise the Kiwis disallowed "Yeah Detroit," though. It was undoubtedly the right decision -- one expects the parents would not have named their boy Yeah Detroit if they had ever traveled the Lodge Freeway -- but out of all of the wretched names listed, at least that had kind of a ring to it. All they had to do was drop the "Yeah" and it might have worked, depending on the last name. Detroit Smith or Detroit Jones would probably have grown up to be a pretty savvy customer.

As for the parents who tried to name their kid Sex Fruit, well, that should've been enough for the New Zealanders to send them to Singapore for a good caning. And don't get me started on the parents who named their twins Benson and Hedges.

As an added bonus, the BBC has opened the comments section on this post. Among the people who have commented are a Mr Russell Sprout (!) of London.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 20, 2008

Brave Ohio Soccer Fans Defeat Invading Brittunculi

THE RANT NOTES with disapproval that at tonight's "friendly" match between Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew and the Premiership's West Ham United, a rather large brawl broke out between upstanding fans of the Columbus squad and wretched partisans of the West Ham squad. Fortunately, from news reports, it appears the brave Ohio soccer fans defeated the West Ham supporters and America's honor was maintained.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chinese to "Cut Off" America if USA Wins at Olympics

By LORD GREEN of Weston-infra-Mare
Far Eastern Economic Rant

HONG KONG -- Chinese president Hu Jintao has informed the American Government that China will no longer buy U.S. Treasury bonds should the Americans beat its athletes in the 2008 Summer Olympics, sources close to the Chinese Politburo have confirmed.

The advisory/threat was conveyed through lower-level officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington. A person familiar with the matter said American officials were skeptical about the request, but would "see what they could do" to ensure American Olympians finished "a distant second" in the contest's medal tables. Other Chinese officials confirmed this account.

"Secretary Paulson was initially skeptical about the matter, but eventually agreed when we pointed out the metrics of the United States' FICO score," said Wo Zhongguo, a senior collections agent with the Chinese Investment and General Trading Corp. in Harbin. "The United States simply can't afford to lose this vital source of income, while we've spent billions of yuan to ensure everything goes smoothly at the Beijing Olympics, without any unfortunate incidents from splitists, separatists, the Dalai clique, the Falun Gong cultists, reactionaries or decadent Western protestors. All in all, this is what our glorious leader Deng Xioaping would have described as a 'win-win.'"

"Besides, it's not like we said the Yankee devils couldn't beat the Russians," Wo added.

Were the Chinese to stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, Washington's costs for borrowing money would increase sharply, as it would have to pay higher interest rates to attract capital. Economists believe that could spark any one of several economic problems, worsening the country's fortunes considerably. But not all Americans were won over by the threat.

"I guess I'd worry if I actually ate Chinese food," said Harrisburg, Pa., resident Arthur Swindle. "But everyone eats Thai food these days. So I guess I would tell the Chinese that they can keep their ... uh ... Chinese roubles, or whatever it is that they give us to keep our economy afloat."

"Yeah? Well, we'll just sue them and clawback our money," said Chicago resident Harold Z. Pringle. "Wait, what? What do you mean we can't sue them? We can't force them to buy our Treasury bonds?"

Pringle was speechless, then horrified, when informed that China's sovereignty prevented the United States from taking any effective legal action against its Government.

"Oh, God!" Pringle said, holding his head in his hands. "We're all going to have to start making crap again."

A hastily called White House press conference with ordinary citizens turned into bedlam when historian Studs Terkel crashed the event to ask questions of the gathered crowd. A partial transcript of the event read as follows:

Mr EDWARD SYPOLOWITZ, of Armrest, N.J.: We can't let those Commies tell us what to do! We've got to remind them we're number one!
Mr TERKEL: Are you number one?
PRESS OFFICER: Don't answer that!
Mr TERKEL: It's a perfectly legit ...
PRESS OFFICER: Quick! Activate Emergency Response Plan Gamma!
OFFICIALS: (chanting) U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

As of press time, it was unclear how America's actual athletes would react to the Chinese Government's demands. Sports observers believe it would be most difficult to convince athletes competing in soccer, track and field and the modern pentathlon to go along with China's plans, while the Americans' basketball squad was projected to simply blow it again. The Olympics start on Aug. 8.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 19, 2008

Wait -- A -- Minute!

I NEVER THOUGHT I'd see the day when I would write this, but ... someone has come up with an intelligent plan for a Los Angeles subway/light rail system. What's that? No, I'm not kidding. Go take a look at the schematics.

Truly this plan is a thing of beauty, and actually recognizes that to make a good subway/rail system work, you need to have stations that are relatively close to each other and convenient as well, even for people without cars. Now there's a concept.

So it would cost about $40 billion. Big deal. That's what America spends in two weeks on gasoline. We would not spend $40 billion in two weeks on gasoline if the Californians, of which I used to be one, would not spend untold thousands of man-hours stuck in traffic on the 405, thus wasting the stuff. But the Californians have no choice, as anyone who has been stuck on the 405 -- and the 10, and the 101, and the 110, and the 5 -- will gladly tell you. I mean, it's not as if anyone wants to spend an hour of their day going to the grocery, or spending half an hour trying to drive from Venice to Santa Monica only to spend an additional half an hour looking for a parking space. Had this system been in place when I lived in Los Angeles, I wouldn't have had to do that weekend after weekend.

An effective light rail system would take hundreds of thousands of cars off Los Angeles' choked freeway and surface street networks, allow lots of people to travel cheaply between far-flung locales, cut down on sigalerts, allow private drivers the amazing experience of driving the speed limit, and perhaps most importantly, bring down the price of precious fuel for everyone else.

So build it already. Find a way.

Also, name a station Shady Grove.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2008

Manchester Wins, But Not Triumphantly

THE GOOD NEWS: the Manchester Wolves (8-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, beat the Albany Conquest (5-10) in Albany this evening by an impressive score of 70-49, thus ending the Conquest's playoff hopes and pretty much ensuring our appearance in the post-season.

THE BAD NEWS: our starting quarterback, James Pinkney, got hurt in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was able to walk off the field but was in extreme pain. I don't know what happened to him and neither did the announcer on the radio feed to which I was listening, but I just hope it's not a rib-cage injury. That would be bad. That would be very bad. I hope Mr Pinkney has a swift and speedy recovery from whatever is ailing him.

Also in the "bad news" category -- our play was ... well, a bit sloppy. Yes, I know I'm a perfectionist. Yes, I know I am unforgiving. That's not the point. Albany should not have scored 49 points in that contest, and I think we could have scored more than 70 -- we had 40 at halftime, after all. The only reason we did score 70, as it happened, was because Albany was messing around with timeouts when the game was lost; thus, instead of running the ball, we ran a long-bomb pass play that went for a touchdown.

I suppose what frustrated me as a fan were the innumerable penalties against the Wolves, several of them personal fouls. The personal foul penalty is the bane of every football fan, primarily because it's so stupid. Does the quarterback release the ball? Sadly, he is inviolate. Does some loudmouth on the other side rattle your chain? There is one and only one acceptable response to this -- and that is the word "scoreboard."

I mean, come on, guys. It's Albany. They suck. They always suck. They always have and always will suck*. There is no reason to let them get under your skin. For that matter, there is no reason to let anyone get under your skin. Channel your anger into an appropriate response, such as legally piledriving a wide receiver into the boards four plays later. It is one thing to get mad, but much better to get even.

