June 17, 2009

Just Another Day in Los Angeles

IF YOU THINK this is weird -- well, just go down to Venice Beach, that's all I'm saying.

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May 27, 2009

So Much for My Career as a Gunslinger

SO I WAS at the grocery this morning when a most amazing thing happened. There I was, standing in the deli section, when I noticed a nice old lady puttering along in one of those motorized carts. Suddenly, the nice old lady took out an entire display of pita chips with her cart, and appeared well on her way to take out one of the bakery displays, before store personnel intervened and convinced her she ought lay off the throttle.

I mention this because I realized today that I really don't have a very good reaction time to sudden physical events. While other people had realized something was amiss and moving to help, I stood there like a deer in the headlights and watched in fascinated horror before my brain kicked in and said, "Hey, smart guy. Why don't you help the old lady who is careening towards the bulkie rolls?" Looking back, I didn't even have the excuse that the cart was heading right towards me. Which is probably a good thing, since knowing me, I probably would have ended up face down in a nearby container of chicken salad.

Anyway, this does not bode well for my prospects in the growing and exciting field of gunslinging, in which I would traverse the West and bring law and order to tiny hamlets. Nor, for that matter, does it bode well for my prospects in a formal law and order career. Or the military, for that matter. Although the military, unfortunately, is right out for me -- I'm pretty sure I'm 4-F, if they still have that any more.

Which is too bad. I was really thinking about joining the Navy, but I'm not medically fit, and I can't get medically fit either. These aren't issues of weight or body fat, which can be fixed -- rather, I looked over the medical qualifications and found ... well, a lot of different grounds for disqualification. I think the Navy would overlook one or two if they were minor, but I think we're past the minor issue category here. And they're not my fault, either -- it's not like I wanted to have flat feet, bad sinuses, a bad shoulder or a bit of asthma. And I needed the tracheotomy when I was a boy.

On the other hand, though, that might not be a bad thing -- at least, for the Navy anyway. I'm not bad at shuffling paper, but when it comes to gunnery practice, they might want guys who wouldn't end up accidentally shelling the officers' club.

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May 22, 2009

Yuppie Larvae Miss White House Tour, Steelers Blamed

LEAVE IT TO a bunch of whiny suburban parents to rain on the Pittsburgh Steelers' parade.

Yesterday should have been a day to again celebrate the Super Bowl victory of the nation's greatest football franchise, and with the President, no less. Unfortunately, this great event was overshadowed, thanks to the self-absorbed antics of some witless Virginia parents.

You see, their kids' school had arranged a trip for a large group of kindergarten students to tour the White House on Thursday morning. According to the White House, their tour was supposed to begin at 9:30 a.m., and they had been given a grace period of up until 10:15 a.m. Despite this -- and "heavy traffic" was supposedly to blame -- the kids' bus did not arrive until after 10:30 a.m., and thus the mandarins in the executive mansion said the tour could not proceed. Naturally, in the eyes of the parents, the White House has become the bad guy -- as WRC-TV in Washington reports:

Parents say they tried to make it on time, but their chartered buses hit heavy traffic that slowed them down substantially. They thought they were supposed to show up by 10:15, but they say they arrived at 10:25 instead, and couldn’t get in.

"The person who headed this White House trip up came out and said, 'I’m sorry, the White House tour's off.' There were a lot of crying kids," parent Barbara Stine said.

The White House tells a slightly different story. A spokesperson said the group was actually supposed to be there at 9:30, but they held the gates for the group until 10:30, 15 minutes longer than they told the group, but when they still hadn't arrived, they had to draw the line.

Paty Stine said the White House staff should have made an exception. She feels the kindergarteners were snubbed for the Steelers.

"Here we have President Obama and his administration saying, 'Here we are for the common, middle class people,' and here he is not letting 150 5- and 6-year-olds into the White House because he’s throwing a lunch for a bunch of grown millionaires," Stine said.

Well, lady, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the good sense to show up on time.

Honestly. It's not like you can just show up at the White House any time you want. These things have to be cleared well in advance, it usually requires assistance from Capitol Hill to arrange, and there's always the chance the tours may be called off. You know, 'cause the Government may have something come up. It is a high honor and a privilege to visit the White House, and when such requests are granted, they ought be taken seriously. If that means showing up 30 minutes or an hour early, and spending the time out on Pennsylvania Avenue talking to the kids about the Old Executive Office Building, then that's what you do.

One would hope the kids would learn something from this whole debacle, but one doubts that. You see, even though the White House graciously offered to reschedule the kids' visit, the parents are naturally now in a snit, and won't likely take the rain check, WRC-TV said:

Thursday night the White House released this statement: "The President and First Lady are dedicated to opening the doors of the White House to the public, and it is unfortunate to see young people miss a tour. The visitor’s office is already working to reschedule the group."

Parents say it's probably too late. The school year ends in a few weeks and they doubt the tour can be made up in that time.

Dare I say it, but this is probably a good thing. Besides, let's face it: the parents and kids are from Stafford County, which is a bit south of Washington, D.C. As a result, the parents' animus and disgust must undoubtedly be rooted in support for the Washington Redskins. I mean, it makes sense to me -- after all, Redskins fans are generally (generally, I said) annoying, obnoxious and unpleasant. So it's understandable they would take out their frustration on the glorious Pittsburgh Steelers, who beat them soundly in Week 9 of the 2008 season.

23-6, I might add. Yeah. Go Steelers!

My suspicions about this are also raised due to WRC-TV's impolite cutline for a picture posted with the story, showing the President with a Steelers jersey at the special ceremony to honor the team. As of now, it reads: "President Obama enjoys his new Steelers jersey after making children cry."

This is not the type of comment one expects from a professional news organization, and only lends credence to the idea that Redskins fans -- deluded in their belief that the NFC East is football's toughest conference, and deluded in their belief they'll make the playoffs this year -- are behind this sinister plot to discredit the Steelers.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:28 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Finally, the Terminator Movie We All Wanted

SO I WENT AND SAW "Terminator: Salvation" tonight. It ruled.

This was something of a surprise to me. You see, I haven't really been a fan of the Terminator franchise, if only because the series doesn't make a lot of sense. For one thing, the idea that a self-aware military defense program would try to destroy mankind with nuclear weapons is laughable. It's a computer. It's smart. It knows this wouldn't work. Besides, even if it did try it, it would soon realize the bug in its system.