On the other hand, the Wolves do deserve a lot of praise for turning their season around this year. Things seemed pretty grim back when they were 1-6, but winning seven of their last eight games has turned this into a winning team and an impressive program. Don't ease off the accelerator now!

* This may actually prove the case, as the attendance in Albany tonight was just 3,000 and change -- not enough, based on the Conquest's owner's previous statements, for the man to bring the team back next year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2008

Claim: "Preemies May Grow Up to Be Shy, Unmarried Adults"

I HAVE NO IDEA what these boffins are talking about. None at all. None whatsoever. Stupid scientists and their stupid reports.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Magic of Compounding

IN THE DEAD OF WINTER in 1921, The New York Times published a fascinating article that looked deep into the history of the city of Philadelphia. It did not look at monuments or administrations or public officials, but rather the links "between the present city of the quick and the old city of the dead." Specifically, it looked at the bequests which prominent Philadelphians had given to the city over the centuries, and found what had happened to them over time. The headline sums it up well:

Unforeseen Future Has Made It Impossible
to Comply With Wills of Early Philanthropists

As it happened, Benjamin Franklin had set aside a good sum of money (£1,000) to loan to young married artisans, mechanics and other craftsmen who had served as apprentices in the city, but in the early 20th century his money was idle. The practice of apprenticeship had long died out, and the interest rates set forth in Dr Franklin's will were no longer the attraction they once had been.

But Dr Franklin was not the first to do such a thing, as the Times relates, nor was he the only one to guess wrong. In 1739, the will of William Carter declared that an annual rent of £6 -- which would be paid for through hiring out his indentured servant, Nathan Stanbury -- would be used to buy "a dole of good bread for ye said poor people" twice a year. (By 1919 the trustees of Mr Carter's bequest had grown the money to $1,574, and apparently were still buying bread). In 1802, John Bleakly left £1,000 to help the poor who had been quarantined in hospital after contracting yellow fever; by 1921, effective treatments against the pestilence had been devised, and in 1937 a vaccine to eradicate it had been developed.

Despite the headaches and unforeseen circumstances -- which I do think could be worked around from the get-go with a bit of elasticity in the writing -- this is a really cool idea. Take some money, set it aside, use half the proceeds for relief and half to grow the bequest. Franklin's bequest, before it was distributed per his will, eventually grew into the millions; it is not inconceivable to think that future small bequests could grow into the billions given enough time.

True, there may be hiccups along the way. Recall Woody Allen's movie "Sleeper," in which Mr Allen's character wakes up in the far future and realizes, "I bought Polaroid at seven! It's probably up millions by now!" Sadly, of course, Polaroid got its ticket punched back in 2001. But if one could avoid the pitfalls of war, terror, plague, famine, inflation, stagflation and myriad other disasters, the results could be outstanding. I once heard a finance writer say that if one penny from AD 1 had been invested and compounded over time, the net proceeds would today be worth something like two trillion dollars. That is not a bad goal to have, even if one starts small.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 16, 2008

Baseball's Ad Campaign Improves

CLOSE TO SEVEN last evening, I was flipping channels waiting for the All-Star Game to begin when I stumbled across a replay of the LSU-Kentucky college football game from last year. Oooooooooooooh, I said to myself, and settled in on the sofa. I couldn't remember who won -- it was Kentucky, in triple overtime -- so it made for a great start to the night sports-wise. Then ...


By the time I woke up, it was the end of the second inning and scoreless in New York. The game, I think all can agree, was incredible. Since I have a late start at work today, I was able to stay up and watch all 15 innings. God help me. But God, what a game. The National League's defense -- well, except for Mr Three Errors -- was incredible.

Loyal Rant Readers know I am not a baseball fan, but watching Mariano Rivera emerge to close the top of the ninth was a beautiful thing. And I was rooting for the National League. This is liable to get me in trouble up here in Red Sox Nation, but I don't care. I'm rooting for the Cubs this year.

Of course, this admission of pinkhatism will undoubtedly cause a few frowns among readers, but don't worry: by the time October rolls around, I'll have forgotten all about baseball. Speaking of baseball and October, though, I do have to give credit to Major League Baseball for improving its post-season ad campaign this year. The first ad aired last night -- and unlike last year, it's not the equivalent of a double-play!

I'd rate it as a single. I liked the earnestness of the spot; it was uplifting and enthusiastic, as opposed to last year's snark-infused spots. Major League Baseball loses style points, however, for making the passionate fan a blogger sitting at his desk writing. As much as I like the idea of encouraging people to write, making the blogger the centerpiece of the spots detracts from the sport itself and seems ... well, a sop to the legions of bloggers out there who would otherwise lay into its decisions with furious anger.

All in all, I suppose my issue with the campaign is that -- yet again -- it tries to make baseball seem hip and with it to the young people, without realizing that it has no need to do this. There is no reason why baseball can't make a really, really sharp yet simple commercial focusing on the greatest baseball miracles of all time, with some powerful music and crowd noise for the sound. If you had an actor, he would play third fiddle -- or perhaps even better, you would have no actor at all. Unless, of course, it was an actor who could really carry the weight of such a spot. Because the one baseball-themed commercial I really liked last night wasn't for baseball itself -- it was for Holiday Inn. Philip Baker Hall does serious very well too, you know.

Which gives me an idea: the NFL should immediately figure out how to use Philip Baker Hall in its post-season commercials for the year. That and footage of the Freezer Bowl.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 15, 2008

Only 19 Days Until the Hall of Fame Game

IT'S GETTING CLOSER -- the Hall of Fame Game, that glorious contest that kicks off the NFL preseason. The game this year will be aired on NBC and will be played at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3. The teams in this year's game are the Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins.


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 14, 2008

And He Can Spend Fast, Too!

REPORTS: Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chis Henry is broke. Like, flat broke. Like, needs taxpayer help for his legal affairs broke.

I actually feel bad for the guy. True, it's his own fault he is in this mess, but still -- I have to think that if he'd had the proper advice he wouldn't have screwed up on the financial side of things.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Federal Regulators to Forbid Stupid Bank Names

Financial Rant

WASHINGTON -- In a move aimed at boosting confidence in the nation's banking sector, the Office of Thrift Supervision has proposed rules that will give it veto power over new banks' names, and the power to change names of banks it finds silly, officials said.

Regulators proposed the new rules after realizing a majority of bank failures, and assistance measures taken to help banks, over the past five years have involved banks with "regrettably stupid" names. Regulators believe that forcing banks to have names that convey the fact they are, you know, banks, will inspire confidence among depositors and prevent runs on institutions such as IndyMac Bank FSB.

"It sounded like a fast food restaurant," said OTS deputy director Herm Shepard. "I mean, I don't know about you, but as a depositor, I would have felt more confident if the bank was named, I don't know, the Second National Bank of Pasadena. The IndyMac name, which I think we can all agree was particularly unfortunate, offered up the impression depositors would get a free order of fries if they opened a checking account. Not exactly a confidence builder, if you ask me."

Out of the five bank failures so far this year, Shepard noted that the three with stupid names accounted for 95 percent of assets in the banks.