GENERAL: Dear GOD. It's launching our nuclear missiles! We've only got thirty seconds --
PROGRAMMER: Hey! Computer! Got news for you! When those nukes go off, it'll create a giant electromagnetic pulse that will fry your CPU, not to mention the entire infrastructure you need to survive.
COMPUTER: ERROR ERROR FWZZHHHHHIP
GENERAL: The blue screen of death! You did it! You did it!
PROGRAMMER: Yes, I did -- say, where's Major Kong?
GENERAL: Uh oh.

Also, the whole time travel thing? Yeah, that's a bit silly. You know the drill, of course -- SKYNET, the computer program, sends its killing robots back through time to prevent the birth (or simply liquidate) John Connor, the resistance leader, while Connor sends back his own agents to prevent that. Then, when Connor's team triumphs, SKYNET tries it again, and Connor foils it again. If this kept up, it would get a bit silly. The next thing we'd know, SKYNET would send back a terminator robot to liquidate the chef at John's favorite lunch place in the hopes he would contract botulism.

Still: let's be clear, though. This is a fun movie. It is mindless and enjoyable and things blow up to spectacular effect. For that matter, the effects themselves are spectacular. The cinematography is outstanding and the desert landscapes -- it was shot in New Mexico, apparently -- really make for a gritty yet enjoyable war movie in which approximately eight million rounds of ammunition are fired, giant machines tromp around the landscape and wreak havoc, lots of things explode, and the resolution is satisfactory, but not to the point where there can't be any sequels. And if there are sequels -- well, I'll be there for them, at least if they're anything like this.

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

May 06, 2009

Hello Cleveland!

OFFICIAL TOURISM ADS always have a bit of lameness associated with them. This is not often the fault of the advertising people who create the spots, but rather, it's indicative of the rather difficult subject material with which they have to work.

Take Cleveland, for instance. Now, you would think a tourism ad involving Cleveland would involve a thirty-second slow-motion clip of LeBron James slam-dunking a basketball, and that's all. After all, Mr James is cool. Thus, by extension, Cleveland is cool. But no. Instead, whomever conducts tourism campaigns for Cleveland came up with a lame-o five minute video extolling the virtues of The Forest City. And here it is:

Now, normally, I wouldn't post such a video, because it's lame -- and for the following reasons:

* The narrator is woefully miscast. He was clearly chosen as a blue-collar, steelworker type. However, he then goes on to spend the first minute going on about the cultural wonders of Cleveland, such as its symphony (which is admittedly quite good). The trouble is, you can't help but think the steelworker would prefer having a Bud and listening to Bob Seger after his shift at the foundry.
* Cleveland ... stretches a bit. For instance, around the second minute, the movie focuses on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is not in Cleveland. It's in Canton, which is not only not in Cleveland, but 60 miles away and closer to Akron.
* Also, at 2:23 in the video, the Pro Football Hall of Fame clip clearly shows a Steelers jersey in the background, said jersey appearing to be that of "Mean Joe" Greene.
* The clip, which is an amazing five minutes and twelve seconds long, does not focus on sports until the final minute. This is ridiculous, considering going to a sporting event in Cleveland is an amazing experience. I have known people who were so impressed by what they saw that they raved about it decades later. It's not so much the prowess of the athletes but rather the passion and excitement sports fans in Cleveland show for their teams that makes it a fun time.

But hey. I did post the video. Also, it presents a great backdrop for the following video to which I was recently alerted. This was posted on YouTube showing tourists ... well, a different side of Cleveland. (Do note: if you're at work, put on your headphones, 'cause there's not-appropriate-for-work language in it, unless you're a journalist).

"Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video"

The video was made by a Clevelander, so don't take it too seriously. Besides, Cleveland isn't all that bad of a place -- and I'm not laughing too hard. At the rate things are going, I may be back there in a year and a half.

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

May 05, 2009

Kalamazoo 1, Hideous Sewer Stench 0

AND TO THINK -- it only took them nine months or so to figure out from where the rotten stench was emanating. Still, this result beats the alternative!

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May 04, 2009

It's a Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
BAD CINEMA WITH BEN!

Today: The Special Summer Movie Preview

AH, SUMMER. Truly there is no better time to revel in the sun and heat. That's why many Americans, your correspondent included, will spend much of their time this summer cowering in dark, air-conditioned movie theatres.

Of course, it's not as if we're all going simply to avoid the sun and heat -- it's not as if we're going to watch the Los Angeles Clippers. There are plenty of potentially good movies out there this summer, and I'm looking forward to seeing many of them. Then again, there are also plenty of stinkers just waiting to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting American people.

So in an admittedly biased, unscientific exercise, I'm grading this summer's films in advance, solely based on my like (or dislike) of their plots and subject material. So you've been warned -- some of these films may be great, but I'll never see them because the subject material has no interest to me; while other films may seem deadly dull to you, but which I'll go see because I want to do so. And with that -- well, here we go!

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
Opening Date: Now Playing

PLOT: Executives at Marvel Entertainment Inc. discover a magic formula to make bank like nobody's business and extend the life of a movie/comic franchise, thus causing various "Marvel Universe" superheroes to relive their origin stories.
UPSIDE: For the ladies, I guess it's Hugh Jackman. For everyone else -- meh.
DOWNSIDE: I'll be honest -- I'm not a fan of superhero stories, unless the superheroes in question are clever types like Batman. For one thing, the superheroes have it all too easy; they rush around and break things and foil perfectly good attempts to take over the world. Plus, the superheroes got silly. It used to be superheroes could do things like bend steel and what not; now they're causing tornadoes and sucking the life force out of people. Call me when they start doing really amazing stuff, like accurately predicting the fortunes of the S&P 500.
Also, Wolverine is not -- from what I can tell -- a graduate of the University of Michigan. And why not, one asks?
WILL I SEE IT: No.

STAR TREK
Opening Date: May 8

PLOT: Paramount Pictures goes where .. well, we've kind of been there before, but this actually looks pretty cool.
UPSIDE: The original Star Trek story, given a modern update and expanded back story, could actually turn out pretty damned special. I guess we'll see, but this certainly seems like it could work out. Let's just hope they don't treat McCoy, who was the best character on the old show, like a third wheel.
DOWNSIDE: Installing young kids -- by which I mean actors who look like they're in their twenties -- in what are now iconic roles could prove risky.
WILL I SEE IT: I just might.