"With pressures related to the interest-rate environment, it's no surprise some smaller banks are having a tougher go of things, and in an economic downturn one must expect a few bank failures," Shepard said. "But that doesn't mean banks have to give depositors the impression they're run by amateurs, either."

Shepard singled out for criticism ANB Financial NA of Bentonville, Ark., and First Integrity Bank of Staples, Minn., both of which failed in May.

"ANB Financial. Yeah. Who exactly is ANB? And financial what, exactly? It sounded like a glorified check-cashing joint. As for First Integrity -- yeah, that's a winner too. I mean, if you're a bank, you shouldn't have to use the word integrity in your name. Last time I checked, integrity was supposed to go along with operating a bank," Shepard said.

"Simply put, banks must not put themselves in a position where their names and actions tell depositors, 'Go ahead! Start a run on the bank! We're insured!'" Shepard said.

If approved, the OTS's rules would require banks to do the following:

* Have the word "Bank" -- spelled correctly and not amalgamated with any other word or phrase -- as a part of an institution's name.
* Require place or origin names, relating to the location of their headquarters or originating city, in an institution's name. Alternatively, using the names of historical figures, except where otherwise already taken, would be allowed.
* When involved in mergers or acquisitions, the name of the larger merger partner or acquisition partner would be used as the name of the institution going forward. Combining names would be strictly forbidden.
* The use of initials, acronyms and similar schemes would be strictly forbidden.
* Foreign banks would be required to use their original names when buying U.S. banks, particularly if said foreign banks can print currency.

In addition, banks will be encouraged to have oil paintings of distinguished executives in their branch lobbies.

"I realize this may concern some of our trading partners, but I think they'll see this is really for their own benefit," said Shepard. "I mean, who would you rather do business with? HSBC Bank USA or The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp. Ltd.? Duh."

The rules will go into effect following a 90-day public comment period. The new rules are expected to affect banks including Ted's Savings and Loan of Ionia, Mich., FDIC Insured Financial of Mayberry, N.C., and Fifth Third Bancorp of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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

July 13, 2008

Theologians: Danger of World Ending Lowest Since 2003

The Sporting Rant

TOP THEOLOGIANS have confirmed the danger of the world ending is at its lowest point since 2003, citing religious principles that connect the performance of certain sports teams with God's desire to judge mankind and welcome the elect into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Religious experts widely agree no man knoweth the day nor the hour of the LORD's judgment, citing Matthew 25:13. But the experts also agree the LORD's Generally Accepted Rules of General Principle will prevent Him from ushering in the Apocalypse until He believes the world's events and doings are properly aligned. As a result, many observers are hopeful the end of the world could be tens of millenia off, if not longer.

“According to our analysis, the LORD will stay His hand upon the wretched earth until certain signs and miracles appear heralding that our time is up,” said the Rev. Paul Caldon, SJ. “Thus, it is entirely possible -- indeed, quite likely -- He will hold off until the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl. As a result, even if that was the only criteria remaining for the LORD, the world could have decades or even centuries of continued peace. You know, before the horrible seven-headed beast rises from the sea to subjugate the nations of man.”

However, Caldon continued, it was likely the LORD has decided several improbable criteria would need to be met before exacting His judgment upon mankind. Other religious experts agreed.

“Even the ascension of Petrus Romanus to the primal seat would not result in the LORD's hand moving against the material world,” said the Rev. George Pistone, SDB. “No way. Based on our calculations, it would require the Detroit Lions, the Cleveland Browns and the Minnesota Vikings to win the Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Clippers to win the NBA playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup and the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series, all within a span of three or four years. The chances of that happening are so small the earth could well fall into the sun prior to that taking place.”

“Besides, what if we added the Buffalo Bills into the mix? I mean, the LORD works in mysterious ways, but if He had wanted the end of the world to happen, He would have caused Scott Norwood's kick to go through the uprights,” Pistone said. "Don't get me started on Philadelphia either."

According to cultural historians, the last time serious discussions arose about sports events leading to world-ending calamities arose in 2003, when the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs were both in the League Championship Series for their respective baseball leagues, thus leading to the possibility of a Red Sox-Cubs World Series. However, theologians now believe that certain actors in those series, notably Red Sox manager Grady Little and Chicago baseball fan Steven Bartman, were divinely inspired to prevent the beginning of what could have been an apocalypse-heralding event.

It is also possible, experts believe, that the LORD may require sporting events around the world to take place before moving to end existence as we know it. If so, this would require not only the events listed above to happen, but also events such as the Bolton Wanderers winning the English Premier League, Scotland winning the Euro soccer championship, US Citta di Palermo to win Serie A, and Venezuela to win the World Cup. The odds against all these events happening within any given five-year period are roughly 600 billion to one.

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

July 12, 2008

Everything Went Wrong, Then Everything Went Right

WELL, I CAN'T COMPLAIN about this year's Arena Football League season, even if it did come to a sad conclusion for me today when both my teams in the playoffs got blasted out of their athletic shoes. Ugh. It was bad enough when the Philadelphia Soul shellacked the Cleveland Gladiators, but it was even worse to see the Grand Rapids Rampage become the latest victims of the San Jose SaberCats.


In any event, I have to give credit to both teams for getting as far as the conference championship games. These teams improved markedly over their performances last year, and provided me a lot of entertainment during these long months without traditional American football. But for now, I shall bid adieu to another Arena Football League season, and will look forward to its resumption in March.

READERS: Uh, last time we checked, there was this whole "Arena Bowl" taking place in New Orleans in two weeks or so, and --

Oh, please. It's the Philadelphia Soul against the San Jose SaberCats. It's the arenaball equivalent of the Indianapolis Colts playing the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Watching Super Bowl XLI was tough enough but I felt I had a duty as a football fan. Watching this would be downright impossible, particularly as I'd undoubtedly get exposed to air time that in some way, shape or form would involve Ron Jaworski. I'll pass. My guys fought hard but they got knocked out, and so it's time to regroup and focus on other matters.

Other matters like the AF2, I might add!

Up until 6 p.m. today, everything went wrong. After 6 p.m., pretty much everything went right.

I am proud to report the Manchester Wolves (7-7), my city's minor-league arena football team, ran roughshod over the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder (3-11) this evening -- and did so from the word go. Much to my surprise, I might add. You see, earlier today, I had thought the game had started at 7 p.m., but looked at my ticket and saw the game time was listed as 7:30 p.m. Oh good, I thought: I have plenty of time to get to the game, so I'll take a shower and relax before I get down there.

It was such a nice night in Manchester that I decided to save myself $10 and parked on the city streets about six blocks from the arena, and very much enjoyed my walk. When I arrived at the arena, I was surprised to find the game was already in progress, and realized to my horror that I had forgotten the start time had in fact been pushed back some weeks ago. I poked my head inside one of the sections and found to my amazement Manchester had already gone up 19-0 -- no, 20-0! -- in the first half of the first quarter.

As one might expect, we won this game easily. The final score was 53-27, which is even more impressive considering the Youngstown squad only scored two touchdowns in the second half. The credit for this win must go mostly to our defense, which had a downright fantastic game, particularly defensive back Carl Brown. Our quarterback, James Pinkney, didn't have the best game -- one fumble, one interception. But he still played very well -- he was named the offensive player of the game -- and to be fair the whole match was kind of a tune-up for the next few weeks. It just had that feel, if that makes any sense; once Manchester got out so far ahead, our guys seemed to ease off the accelerator a little, and could do so without fear.

Certainly Youngstown did not seem to bring its best game, but then, they appeared to be playing with their C-team in place. Two of their players were on injured reserve. Oddly, four players -- and good ones, too! -- were listed on the team suspension list in our program. I'd love to know how that happened. Even more odd, their main quarterback got suspended by the league. Supposedly, according to The Vindicator of Youngstown, Ohio, the QB had been playing in a lower-level* indoor football league earlier this year, and apparently one can't do that and play for the af2 in the same season. (The Vindy sources this to the Thunder's latest quarterback, who "heard" that from some unnamed source, so take it for what it's worth. If true, though, that's stupid -- the af2 should use these leagues as a feeder system and take their best talent).

But that's neither here nor there. The point is we won and they lost. Even better, the other teams we needed to lose lost -- not one but two! Much to my surprise, the Albany Conquest (5-9) knocked off the Louisville Fire (7-7) and the Iowa Barnstormers (5-9) manhandled the Quad City Steamwheelers (7-7). This leaves three teams tied for the last two places in the playoffs.

I think we're seventh now. Or eighth. Christ, I don't know. But the important thing is that no matter what happens, if we win the next two games we are guaranteed a playoff spot. I think. Yeah. Strength of schedule. Or something.

Also, I am pleased to note that although it would have been great to see it on television, the Saskatchewan Roughriders somehow managed to defeat the surprisingly good Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the last minute of play at Ivor Wynne Stadium. That's in Hamilton. That's east of Kitchener and southwest of Toronto.

Anyway, dig this: It's like second and hopeless for the Riders on their own 42, and bang! -- Weston Dressler goes 67 yards on a pass play, and would have scored a touchdown had he not fumbled the ball before getting into the end zone. But this gave the Riders the ball on the Hamilton one-yard line, and as such it was not difficult for Saskatchewan to run it in for the score, putting them on top 33-28 with seconds left.

When I checked in on this game before I left tonight, it was Hamilton up 28-26 with a minute left in the fourth quarter. What a win. The Riders are now 3-0 and clearly the best team in Canadian football. Don't talk to me about the Argos or the Alouettes; the Riders are going to win the Grey Cup two years in a row. You know, it'd be great if I could watch the Grey Cup on television.

Anyway, that's it for now, but to recap: Grand Rapids, Cleveland out of AFL playoff chase; Manchester in AF2 playoff chase; Saskatchewan rules; and -- oh yes, it's just a few weeks to the NFL's pre-season. Sweet. And just think, I mananged to write an entire football-oriented blog post without writing about Brett Favre!



* Yes, there are lower ones, as Loyal Rant Readers know. The Rant recommends the CIFL for folks back home if they can't make it up to Grand Rapids.

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

July 10, 2008

Why the Eucharist is Not Simply a "Frackin' Cracker"

THE CALAMITIES ARE NEVER-ENDING. Today, we learn (via Dean's World) that a student at the University of Central Florida, after receiving the Eucharist at Mass last week, did not consume it but instead took it back to the pew where he was sitting, supposedly for the purpose of using the Host as a prop to explain Catholicism to a friend. But the student's rash act appalled the laity at the service, who demanded he return it. When he did not, the student claims the laity attempted to pry the Host from his person. He is now holding the Eucharist hostage in a plastic bag and refuses to return it, much to the Diocese of Orlando's distress.

It may come as little surprise to learn the student in question is a member of the college's student government, and upset student activity funds are used to support religious activities. But the situation has taken on a life of its own, as it has attracted the attention of the Catholic League, a pressure group. The League has not only vowed to go after the student in question, but also PZ Myers, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris who has stood up for the student, albeit in an exceedingly vulgar fashion.

But I do think offended Catholics should realize the student's act was done out of unwitting ignorance. For one thing, he's a college student, and thus wrong about most everything. Although the student's religion is not mentioned, if he is not a Roman Catholic, he will not fully understand the importance which Catholics treat the Eucharist, and if not Roman Catholic, nor could he be expected to understand. In an era when most young people are under the sway of materialism and where most are brought up as Protestants, one could not expect him to do so.

The Eucharist, as all Christians know, is the Body and Blood of Christ, stemming from the Last Supper, when Christ took bread, blessed it and told His disciples, "Take, eat; this is My body," and took a cup of wine and blessed it, telling His disciples, "Drink ye, all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

Now in the Protestant tradition, the practice of communion is a symbolic one. The congregation is, perhaps once a month, served some stale white bread and grape juice and the story of the Last Supper is recalled. Communion is given, the worshippers take it, and then leave, some annoyed at having had 15 minutes added to their Sunday worship.

But in the Catholic tradition, Holy Communion is a far more serious and central affair. The giving of Communion is the central act of the Mass. Far from being symbolic in nature, the Eucharist is transformed, through the mysterium fidei, into the Body and Blood, and through taking it one's sins are forgiven and one is reconciled with God. The Church does not pretend to understand how this works -- it is the Mystery of Faith -- but as other writers have pointed out, Catholics believe Christ harrowed Hell and in dying defeated death, rising three days later from His tomb. If Christ did that, they argue, then this is a small matter in comparison.

The mysterium fidei also explains why the church laity reacted the way it did to the student's transgression. For them, it was not simply a case of manhandling a cracker; it was a rejection of God Himself and defiling Him as the Romans defiled Him on the Cross. There are many things in life which can draw out furious anger in people; surely there are some you could think of off the top of your head. If someone stole a prized baseball card, or a treasured family picture, or some other thing that had great sentimental value to you, you would be rightfully upset about that. When combined with religious fervor, it should not be unexpected that some of the laity would react in an emotional manner.

But I trust the student will eventually understand he acted in very poor form, and will consequently realize his behavior was not a credit to his person, nor his student association, nor his school. When he does, he should be forgiven for it. (I trust he will also, at this point, return the Host with which he absconded; the Church has well-established procedures for dealing with "excess" Hosts).

I am of mixed feelings about the Catholic League's decision to go after the professor at the University of Minnesota at Morris. The League is furious over the professor's expressed desire to defile the Eucharist, and has essentially called upon the man's superiors to do something about this.

On one hand, the professor's ranting is so downright nasty, embittered and self-righteous that he effectively cedes the argument to his opponents. For the Catholic League, giving this wide exposure is the public relations equivalent of a penalty kick in soccer; unless you completely screw it up, it's an easy score. I mean, it's that bad. But don't just take my word for it.

On the other hand, though, wide-ranging publicity may also incite the professor to actually go through with defiling the Eucharist in public, an act Roman Catholics would consider blasphemous. One wishes that would not happen, but not because it would hurt the Roman Church, or its believers, or society in general: our professor is of too small account for that. Rather, it is simply because, many decades down the road, our professor might well face a variant of Graham Greene's age-old question: could what these people believe actually be true?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:26 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

July 09, 2008

Helpful Romantic Do's and Don'ts

IN THE FOLLOWING VIDEO, Loyal Rant Readers will notice two dramatically different situations played out on screen. The first instance is the classic "wrong" video, in which foolish and decadent lifestyle choices are re-enacted so viewers can witness the horrors wrought as a result. The second instance is the classic "right" video, in which proper etiquette and manners are displayed:

My apologies to those readers who were sickened at the first video. It is truly disturbing to see such an unthinkable lifestyle choice played out on screen, but it is necessary to show so that future students and graduates of the schools may be instructed accordingly. I realize some readers may not have picked up on all the troubling aspects of the first video, but let's review them so we're all clear.