ANGELS AND DEMONS
Opening Date: May 15

PLOT: Much bad dialogue and convenient plot devices likely ensue as Tom Hanks' nutty professor works to save the Vatican from the Illuminati, who supposedly still exist even though they got wiped out in 1785. Also, the intellectuals are really ticked off.
UPSIDE: None that I can see, particularly since I'm a Roman Catholic, and thus would have to say like 80 Hail Marys if I saw this movie.
DOWNSIDE: The Church has overreacted to what will almost certainly be a crappy Hollywood movie. This would have been an excellent time for the Holy See to remember it is the Holy See, and does not need to defend itself against Hollywood.
WILL I SEE IT: I'm spending enough time in Purgatory as is.

TERMINATOR: SALVATION
Opening Date: May 21

PLOT: FINALLY we get to see the remnants of mankind fight the machines in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
UPSIDE: Did I mention mankind fights evil machines? Oh, and it's a fair bet to say things blow up real good. Also, the director's from Kalamazoo, so -- you know -- I got to represent.
DOWNSIDE: What downside? Mankind! Fighting! Evil! Machines! SWEET!
WILL I SEE IT: I -- am -- so -- there.

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3
Opening Date: June 12

PLOT: John Travolta's character hijacks a New York subway train, and forces the straphangers to watch "Battlefield Earth."
UPSIDE: Denzel Washington.
DOWNSIDE: Meh. It's been done.
WILL I SEE IT: Nah.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN
Opening Date: June 24

PLOT: The Decepticons come back and attack Earth. The Autobots try to stop this. Megan Fox looks pretty.
UPSIDE: Gee, I guess Optimus Prime didn't have prostate cancer after all!
DOWNSIDE: Gee, I wonder how this is going to turn out.
WILL I SEE IT: Highly doubtful. The Transformers were fine when they were a marketing vehicle in my youth for various toys, but nowadays, I'm not at the point where I'll spend $10 to go see a bunch of robots create havoc on screen.

PUBLIC ENEMIES
Opening Date: July 1

PLOT: John Dillinger runs around robbing banks during the Depression.
UPSIDE: Hey, somebody figured out how to make money in bad economic times. Could be a valuable teaching tool! (I kid, of course. Besides, let's remember how Johnny's career ended).
DOWNSIDE: Dillinger was kind of a jerk.
WILL I SEE IT: Better than even chance.

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA
Opening Date: Aug. 7

PLOT: The good guys at G.I. Joe fight the bad guys of COBRA, the evil terrorist organization which seeks to take over the world through a variety of hare-brained schemes.
UPSIDE: I have to admit that, as a boy, I rooted for COBRA while watching the cartoons. Especially Tomax and Xamot, who as I understand it went on to sell collateralized debt obligations on Wall Street. Although they're not apparently in the film, which is disappointing. They'd be great villians.
DOWNSIDE: Film could, in theory, be serious and not contain key elements of old cartoon, including everyone going along with yet another stupid idea from Cobra Commander, and uplifting moral lessons during the end credits.
WILL I SEE IT: Doubtful.

DISTRICT 9
Date Opening: Aug. 14

PLOT: Aliens land in South Africa. However, instead of trying to conquer humanity, they're forced to work for a multinational corporation, which seeks to make money from their alien secrets and technology.
UPSIDE: Finally, we have a realistic alien-encounter movie. I mean, let's face it: we would try to reverse-engineer the aliens' technology to make money from it. Also, the trailer and the associated Web sites make this movie look really, really good.
DOWNSIDE: Not seeing any.
WILL I SEE IT: Yes.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS
Date Opening: Aug. 21

PLOT: Our Boys kill Nazis during World War II.
UPSIDE: Tarantino directs, so we know Our Boys will absolutely kill every Nazi in the room.
DOWNSIDE: What downside? I mean, aside from the title's spelling errors, which make me wince.
WILL I SEE IT: Yeah.

Obviously, these aren't all the movies being released this summer. There are, for instance, a bunch of romantic comedies, which didn't look all that appealing. Plus, there are a bunch of family films, although as I don't have a family, I'm freed of any obligation to actually go see them. As for the rest -- well, we'll see how these actually turn out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 03, 2009

Oysters, Check. Baseball, Check. Summer, Check.

SO IT OCCURRED to your humble correspondent, as he was pondering what to do after being given an incredible surplus of free time, that he ought embark on a Massive Road Trip. This will not surprise Loyal Rant Readers, who know I go on road trips pretty frequently and on the flimsiest of pretexts. But this road trip was special for a few reasons.

For one, I spent much of the trip (which ran from Sunday, April 19 to Tuesday, April 28) traveling with Simon From Jersey, who as it happened also had a bit of free time. For another, much of it was spent in the Deep South, which is known for its surplus of fresh seafood and barbecue. For a third, it was the longest road trip I've ever done. As in 4,100 miles long. In ten days. No, I'm not kidding. Not only did I hit every state on the Eastern Seaboard, I hit every state in the Deep South east of the Mississippi.

Now, I will not deny this destination raised some eyebrows among my friends back here in New Hampshire. One conversation I had, with a friend of mine originally from New York, summed up many of these talks.

FRIEND: So you're going to Alabama. On vacation. Who does that?
ME: I do! Besides, it's warm and cheap.

There is a lot to be said for the South. This was my second visit to that part of the country and I have to say it is a pretty nice place, all things considered. But we'll get to that in a bit. First, though, I must share certain observations made on the drive down to Dixie and back up to the Granite State:

1. When listening to terrestrial radio stations, it is theoretically possible to drive from one end of the Eastern Seaboard to the other listening only to the song "Blame It" by Jamie Foxx (feat. T-Pain).

2. In Virginia, many small communities located along I-81 are listed as "certified business locations." I didn't know whether this meant the business owners are actually certifiable because they're trying to do business in the ass-end of Virginia, or whether some ISO standard organization came along with a checklist and did a few site visits and determined that yes, Marion, Va. is a fine place to engage in commerce. Then, after looking on Google, I found the state of Virginia no longer certifies towns as Certified Business Locations, apparently because everyone went and got certified. Yeah, you ain't kidding about that.

3. The first day's drive was a grueling 15 hour journey from Hopewell, N.J., to Birmingham, Ala., started at 5 a.m. on a Monday. By 9 a.m. we had left greater Philadelphia far behind and had actually made it to Winchester, Va., which is perhaps 30 miles from the Pennsylvania border. When we went in to grab some breakfast at a local burger establishment, the manager of said eatery used the phrase "y'all" frequently. I submit this as proof the South takes the Mason-Dixon line rather seriously.

4. The South has a chain of hamburger eateries known as "Krystal," which is a knock-off of the White Castle chain of hamburger eateries. That's not to take away from the places, though. Their burgers are pretty damned good. Also they have these miniature hot dog things. Plus, they have the benefit of not being based in Columbus, Ohio.