One. The Michigan girl is kissing the Ohio State guy -- even though he clearly has venereal disease.
Two. The Michigan girl and the Ohio State guy are starting their make-out session in a room that was last decorated during the first Nixon Administration. We can thus deduce they are making out either a) in the lout's sketchy apartment or b) the basement of his parents' home. In both cases, they suggest the Michigan girl is dating below her station, as further evidenced by her earrings, which may be diamond -- unless the Ohio State guy gave her the earrings, in which case they are cubic zirconia.
Three. The Michigan girl is kissing the Ohio State guy despite the fact he has not bathed in three days and has worn that same sweatshirt to class for the past four weeks.
Four. The Michigan girl has her leg crossed over the Ohio State guy's leg, yet she does not use the opportunity to deliver a well-aimed, debilitating shot to the guy's meat and two veg.
Five. The Michigan girl appears dazed and confused, while the Ohio State guy is clearly planning to make his move. It may be they met at a bar, and he spiked her drink with a chemical agent.
Six. Should the relationship continue, it has the potential to end badly for the Michigan girl, particularly if she is in Columbus when the Wolverines defeat the Buckeyes, which will result in rioting and general disorder throughout Ohio's capital. She thus could find her quest for "true love" and a "soulmate" ends when unruly Ohio State students tip over her car.

Now let's review the second video, in which responsible adults both do the right things, which are as follows:

One. The Ohio State alumnus, despite being an awkward and nebbish sort, and a man who clearly is dating out of his league, jumps out of a moving automobile to flee the hot Michigan alumna. This brave and meritorious action must be commended, as any true Michigan man would do the same if he found himself on a blind date with a hot Ohio State alumna.
Two. The hot Michigan alumna does her duty under the law by stopping to see if the Ohio State wretch was hurt after his desperate leap, but consequently flees in disgust upon realizing the fool was unhurt. This was clearly the proper and correct course of action.
Three. The Michigan alumna is kind and considerate to the schmoe she has picked up on a blind date, even though the yutz is clearly a sad failure. Not only did he not pick her up in his car, he is dressed like a complete schlub while she is wearing classy and appropriate attire for dinner.
Four. Upon observation and belief, the Michigan alumna is driving an American-made sport utility vehicle.

As we can see, both the Ohio State alumnus and Michigan alumna acted appropriately given the situation. This goes especially because both parties knew that if they continued seeing each other, got into a relationship, consummated it, and then later got married, their children would be forced to make difficult and painful choices down the line. Or, even worse, end up attending Wisconsin or Purdue.

God, I can't wait for college football season.

Speaking of college football, Every Day Should Be Saturday has a helpful point chart determining the college football team with the most legal troubles. As The Rant has been accused of anti-Southern bias in the past, I would note that Penn State is tied for fifth on the list, while the Illinois Fighting Zooks are tied for tenth place. That said, The Rant is not at all surprised Alabama -- home of evil Coach Saban -- is far and away in first place. The SEC also has four teams on the list*, no small consideration when one considers the site's writer is an SEC partisan.

* surprisingly, this includes Georgia, which I actually somewhat like.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 08, 2008

Restaurant: Man Ordered Dish That Killed Him

WELL, THE CHUTZPAH AWARD of the day goes to the Ruby Tuesday chain of restaurants, which when faced with the untimely death of a customer who was served an entree containing seafood, insisted the man ordered the dish that killed him.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the full story, but here's the gist of it. Mr Rodney Hawkins, a welder and an aspiring musician with a severe shellfish allergy, went to dinner with his wife at a Ruby Tuesday's eatery in Lovejoy, Ga. Mr Hawkins, according to Mrs Hawkins, ordered the Chicken Fresco. The restaurant claims Mr Hawkins ordered the Chicken Oscar. Both dishes, according to Ruby Tuesday's menu, come served with mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. Both chicken dishes are topped with a lemon-butter sauce. But Chicken Fresco comes with a tomato slice, while Chicken Oscar, as one might expect from the name, comes with asparagus and crab meat. Unfortunately for Mr Hawkins, he apparently did not notice the difference when the dish was served, and promptly went into shock, and died shortly thereafter.

The restaurant maintains Mr Hawkins ordered the Chicken Oscar, that the waitress verified this to Mr Hawkins, and that the order pad and kitchen ticket confirm their version of events. Mrs Hawkins disputes this version, and based on what I have read, I am inclined to agree with her story -- although I accept the restaurant may well be right.

As it happens, I have a relative who has a severe allergy to shrimp, and I can assure you that my relative makes a point of ensuring nothing she eats has any form of shrimp in it. She further makes a point of inquiring as to whether certain normally non-seafood dishes -- say an egg roll at a Chinese restaurant -- have shrimp in them; if they do, she declines. Since Ruby Tuesday's menu description of Chicken Oscar starts with the phrase "tender jumbo lump crab meat" to describe it, it seems rather unlikely Mr Hawkins would have voluntarily ordered this. It may be he made a mistake in doing so -- Chicken Fresco, Chicken Oscar, you're tired and what the hell's the difference anyway -- but if he informed the staff of his seafood allergy, they should have picked up on it.

Now, some commenters have suggested Mr Hawkins should have been more careful upon receiving his meal. To be sure, there is a duty of care on his part -- more on this in a bit. But my question is this -- both dishes are different, but how different do they really look when served up? Both are served with mashed potatoes and broccoli; both dishes are covered in lemon-butter sauce; could he have noticed? I mean, I've had the Chicken Fresco. It drowns in lemon-butter sauce.

Also, one person commenting on the AJC's Web site claims she actually saw this incident in person, and her story -- if true, mind you -- would lend credence to Mrs Hawkins' version of events.

To be sure, Mr Hawkins' severe allergy did present him with a duty of care -- if one has food allergies, one must take care not to ingest the stuff that makes one sick, even if it means avoiding going out to eat and picking around one's food to make sure none of the bad stuff is in it. One must also inform the staff of one's allergy.

That said, one does not expect to kick the bucket at Ruby Tuesday's, even if one orders the broccoli and cheese soup. So even if one argues Mr Hawkins was partially or mostly liable for his own death, it would seem at least some of the blame could still be cast upon the chain if Mr Hawkins informed the staff of his food allergy. That's important, I think: if a person simply says he does not want seafood, and the kitchen screws it up, well, it's a screw-up. If the person says I'm allergic to seafood, and it will kill me if I touch it, then the staff has to make damned sure there's no seafood.

All in all, though, I do think the chain erred in defending itself so forcefully -- there are ways to defend oneself that are consoling and appropriately saddened at the same time. Even if it is in the right, I think it could have handled this matter in a more polite way -- expressing its condolences, promising a full investigation of the matter, but most of all waiting until they're in court to make their case -- or at least making it as forcefully as they have.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 07, 2008

Well, That Wasn't a Fun Day

I KNEW IT WAS too good to last: Asia had a nice day, then Europe had a great day, and then the U.S. markets blew it again after a nice open. Shit. In a few hours, I will have the pleasant experience of seeing how much money I lost -- again -- when my financial software does its automatic update and crunches the numbers accordingly.

But since I'm in this for the long haul, I don't really mind losing my paper dollars for the moment. One of the good things about this down market -- and yes, there are good things -- is that it presents plenty of opportunities. Stocks that one wouldn't have purchased when the market was churning with froth now look more reasonably-priced, and in some cases they are downright cheap. Plus, the medium-term economics don't look all that bad, at least I don't think they do:

* Resets on adjustable sub-prime mortgages have peaked, meaning the toxicity in the system will weaken. Since sub-prime mortages have all but disappeared, the wave of resets will eventually peter out and end in 2010 or 2011.

* Oil prices will eventually fall. The volatility in the oil markets -- best evidenced by that $11 uptick in one bloody day a while back -- is prima facie evidence speculation in the market is a powerful force. The Government, being the Government, is always slow to respond to events but it seems likely it will intervene in the markets due to public outrage. This will likely mean an increase in margin requirements and a requirement contract buyers will have to take physical delivery of the oil they want, pushing many speculators out of the market.

* The Fed will likely boost interest rates as concerns over inflation mount. Normally, this would not be good for the economy but a moderate boost would have one big benefit to the average citizen: namely, a stronger dollar, which will push down oil prices.

* When oil prices start moderating, the ECB will have one less reason to keep interest rates high, meaning they may well consider lowering rates to alleviate pressures on the European economy. This will further pressure oil prices.

* Marking to market swings both ways -- it has generated huge losses for many companies, but it also has the potential to create gains.

The long and short of all this is that opportunities exist in the markets right now. You'll have to search for them, and at this point keeping an eye on opportunities might not be a bad idea as opposed to buying -- you don't want to jump into the pool until you're good and ready. But start a watch list and save your capital so you can strike when the iron is hot.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a financial analyst, a stockbroker or involved in any other profession that involves advising people what to do with their money. As such, you should always check with someone who does one of those things for a living before investing, an activity in which it is very possible to lose your shirt. Remember, the market has the power to remain irrational longer than you have the ability to remain solvent. Always do your homework and read a prospectus before investing or sending money. Caveat emptor.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Could Be Problematic

SO THE CITIZENS of Massachusetts -- well, at least some of them, anyway -- have somehow managed to get a referendum question on this fall's ballot that would ... wait for it ... abolish the state's income tax. Yes, that's right. No state income tax. In Massachusetts.

As a resident of New Hampshire, I don't know what to think about this. New Hampshire has mastered undercutting the tax regimes of our neighboring states, which not only boosts our economy but also our Government's coffers. If the Bay State gets rid of its income tax, what will that mean for us?

It's kind of like when Stimpy is set at guarding the History Eraser Button: if he hits it, nobody knows what will happen. It could be good -- if Bay Staters have more money to spend in our tax-free stores. It could be bad -- if suddenly more people decide living in Massachusetts isn't so bad after all. But nobody knows because nobody has pushed the button.


Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 06, 2008



Oh, what a joyous game! The sixth-seeded Grand Rapids Rampage defeated the first-seeded Chicago Rush 58-41, in an impressive, hard-fought playoff game in Rosemont, Ill., this afternoon, and what a victory it was. This is one game where I'm glad to have my prediction prove wrong, that's for sure.

We'll get to the victory in a bit, but I must first announce a major shift in my arena football loyalties. Previously, I had somewhat liked the Chicago Rush. But their unsportsmanlike antics throughout the game today have put them thoroughly in the evil column of my football loyalties scheme. As such, they must be destroyed.

While that was fortunately the outcome of today's game, I would call upon the Arena Football League to look over the game footage and assess heavy fines against certain players -- particularly defensive lineman John Moyer, who ganged up on Grand Rapids quarterback James MacPherson along with another Chicago defenseman. That was cowardly and pathetic. This does not mean you should fine Jason Shelley, who was only defending his quarterback when he ran 15 yards to bodycheck Moyer, resulting in Mr Shelley's ejection from the contest.

As Loyal Rant Readers have concluded, these two teams do not like each other much. This is understandable, given the long-standing divisional rivalry between the teams. But I am glad that Grand Rapids was able to keep its cool -- well, mostly -- during the game. It appeared to me most of the Stupid Penalties went against Chicago, and that's what you want when you're on the road and playing a tough -- if stupid -- team.

Now -- on to San Jose!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 05, 2008

And Now, A Musical Interlude

CROWDED HOUSE'S LATEST ALBUM ("Time on Earth") is downright amazing and everyone should click on iTunes and buy a copy of it. I mean, it's one of the best albums I've heard in years. For that matter, it's an album of great songs as opposed to an album with one good song, which is what most bands produce these days.

So buy it. Amaze your friends and confound your enemies with stirring proof of your excellent musical taste. Buy it. But it now.

That is all. Carry on!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are You Kidding Me?

SO THE Colorado Rockies beat the Florida Marlins in the bottom of the ninth just now -- scoring two runs to put the game away. Here's the amazing thing:

FLORIDA 17 22 2
COLORADO 18 21 0

Yes, that's right. 18-17. IN BASEBALL.

That's one for the ages. Forty-three total hits. Eight home runs from both sides -- including one grand slam. Colorado overcame a deficit that at its largest was nine runs. Colorado fans sure got their money's worth tonight!

And here I thought the "ball on the wall" in the Red Sox-Yankees game was something else.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 04, 2008

One Month Until Preseason ...

... WHICH MEANS it's as good a time as any to show this clip -- with the vocal talents of none other than Mr John Facenda!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

OK, Who at State Screwed This One Up?

THE SUN, THAT BASTION of proper journalism, has published a breathless report on a 36-year-old English model who, thinking she would need to shave several years off her age to secure an American modeling contract, embarked on a scheme to gin up identity documents that showed she was eight years younger than she actually was.

Unfortunately for the model in question, the plan unraveled when she submitted her visa application to the U.S. embassy in London. Someone at the embassy did a records check and found Saskia Porter had traveled to the United States previously but that the ages on her documents didn't match up. The embassy subsequently forwarded the case to the British Government, and Ms Porter found herself in the dock. She received a nine-month suspended sentence.

Helpfully, The Sun has provided a picture that -- to borrow from the words of one Sun commenter -- shows Ms Porter with, uh, nothing to declare. Hail Britannia!

Anyway, The Rant is most displeased at the outcome of this matter and requests the embassy issue Ms Porter a visa forthwith. Actually, given the circumstances surrounding this case, The Rant would request the Embassy just ship her a green card, a citizenship application and a welcome kit. The United States cannot afford, in its quest to retain its primacy for all time, to turn away hot foreign women* -- particularly hot women from the British Isles, who share a common language, have sexy accents, and have British pounds or euros as opposed to Yankee pesos. Besides, if we let in Victoria Beckham, surely we can let Ms Porter have a go at things on this side of the pond.

* Unless, of course, the woman in question is Gisele Bundchen.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, At Least I Went Two-for-Four

SO I WAS ON THE PHONE with Mrs Kepple today and we got to talking about football -- I told you my family rules -- and Mom asked me how the Grand Rapids Rampage, which had the late game on Monday, played. Well, as it turned out, we beat the Arizona Rattlers 48-41 and now must face the Chicago Rush in the divisional round of the playoffs. That will be a tough game as Chicago is a very good squad, but Grand Rapids nearly beat them during the regular season, so I'm hopeful the game won't be a gimme-win for Chicago. It had best not.