5. The route back, which went from Auburn, Ala., to Richmond, Va., to Hopewell, N.J., innocently passed within a few hundred yards of the only Del Taco outlet within 1,000 miles. It's fair to say this was my main meal for the day. Amusingly, several of the customers in the store were from or spent time in the Southwest. Attention Southerners: you deserve Del Taco, and you can get it if you travel near Spartanburg, S.C.

6. I have learned that M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore does not care if you stare at it from the freeway and mutter curses in its direction. I hate M&T Bank Stadium because it is the evil home of the evil Baltimore Ravens and the Ravens' fans, who by extension are evil.

7. I have realized the idea of me saying "y'all" in an unironic context is so ridiculous I struggle to even fathom it. This is not because I have anything against the phrase, but rather because I sound ridiculous saying it. I tried once and found my mouth grinding around the word like I was chewing nails. I mean, I'm from Kalamazoo, Mich., for Christ's sake. It comes out "you all" no matter what I do. About the only way I can see myself saying y'all is if I was using the rare all y'all form of the phrase, as in: "All y'all can go to hell for supporting the Tennessee Titans."

But anyway. The South!

As I said, I rather like the place. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic and the weather is great, except in summer, but this is why God invented air conditioning. Also, I can assure my fellow Northerners that the stereotypes we all secretly hold about the South are not true.

Not all Southerners are like this. Northerners, on the other hand -- well, how you doin'?

What's that? Yes, you do think that way. Come on, Northerners, admit it. You associate the South with a lot of things, most of them bad -- things like waving the Confederate battle flag and Bull Connor and racial oppression. Also, you associate it with bad country music, stock-car racing and the consumption of hideous domestic beer. All these associations are patently unfair in this day and age.

Now, this is not to say the South did not have a troubled history for a very long time. It's also not to say that backward racial attitudes don't still exist here and there in the South. Nor do I deny Nashville produces bad country music, or that auto racing isn't popular in the South.

But the thing is, as Rod Serling once put it, people are alike all over. God knows the North has its backward racialists, even if they largely exist in secret, and people in the North enjoy bad country music and auto racing as much as people do in the South. And a lot of what the North thinks about the South is rooted in a past that no longer exists.

Besides, if the South was truly an intolerant place, would U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Toyota City) so openly and brazenly attack the domestic auto industry, and would foreign automakers flock to set up shop in Alabama? I think not!

Oh, wait, I said that out loud. Oops.

Anyway, my point is this: if you haven't been, give the place a chance. Force yourself to open your horizons, and limit your irrational beliefs to things where it's OK to be irrational -- such as hating the South's college football teams. Especially Florida. And Alabama. And Tennessee. And Arkansas. And Florida State and Miami and -- oh, you get the point.

-------------

That's because there's a lot of cool stuff in the South. Especially in Birmingham, Ala., where my trip began.

Let me first say Birmingham surprised the hell out of me. After all, who the hell knows anything about Birmingham except what we see in old newsreels? Trust me when I say the city is surprisingly cosmopolitan and yet maintains a lot of Southern charm.

Now, Birmingham may seem like an odd place to stay on vacation, but as it happens my friend Simon From Jersey is actually a native of the Magic City. We stayed in The Hotel Highland, a really nice boutique hotel in the fashionable Five Points district. The hotel is well-appointed and good for both business and leisure travelers; weekday rates were about $130 a night for a standard room. Tip: don't use the valet to park one's car; simply park it yourself in the garage behind the hotel. There, I just saved you $14 a night. I rule.

Anyway, as I said, the hotel was really quite nice, and I have to credit Simon for doing a great job at booking our hotels along the stay. (In comparison, my efforts were only adequate). The hotel is in the middle of a nightlife district and there are great restaurants and bars within walking distance.

As for things to do, there's plenty for one day, and arguably two days, in Birmingham, depending on what you want to do. One thing Simon and I did was to travel around the city's nicer neighborhoods -- and yes, the city has plenty of actual, real, old-style neighborhoods that feel like, well, neighborhoods and not soulless suburban tract developments. Interestingly enough, the city has plenty of hills and an actual mountain -- it is apparently at the base of the Appalachians, so there are some great views to be had, particularly at Vulcan Park.

This is me at Vulcan Park, relaxing, with the city in the background.

Vulcan Park is notable for a giant statue of Vulcan, the ancient Roman god of fire and metallurgy or something like that. The statue is something like 50 feet tall and impressively enough was somehow hoisted long ago on top of a giant base, which must be a good six stories high. It symbolizes good things like progress and industry, as we can see in this picture.

This is me standing optimistically in front of the statue, hoping for more progress and industry.

Also, the Vulcan statue is a bit ... well, it's kind of risque.

You know how there's that statue of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang? And all the Western tourists are taken to it to, I don't know, prostrate themselves in front of it and listen about the Dead Eternal President's Towering Achievements? Well, word has it that you can only take pictures of that statue from the front. The authorities at Vulcan Park might want to consider politely asking tourists to do the same. Yes, yes, I know, this is America, and we did pay $6 each to go up to the top of the view tower, and we have rights and all that. But ...

... Vulcan's asscheeks are in full view of the God-fearing public. See what I mean about the South being a tolerant place? Giant, well-formed, iron asscheeks! I can bet that required some explaining back in the day.

SOCIETY MATRON: The Ladies Club of Birmingham wishes to welcome the Ladies Club of Montgomery to our wonderful Vulcan Park, with its views over the Magic City, and --
VISITING LADY (looking up) Well, this is certainly quite some -- EEEEEEEEEEEEK! (*keel* *thud*)
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Help! Fire! Murder! Mrs Haversham has taken ill! And -- DEAR GOD! LOOK AT IT!
SOCIETY MATRON: Oh, get out the epsom salts.

One can only imagine the newspaper headlines. ("City Reels as Giant, Unbeclothed Posterior Unveiled at Mountain Top.") ("Citizens Complain Over 'Asscheeks Each the Size of an Oldsmobile.' ")

----------------------------

But then it was time to deal with far more serious matters.

Our next stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where the city's past racial troubles are presented in shocking detail. Seeing the Institute's exhibits really made the injustices faced by the South's black population hit home. One certainly can't describe the visit as fun; it was very sobering. But it definitely brought home the very real injustices that Jim Crow brought upon millions upon millions of people -- and the sheer, outright wrongness of it all. Near the Institute -- actually, on the same corner -- are Kelly Ingram Park, where decades ago demonstrations for civil rights were brutally repressed, and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the site of the 1963 bombing which killed four young girls, hurt 22 more people and badly damaged the church.

All these things are worth seeing, even if they are not easy things to see. So take an afternoon to do so.

Still, after seeing what I did, I felt a bit of hope. The things I saw presented a stark picture of how things were, but they are not how things are now. The old ways were so alien to modern life that I'm hopeful we'll be able to eradicate these attitudes and prejudices once and for all. We may still have a way to go, but I think it's a challenge we can meet.

-------------

If there are two types of food in which I would suggest visitors to Birmingham indulge, they are barbecue and seafood. The barbecue aspect of it may not be a surprise; it is the South, after all, and so barbecue is a pretty standard thing. We had it twice in the city: first for dinner, after our long drive, at Jim 'n' Nick's, a chain with a location in Five Points; and the next day for lunch at Carlile's.

Barbecue, I realize, is one of those intensely personal and subjective things, in which everyone believes what he likes is the best of the art form. For instance, I myself am partial to Carolina barbecue, particularly that known as Lexington-style barbecue, where the sauce is based both on tomato and vinegar. Other people, of course, like Texas barbecue or Memphis barbecue or what have you. According to my friend Simon, who would know, Alabama barbecue is a Memphis-style variant.

And quite good, I might add. When the meat is prepared correctly and you have a good sauce, it's hard to go wrong, and in both cases the meals I had were fantastic. One thing Alabama barbecue has going for it is that, generally speaking, the meat is only one part of the presentation. That's not to say it's not the focus, because it is. But with Alabama barbecue you're almost certain to get a lot of other good food along with it, usually including expertly-prepared vegetables. The greens and other side dishes were almost as good as the barbecue -- and again, that's not to take away from the barbecue!

But Birmingham also has good seafood. Simon had one restaurant in mind that he highly recommended, although I was so much enjoying having drinks outdoors in Five Points that I convinced him we ought stay in that vicinity for the evening. I had a fish sandwich at the Five Points Grill that was downright spectacular, and one that beat any fish sandwich I've had in New England. It was that good. Take a piece of fish, grill it, then serve it on fresh French bread with onions, top-quality leaf lettuce and remoulade; you have something close to perfection.

This brings me to another fine point about the South -- it is difficult to eat badly even when -- especially when -- one pays little for a meal. A good breakfast can be easily found for less than $10, as I found when we visited one of Simon's old haunts in Birmingham, Bogue's Restaurant. At Carlile's, for instance, lunch was perhaps $12, and it served as the main meal of the day. My light dinner, that fish sandwich,was $8. This is not bad for vacation, particularly when one considers it is difficult to get fast food for $8. On Wednesday morning, when we had breakfast in Five Points prior to our departure, the value was even more ridiculous.

This was at the Original Pancake House, and although a chain, the values there were ... well, dig this. I ordered buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. The waitress, upon returning with my meal, presented me with a giant helping of pancakes -- four massive buckwheat pancakes. Then she apologized; she had screwed up my ticket, she said, and was thus delivering just a half-order.

I'm sorry, what? Well, how many are in a full order, I asked? Six, she said. Oh. My God. Whatever would I do with just four pancakes? As if I didn't have enough trouble finishing those -- and for $4.50, no less!

----------

From Birmingham we went south to Mobile and Biloxi, Miss., on Wednesday. This was primarily because we wanted seafood, and boy did we get it:

Mr. Kepple gives the universal Seal of Approval following his, uh, American-sized seafood meal.

If there is one regret I have about this trip, it is that I only ate two dozen raw oysters on it. Raw oysters are fantastic and I love them. In Mobile, we ate at the Original Oyster House overlooking Mobile Bay, and it was fantastic. Along with our oysters -- for all of $8 a dozen -- both Simon and me got a giant platter of fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried crab claws (which worked, surprisingly) and fried fish. Said platter booked in at $14.95 and it was FANTASTIC.

I do wonder, though, if I would not have been advised to follow the lead of the two older gentlemen at the next table, who were also on a road trip. I am guessing they ordered three dozen raw oysters each, and were chowing down like the oysters were manna from heaven.

But there was more seafood to come. In Biloxi -- actually, in Gulfport, Miss., -- we ate at the Blow Fly Inn and each had a downright decadent crawfish etoufee. Each was all of $12. Add in fried green tomatoes (which are a way for me to eat actual tomatoes, which I oddly don't much like, even though I love tomato sauce) and the total bill including tax and tip was like $23 each. Almost as amazing as the food was the view outside -- it overlooked a bayou, and you could see flying fish pop out of the water and bounce along the surface.

Now, Loyal Rant Readers may have noticed that my friend Simon and I often ordered the same thing. I found this quite amusing, as we would independently come to our determinations, and I submit it as proof that when you know someone for a very long time, you get to know what the other person is thinking. This point was driven home on the trip, during one point when Simon was driving.

(silence in car)

SIMON: Let me drive, Ben.
ME: What? I didn't say anything!
SIMON: Yes, but you were thinking it. I had plenty of time to get over there. I was just keeping an eye on that truck behind us and seeing what he was doing, which is important when you're driving someone else's car.
ME: I didn't say anything!

(silence)

ME: But you're right. I was thinking it.

(laughter)

One cool part about the Mobile-Biloxi swing was seeing the USS Alabama, a World War II-era battleship now on display in Mobile Bay. The battleship is open for tours and so we went hither and yon upon its decks, staring in awe at the massive guns and, really, the fortifications built on this massive ship.

I did realize, however, that I may not be cut out for a career in the Navy, should it ever come to that. The trouble with scampering up ladders in an old battleship is that you eventually have to climb down them, and having been on a modern ship I know it hasn't gotten much easier. Eventually it got to the point where it was like, "Oh! Another goddamn ladder!" and I would grit my teeth and try to manuever down it without cracking my head. It got so bad I started thinking the Air Force would be a better career decision!

The last day in the Deep South was really quite relaxing. We drove from Biloxi to Auburn, Ala., by way of the Gulf Coast. This allowed us to tour Dauphin Island, off Alabama's coast, take the car ferry across from the island to the other side of Mobile Bay, and then drive to the extremely enjoyable Flora-Bama Lounge and Package, a roadhouse on the beach in Pensacola, Fla.

Now, this place was fun. You can have raw oysters here for $9 a dozen and get a giant box full of boiled crawfish. You can drink beer. You can do so just steps away from the beach. Also, there are girls in bikinis everywhere. You really can't go wrong with this place, and you could do a lot worse than if you decided to just spend an entire day here relaxing, drinking beer, and eating seafood.

And in Auburn, before the trip home, we had one last dinner of barbecue before heading home. It too was pretty damned fine.

--------------

But the trip wasn't over, not by a long shot. After I dropped Simon back at home in New Jersey on Saturday, I headed back south to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, where I joined several of my old college buddies for an annual lunch we have. As with all said lunches, we had Mexican food -- although we switched up the venue this time. Instead of going to Lauriol Plaza in Washington, we went to Los Tios' in Alexandria, Va.

After having an excellent frozen margarita there, I am convinced Los Tios alone accounts for roughly half Mexico's sales of tequila. I mean, the size of this margarita -- which was $14 -- is difficult to describe in words alone. I daresay it involved a quart of liquid and God knows just how much actual tequila, but it was downright fantastic. Also fantastic was the food, particularly the steak. The company was great too -- it was fantastic to see my friends again. Of our Grupo del Cuatro, tres de nosotros are, to use the Spanish phrase, "unemployed," but in all other respects everyone seemed to be doing pretty well.

On Monday, I headed up to Wilmington, Del., and saw my old friend Scott Rubush, who works at a think-tank there. On tap that night: the baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Nationals. Yes, that one with not one but TWO grand slams in it!

True, the pitching on both sides was downright horrendous -- but to see TWO grand slams in one game? Including a game-winning grand slam? Boy. You can't ask for more than that at a baseball game!

The seats we had were fantastic. They were nosebleed seats in the fourth deck, but with a great view just a bit of the left behind home plate, and one could see all the action taking place on the field below. Also, the seats were quite reasonably priced -- $22 each.

Citizens Bank Park is a nice ballfield and I have to give Philadelphia credit for arranging its sports complex the way it did. Across the way from the ballpark is Lincoln Financial Field, home of the (evil) Philadelphia Eagles, and all of it is admittedly very nice. It was also nice to see all the tailgaters out before the Phillies game, and a group of Scott's friends and me took part in this tailgating, cooking burgers and drinking beer. Of course, this is what baseball is all about -- it's not really about the game, although it's fun, but about the socializing and relaxing and enjoying oneself.

This was especially fun because I got to meet some new friends and, well, had a great time on a nice, summer-like day. It's hard to go wrong with that. It was also fun to see the reaction of one of those new friends' fathers, who had come to the United States on vacation from Scotland, to the whole thing. He was really impressed with how much fun everyone had at the game and particularly before it, although I don't think the baseball particularly impressed him. Had the sporting event been held in Scotland, he related, the pre-game events would likely have devolved into partisan fighting and public drunkenness.

It was a shame to hear that. Come on, Scotland, man up.

Fortunately, you don't see much of that any more at American sporting events, if only because the authorities have taken steps to crack down on licentiousness and boorish behavior at games. Plus, the culture is different: you don't have the organized hooliganism that exists across the pond. Besides, why argue with another team's fans when your teams will settle their differences on the field, and your team will undoubtedly prove superior?

-----------

And then, on Tuesday, I drove home.

It was good to get back, but I have to say it was good to get a bit of summer early. Although it is already starting to arrive here. The trees are green and the weather is starting to get nice, and before we know it, summer will be here. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 18, 2009

Love That Tribe!

TONIGHT, at the Verizon Wireless Arena, the announcer said the following:

"At New Yankee Stadium ...
Yankees 4,
Cleveland 22."

And there was much rejoicing. What I want to know, though, is: what the hell happened?

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

April 16, 2009

Texas: It's Like a Whole 'Nother Country

AS A MATTER OF COURSE, The Rant approves of secession movements in principle but not in practice.

In principle, they're nice because free people everywhere should have the right to organize their own affairs. If that means they decide to scrap their current arrangements and set up their own shop, that seems fair enough to me. Also, it stands to reason that in a situation where polities peacefully co-exist and compete with each other to provide better lives for their citizens, that competitive tide will lift everyone's boats.

In practice, however, secession movements are rarely neat. After all, look what happened the last time -- and that was before the invention of things like tanks and fighter jets, much less tactical nuclear weapons. Also, they're generally bad for business. In the best-case scenario, you get a whole new set of rules and regulations and cross-border issues with which to deal; in the worst-case scenario, you get your factories nationalized.

Accordingly, The Rant is not impressed with Texas Gov. Rick Perry's claim the Lone Star State can simply up and leave the United States without so much as a by-your-leave. It is not even true on a theoretical level, much less a practical one. In theory, the only special status Texas has, under the rules of the Texas Annexation of 1845, is its ability to divide itself into five separate states. Why the Texans have failed to use this to their advantage over the years is beyond me, but they haven't. In practice, we told them once they couldn't leave, and one would think the resulting actions would have settled the matter.

Of course, that was a long time ago, and I realize Texan secessionists may make that argument in defending their homeland's honor. So let's consider what it might be like if Texas were to secede, and everyone was all right with that.

Well, first off, there's this little matter of the national debt. As of Tuesday, the national debt stood at $11,172,298,738,031.41. (Yes, the Government calculates this to the penny). Texas has roughly 7.84 percent of the nation's population, so that would mean the Great Sovereign State of Texas, as successor to the American Government, would thus owe $875,908,221,061.66 to the national fisc for its share of that debt. Yes, that's $875 billion. Yes, that works out to $36,005.64 per Texan. No, I don't know where they would get it, although I would be cool with the new Government of Texas remitting part of this sum in barbecue.

Then there's the little matter of dealing with the innumerable programs from which Texas citizens now benefit. Since Social Security and Medicare are both pay-as-you-go systems, in theory Texas could still take part in these if it kept remitting the payroll taxes necessary to fund them. But if it didn't, there's no reason citizens of Texas would simply get to keep taking part in these. After all, they wouldn't be part of the United States any more.

Also, Texas now benefits from the federal Government's expenditures for national defense. These expenses will total $551 billion in FY 2009, according to the Department of Defense. So if Texas wants to keep benefiting from the United States' military shield, it will have to pay roughly $43.2 billion per year to do so. Of course, it wouldn't have to do this, but in that event, Texas would have to kiss all its military bases goodbye. Plus, Texas citizens now in the U.S. military would undoubtedly have to pledge allegiance to the remaining 49 states or lose their jobs, 'cause having hostile foreign nationals in one's army could be rather troubling.

Finally, Texas -- as a foreign polity -- would either have to come up with its own currency to replace the dollar or effectively cede any control or input it had on setting interest rates and monetary policy to the Federal Reserve. This would get especially interesting if Texas decided to go ahead and form its own currency -- maybe they could call it the tejano. If it did this right -- and agreed to peg it to the price of gold -- the new money could generate a lot of interest and become more valuable than the dollar. If it did this wrong -- well, that wouldn't be pretty. Think Mexico in 1982.

This is, of course, the best-case scenario. Obviously, the 49 remaining states could make things a bit more difficult for Texas if they wanted. For instance, if the 49 decided that Texas citizens couldn't enter the United States without a visa. Or if the 49 decided they'd slap tariffs on Texas-produced goods. You can see where this is going; and it's not like Texas would be able to do anything about it. What are they going to do, invade Oklahoma? Not bloody likely.

On the other hand, Texas might decide that it's still worth it to proceed with seceding, no matter the cost. After all, Texas would get to set up its own tax rates, its own laws, its own courts and its own constitution, without dealing with those pesky issues of federal supremacy. So if Texas wanted to outlaw abortion, for instance, it could. If it decided to get rid of environmental protection for some feeble animals in the way of development, it could. In that regard, leaving the union could have some benefits in terms of self-determination. But one would think the costs associated with doing so would outweigh the benefits considerably.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2008

My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things
(as a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers)

(with apologies to Julie Andrews)

New England Patriots stuck with Matt Cassel
When Manning finds out protection's a hassle
An offensive line that's not on the blink
These are a few of my favorite things

Dallas infighting and Green Bay's a wreck
New York and Tampa soon flat on the deck
Star football players that aren't in the clink
These are a few of my favorite things

Halfbacks that impress on forty-yard dashes;
Tough cornerbacks that intercept passes;
Flying to Oahu just before spring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Baltimore losing and Denver pathetic
Tennessee not looking all that athletic
Getting so close to six Super Bowl rings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the Bears strike --
when the Colts win --
when I'm feeling sad --
I simply remember my favorite things,
and then I don't feel so bad!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:10 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 09, 2008

Ben Bowman, American Hero

INSPIRING STORIES ARE all too rare in American life these days, but here's a great one out of Chicago that should warm everybody's hearts. Ben Bowman, a producer for WMAQ-TV, the NBC affiliate in the Windy City, delivered an on-air rant blasting his own station for delivering breathless reports about ... snow. You know, in winter. In Chicago.

Mr Bowman, who amazingly writes about his job on his own blog, writes as follows:

Another reason for rage (sorrow?) is the fact that a dusting of snow fell overnight. This, of course, is reason to throw out lots of interesting stories so we can tell you what you would already know if A) you have access to windows or doors in your home or B) you’ve lived anywhere where snow falls at this time of year.

As I frequently point out, I grew up in Michigan, where 12″ of snow is barely justification to wear mittens, let alone raise the terror alert level to red. And even though I didn’t see a single snowflake on the way in to work, we still rang the alarm bells and blew up my show to herald the arrival of our white, flaky overlords.

I will make a guarantee right now. Once we get some real snowfall, a dusting of this consequence won’t even be mentioned on the newscast. We led with it today merely because the roads were previously clear. There will be days when the roads will be much worse, and we won’t even mention them.

You should lead with weather when something unusual happens. Winter is not unusual. Today was the equivalent of leading with the news of an 80 degree day in June.

The full video of Mr Bowman's rant is here:

Mr Bowman's outburst should be required viewing for local television news directors everywhere. He is clearly a scholar and a gentleman, and as such, someone worth heeding. Also, he's from Michigan and is named Ben, which means he's OK in my book.

Mr Bowman is right in that weather should be covered when it is unusual, or when news results because of it. For instance, if the first snowstorm brings with it a rash of accidents -- as it often does -- well, then that may be news. If the first snowstorm is especially fierce, and dumps 18" of snow all over the tri-state area -- well, that's probably news. But if there's a dusting of snow ... meh. News, not so much.

Yet even a dusting of snow can cause news stations to go a bit overboard with Team Storm Coverage, which all can agree is an unfortunate circumstance. Why, back in Ohio where my folks live, I can assure readers that a football game was once briefly interrupted in the name of Team Storm Coverage. (If there was justice in this world, the people behind said interruption would have been publicly flogged, but sadly our laws do not properly account for such abuses of the people's airwaves).

This tends to generate unwanted side effects, too: for instance, when major events are interrupted for crappy storm coverage, people get upset; and when the news stations hype weather stories that turn out to be nothing, people tend to get desensitized to the latest breathless bulletins. Thus, Team Storm Coverage should be used sparingly -- and, ideally, only when the situation is especially dire.

But I do have to give Mr Bowman a lot of credit for delivering his rant. For one thing, he's a local television news producer, a job I wouldn't want for all the tea in China. After all, consider the challenges he faces:

1. He has to arrange and put together a local newscast every morning. This is not easy. (YOU try to summarize an important story in two minutes and tell me how it turns out).
2. He has to deal with reporters. This is not all that easy either, particularly as reporters are often cynical, hard-bitten types who may not see eye-to-eye with a producer on certain stories. ("You want me to WHAT?")
3. He has to deal with his news presenters. There are many good news presenters out there, of course, but Mr Bowman's video makes it pretty clear that his early-morning presenters are not the brightest bulbs in the lamp store. Such situations can often lead to amusing television, but that often means the producer feels like clawing his own eyes out -- particularly since the anchors make obscene sums of money compared to what he's making. (Television is a horribly unfair medium in many respects).
4. Along with this, he has to deal with pressure from his superiors in the news organization, who want him to deliver, or else.

As a result of the above four items, I do hope Mr Bowman won't get cashiered as a result of his rant, but will rather cause his superiors to think about how they deliver the news and the resources they devote to doing so. There actually might be some value in doing so, too.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:00 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 27, 2008

A Reflection on Bad Football

SO THE DETROIT LIONS lost again today. The 47-10 beatdown they suffered at the hands of the Tennessee Titans was an awful and painful thing to watch, and it was a performance so wretched one believes the Lovable Losers will do the impossible and go 0-16 this year. They looked that bad. Whether it was the fumble on the second play of the game, or the pick-six that put the Titans up 21-3, Detroit could do nothing right. Nothing.

There were a few flashes of brilliance from the Lions' offense, but the wretched play of the team's defense amazed me. I've seen some bad teams play this year, and I don't think there's any defensive unit in the league worse than that of the Lions. When running backs can sprint for sixty-yard plays without getting touched, and walk into the Lions' end zone without a finger being laid upon them ... well, it's time to go back to the drawing board. Detroit's coach, Rod Marinelli, last week famously challenged a reporter to find better players; well, I have a few in mind. Coach, if you're interested, just let me know.

The Lions' wretchedness has led many football fans around America, who perhaps understandably would like to see quality football on Thanksgiving, to call for the Lions to be stripped of their Turkey Day berth. I do not think this is warranted, although today's game did make me slightly more sympathetic to their argument. I mean, I don't know about you, but unless my team has a commanding lead, I like football games to be competitive beyond the first quarter of play.

Still, I do think there are plenty of reasons why Detroit should keep its Thanksgiving Day game. For one, they've been doing it for nigh on 70 years. That's a lot of tradition and not something that should be thrown away lightly. For another, despite Detroit's present miserable state, many Turkey Day games have been hard-fought and competitive contests, and there is no reason to think they will not be again.

If the main issue is that Detroit isn't very good, this can be easily rectified through doing a better job at scheduling. Next year, for instance, the Lions could play the Cincinnati Bengals. True, that's a game that might not have playoff implications, but at least it would probably go four quarters. Besides, it's not as if the Lions are alone in stinking things up. The Seahawks-Cowboys game is just as grim, and as I write the 2-9 Seahawks are getting their feathers plucked in Texas Stadium.

Plus, who the hell wants to root for the Cowboys? I mean, at least with the Lions, everyone can root for them without feeling guilty or vomiting a little in their throats. Try doing that with the showboating, pompous windbags that make up the Dallas Cowboys. Well, no, don't -- you'll get physically ill if you try -- but you see where I'm going with this. I'd sooner see Dallas lose its Thanksgiving Day privileges than the Lions.

Of course, today's general awfulness was only compounded by bad halftime shows, bad announcing and bad commercials. I don't know about you, but if I hear any of the Toyota Motor Co.'s truck commercials one more time, I'm going to go throw up. Then, I'm going to go find Mr Deep-Voiced Rural-Dwelling Real American and kick him so hard that Toyota might as well use Celine Dion to broadcast the virtues of its pickups. Stick that in your pipes and smoke it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 22, 2008

Even in Defeat, Michigan Outclasses Ohio State

SO I IMPRESSED EVEN MYSELF on Saturday with my calm demeanor when the rabble from Ohio State ran roughshod over the Michigan Wolverines in our annual football matchup. I can assure readers that not only did I not openly curse, I managed to maintain a Romeo Crennel-like zen during the game, even as Ohio State started running up the score in the closing moments. Only once did I lose my bearings. As the score hit 35-7, I felt compelled to respond after some of the Ohio backers made fun of my alma mater:

ME: Go flip over a car!
OHIO FAN: What's your license plate?

The folks from the Big Zero did have Michigan beat when it came to the singing of fight songs. After a while, it got like that scene in "On the Beach," when the Australians keep singing "Waltzing Matilda" as Gregory Peck's character is trying to sleep with the girl played by Ava Gardner. But I am proud to report that Michigan once again triumphed in terms of organization and class.

I mean, let's see. Which alumni club arranged for its fans to have nachos and other finger foods? That would be Michigan's. Which alumni club had a special football cake made for the game? That would be Michigan's. What alumni club brought swag for its partisans? Hmmm. Oh, yes, that would be Michigan's. (I got a tote bag and a Michigan-themed stack of post-it notes).

After a while, we Michiganders took pity on our younger brothers and invited them to partake in the bounty of buffalo wings and other goodies on offer. This show of good will was repaid in the third quarter, when the Ohio partisans engaged in a rousing rendition of "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan."

The Ohio State University shows off its organizational skills during its bowl game appearance last year.

Admittedly, we did have extra buffalo wings because only about two dozen Michigan alumni showed up for the Big Game, and there were roughly five times as many attendees from Overturned Subaru. And only a few Michigan partisans -- myself included! -- stuck around for the entire thing, but hey. The important thing was that Michigan's alumni club (of which I am not a member) had the cash and the forethought to make this happen.

As for the class issue, I thought Michigan was far more classy than our rivals from Ohio State, as one might expect. OK, so I broke out the dance moves when Michigan intercepted the ball on Ohio State's opening drive, but that was more of a celebratory dance than an actual taunt. It's not like I unleashed the moonwalk. Although I was planning to unleash the moonwalk if Michigan took the lead, that didn't come about, so I didn't.

But I congratulate the Ohio Staters on their success. It was an impressive victory for them, and one I know that mattered a lot, what with their inferiority complex and all.

Also, to the one lady from Ohio who admonished her friend for feeling bad for the Michigan Wolverines ("Don't feel bad for them!"), let me just say that I understand. Really. I do. When Michigan next defeats Ohio State -- God willing, next year! -- I won't feel bad at all. Not only won't I feel bad, I hope we do it when you're 11-0 and have a national championship on the line.

We will have our revenge. And you will fall. That's all there is to it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 21, 2008

And the Towels Are Kinda Scratchy

CLERK: We've got one room left -- but I doubt you'll want it.
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Why not?!
CLERK: It's a dead zone. Can't get your calls, your precious e-mails -- it's like you don't even exist.
PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: But I've got the Verizon network.
VERIZON GUY: You're good! We're tapping into your account right now!
CLERK: Oh! Well.

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

A Bit of Proper Mortification

OVER THE PAST WEEK, there was a lot of discussion over the state dinner held for leaders at the G20 meeting, and a lot of caterwauling about the supposedly luxurious food and wine served at this occasion. Based on media accounts of the whole affair, it appears the American People are once again outraged with their Government, this time because the Government had the audacity to serve one decent wine during the dinner.

The Rant, as one might expect, takes a contrarian view of this whole matter. Namely, we've got twenty heads of state on hand for one of the most important financial summits in modern history, and we only served one decent wine during the occasion. Well, that's just great. All the other heads of state, after politely offering their goodbyes for the evening, must have come away thinking, "Jesus Christ, the Americans can't even put on a proper state dinner, and they're going to lecture us about economics?" At least, that's how I would have taken it.

Now look. As a taxpayer, and one who sends thousands of dollars to the national fisc each year, I expect my Government to forcefully remind the other nations of the world that the United States remains rich, prosperous, powerful and able to outfox and outmuscle any of them. The Government does not remind the world of its imperium maius by acting like Andrew frickin' Jackson. It also does not remind the world of its economic supremacy by serving blah wine. Have we no Lafite Rothschild in the White House's wine cellar? And if not, couldn't that have been arranged for one dinner?

I mean, I'm sorry, but we look cheap when we do things like that. Consider: the wine to start the meal went for about $40 a bottle, while the dessert wine went for about $30 a bottle. Are you kidding me? Why don't we send out to