Grand Rapids' win, and the Cleveland Gladiators' win over the Orlando Predators, puts me at two-for-four in terms of my Arena Football League predictions. I was stunned as anyone when New York beat Dallas, and disappointed the Colorado Crush -- whom I hate -- knocked off the Utah Blaze. But at least the Monday night games put me at two-and-four. I was worried there.

Now, as for the AFL divisional round playoffs, my predictions are as follows:

No. 2 San Jose will knock off No. 5 Colorado. This will prove an easy win for the SaberCats, I'm thinking.

No. 1 Chicago will defeat -- but only barely -- No. 6 Grand Rapids. The Rampage definitely have a good chance to beat Chicago, but a lot will depend on how their defense performs. If Chicago can score at will, Grand Rapids will find it difficult to pull out a victory. I hope Grand Rapids proves me wrong and I will root for them to do so.

In the National Conference, I think the No. 6 New York Dragons will put up a good fight against the No. 1 Philadelphia Soul, but won't be able to continue their Cinderella run -- the Soul are simply too strong for that. The No. 4 Cleveland Gladiators play the No. 2 Georgia Force. I know nothing about Georgia, so I'm going to throw my hat in the ring for Cleveland.

Games will be on ESPN or the deuce.

In af2 news -- well, there's not much news, 'cause the Wolves have the week off. Our next home game is on Saturday, July 12, against the lowly Mahoning Valley Thunder. But I do think there are some pretty big changes in store for af2 fans next year -- like divisional realignments and such. We shall see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Weird Senator Suggests Return to National Speed Limit

Then Jove resolved to send a curse
and all the woes of life rehearse;
Not plague, not famine, but much worse --
He cursed us with a Congress.

-- Loyalist anthem

VIRGINIA, WE EXPECTED BETTER. You are the cradle of American Government and as such should be cognizant of the value of freedom. Despite this, one of your senators has made the impudent and wretched suggestion that Congress might want to consider again establishing a national speed limit.

The Rant has a two-word response to this idea. Well, actually, two two-word responses. The first response readers should be able to figure out on their own. The second one, however, is a bit more obscure but one I am sure the Rt Hon Senator will recognize. Those two words are: Danny Rostenkowski.

As Washington has a long memory, I am sure everyone there still vividly remembers that whole debacle, in which an angry mob of senior citizens chased the Illinois Congressman to his car over changes to Medicare. I would suggest that imposing a national speed limit would make that look like a walk in the park.

This is because the only people who would actually support a national speed limit are incompetent drivers, who support a low speed limit because they are incapable of operating a motor vehicle in traffic. Nothing would give these tired prudes more satisfaction than being able to joyfully saunter in the passing lane going 60, and being able to do so with the full force of the law behind them. Perhaps the senator in question is an incompetent driver. Perhaps the senator has forgotten how miserable trips on the freeways are when you can only drive 55 or 60 miles per hour.

I have not forgotten. When I was a boy, my parents would annually gather the family together in a car for a trip to western Pennsylvania, a trip that involved traveling 420 miles from home. I can assure readers this trip, which should have taken about six hours -- seven hours at tops -- took eight hours to complete -- and sometimes more, if bad weather or road construction complicated matters. Do you have any idea how grueling that is? Staring at marker miles along the way and finding you're still in Ohio, and even worse, have 123 miles to go before you get out of it? If you're not sympathetic to that, then never mind the effects it had on me -- think about my poor parents, who had to put up with me for eight hours.

Speaking of Pennsylvania, here's another two words the senator might want to consider: Whiskey Rebellion. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

The last time we had a national speed limit imposed, it took twenty-one years for it to get repealed. This was despite the fact the original reasons for the national speed limit had faded out in the early Eighties. I do not want to wait until 2029 to travel at a reasonable speed on the freeway, particularly as by that time I'll be driving a spiffy hydrogen rocket.

Besides, with the price of fuel, even inveterate lead-foot drivers like me see the wisdom in traveling at a moderate rate of speed, like 60 or 65 miles per hour, as in my car doing so saves $1 per 20 miles driven compared with ... uh, my normal traveling speed. The savings per tank of gasoline is more than $20, which is more than enough incentive to ease off the accelerator a little bit.* All it requires from me is a bit of courtesy to my fellow drivers, which involves me traveling in the slow lane and not in the travel or passing lanes. I'm happy to do that, and I would suggest more drivers are doing so as they too realize the economic benefits of slowing down. Gee, there's a concept; the free market working.

That said, there are times when traveling at a normal rate of speed (somewhere in the eighties) is a good idea. Like if I'm traveling through northern Ohio, particularly that awful stretch of I-80 east of Toledo. Americans' freedom to travel fast on the freeway when they want and need to do so cannot and must not be abridged, and I am confident all right-thinking Americans will resist any attempts to have this wretched, miserable boondoggle of an idea -- an idea from the Seventies, no less -- imposed upon us again.


* My trusty Ford Taurus has an 18 gallon gas tank. If I use 17 gallons while driving on a trip, I can travel 340 miles doing my normal and customary speed, but 486 miles traveling at 65 miles per hour. This works out to a difference of 146 miles, the equivalent of saving 5.4 gallons of gasoline. At $4 per gallon, this works out to a savings of $22 per tank.

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

Dear God, No!

ESPN SAYS Brett Favre, the Green Bay Packers quarterback who is just a few years from collecting Social Security, is considering coming out of retirement.

No. Dear God, no. Anything but that.

I'd like to think this is some kind of sick joke, but I have no doubt it is genuine and that Mr Favre is really and truly thinking about throwing his hat in the ring for Year No. 18. He'd better not. The last thing we need is yet another year of the goddam Fox Sports morons blathering on about Favre, the only semi-likable player in the entire National Football Conference. This would undoubtedly lead to more blathering on from Joe Buck, who should stick to ruining baseball.

So I would beseech Mr Favre to give it a rest. Take a year off. Coach a high school team or something. Heck, coach a college team -- I'm sure Michigan State or some other program will fire its coach soon. But don't come out of retirement only to go back into retirement a short while later, and then consider coming out of retirement, and so on. Time for everything and all that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 02, 2008

Coke Zero, Check. Crowded House, Check. Hubris, Check.

It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...

An occasional Rant feature

I MUST BE the only person in the world who dislikes summer. For most people, of course, summer is an enjoyable time: a time for family vacations, a time for months away from school, a time for enjoying the beach and the surf. For me, summer is a time for avoiding the hated heat, the brutal humidity, the wretched stenches of perspiration and rot and filth that goes along with it. I don't mind the mornings or the evenings, but generally speaking, the hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. are better spent indoors.

True, the opposite season ain't exactly a walk in the park either, and the major downsides to winter -- the shortened days, the long depression, the weeks-long deep freeze and the difficulties of travel -- are just as bad. Once February rolls around I have nothing to which I can look forward except months of despair and boredom. The one thing summer has going for it is that it's closer to fall. Ah, fall. I live for fall. The best three months of the year. The season of miracles. The pleasant days and cool, crisp nights.

But it's not fall yet -- and that means I'm in a worse mood than usual. That means one thing: it's a perfect time for another edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! So let's get to it, shall we?

QUERY: the teachings of dua-khety focus on

ANSWER: Dua-Khety was a wise Egyptian who realized that back in the day, life pretty much sucked for anyone who wasn't part of the nobility. Why, even merchants and tradesmen forty centuries ago had a bad lot, but Dua-Khety realized that officials who could read and write were making out like bandits. He told his son this accordingly, and sent his son to a school to learn how to read and write and become a scribe. This was back in the day when writers were lords of the earth.

There was something to that, I might add.

QUERY: if knowing is half the battle what is the other half?

ANSWER: Cynicism.

QUERY: only got four minutes to save the world what is this songs name

ANSWER: MacArthur Park.

QUERY: dollar maximum denomination

ANSWER: $10,000. No, really -- the $10,000 bills are still legal tender, even if they are far more valuable than their face value these days. But the most you'll ever see is $100, of which The Rant does not approve. We need higher-denomination notes.

QUERY: the team of increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched out cast i was

ANSWER: Well, if you could write better, you'd be more popular!

QUERY: allowed to develop through debauched capitalism

ANSWER: The Rant approves of debauched capitalism, particularly if it means my retirement accounts grow fat upon the excess and debauchery.

QUERY: how to get a new air conditioner from landord

ANSWER: Well, if you're like me, you just ... ask, and you receive, because you pay your rent on time and are quiet and a general credit to your building. If that doesn't work, though, you could beg and plead and cry and scream. That might work.

QUERY: teachers foolish enough to post racy photos on line deserve punishment

ANSWER: Teachers who post racy photos on-line deserve my phone number! What? Oh, come on. Laugh with me!

QUERY: i feel better already

ANSWER: Well, don't let it get around. The devil is already laughing.

QUERY: group of law students taking legal action against university

ANSWER: I actually don't mind this. True, one could argue this is biting the hand that feeds them, but I like to think of it as a situation where the law school and the students get hoisted on their own petards.

QUERY: will christian nurses doctors police go to hell if they work on the sabbath

ANSWER: The fact they're Christian would seem to preclude that possibility, wouldn't it? Honestly.

QUERY: caught wearing shoulder pads in a minicamp in 1978

ANSWER: Hogan! I -- know -- NUTHINK!

QUERY: celebrity culture pros


QUERY: this city is changing right under their noses and they don t know what up here redding we have taken this city for ourselves

ANSWER: Uh, dude? It's Redding. Nobody gives a shit, because you're in the northern end of northern California and we've all written you off.

QUERY: houston attorneys for homeowners/board of directors disputes

ANSWER: Here's an idea: why not just do what the homeowners' association wants? Because you're living in a neighborhood governed by a homeowners' association, and as a result you're screwed either way -- but not using an attorney is cheaper.

QUERY: plantlife patchouli soap- 4 oz $2

ANSWER: Dial's cheaper, you know. Yeah. Dial. One of the good things about this bad economy is that people are finally throwing the ecosmug movement overboard.

QUERY: is it proper to give a girl an engagement ring on her birthday

ANSWER: Good thinking! But make sure you have all your ducks in a row before you proceed -- you don't want her to say, well, no.

QUERY: what happened to the travelling rule in american basketball

ANSWER: Ask Tim Donaghy what happened to the traveling foul.

QUERY: editrix gender-neutral

ANSWER: Any editor who uses a word other than "editor" to describe his or her work is a cad, a scoundrel, and no one you want near your copy.

QUERY: airtime ohare to cancun

ANSWER: ORD to CUN? Roughly 18 hours. Oh, sure, it's only supposed to take about six, but I'm factoring in everything that could and consequently will go wrong. You see, it stands to reason that when you arrive at the airport, the flight will have been overbooked and you will get bumped. When you get on the next flight, something will happen to the main entryway's door handle -- it broke itself! -- and you'll be further delayed. Eventually, you'll have to pay $5 for a snack box but you won't have exact change, so you'll be out of luck there too. Lo siento.

QUERY: football is a detestable show of gladiatorship

ANSWER: Get back to your sociology homework!

QUERY: how can i make a bengals cake

ANSWER: You'll need cake mix, frosting, water and some eggs. After mixing all but the frosting together, lose 12 games in the season and get arrested.

QUERY: southern comebacks for insults northern

ANSWER: Ooooooh. This is a good query. I wish I had a real answer. But I would suggest tailoring your response to your inquisitor's home state or region. Just as Arkansas and North Carolina are very different states, so are Minnesota and Michigan. Some guy from Massachusetts won't blink an eye if you make fun of Big Ten football, while people from Michigan may arm themselves. So keep that in mind. Do remember that Midwesterners are your natural allies, so it might make sense to temper your criticism accordingly, while you can definitely hit hard against some guy from the mid-Atlantic states.

QUERY: do i have to tip the hand car wash attendant


QUERY: which is lighter coors or amstel

ANSWER: You call yourself a man!

QUERY: who is the 325 pound vegetarian who plays football for saskatchewan roughriders

ANSWER: I don't know, but as long as they keep winning, he can eat whatever he wants.

QUERY: lyrics to tacobells eighty nine cent double cheesy beef burrito

ANSWER: I hope the people at Yum! Brands are reading this. Are you happy now, you rotten bastards? ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? The last thing we need are eight million teenagers thinking they too can be the Beastie Boys.

QUERY: three main groups of books in old testament

ANSWER: Well, there's the Pentateuch (the first five books). Then there's the Inspiring Books (Job through the Song of Solomon). Then there's the Dull Books of the Prophets. I know Holy Scripture was inspired by God, but I do think some books may have been a bit less inspired than others. I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Also, if you're a Roman Catholic, you get Extra Bonus Books in your Bible, which is yet another reason to consider the Roman Church. (I was not happy when I learned I'd been deprived of these as a Methodist).

QUERY: a haunting

ANSWER: I feel that way every time I watch the St. Louis Rams, but that's neither here nor there.

QUERY: is it illegal to practice law without a license in tennessee?

ANSWER: That you're even asking that question suggests you might want to reconsider your future career as an attorney.

QUERY: a. it's a lot of work b. don't aggravate me c. between you and me i think it stinks d. she is smarter then he is

ANSWER: But aren't they all correct?

QUERY: why did bubba fett nod at princess leia?

ANSWER: OK, first off, it's BOBA Fett. BOBA Fett. Second ... well, I'm sure you saw my essays on the Nod of Respect, so I'll leave it at that.

QUERY: why is it such an embarrassing error to mistake the sex of a new baby

ANSWER: It shows you're color blind, of course.

QUERY: fun ideas for trips with girlfriend not a lot of money

ANSWER: Good thinking -- travel without breaking the bank! Well, here are my ideas. First -- do something that's an honest to God trip but is still close to home. As long as it's a trip where you have to stay overnight, it will work, but staying in or close to your home state is a good way to save money. Also, I'd suggest that women like doing a lot of things that aren't inherently expensive in themselves -- what those are will depend on the woman, of course, but if the activities in question are fun they won't care that you're not spending money like water. Lastly, do splurge one night -- the last night, preferably -- and that will end the trip on a high note.

OK, that's it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! I think I was on a roll with this one. Tune in next time, when the Summer of My Discontent gets channeled into another spiteful yarn! Until then ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack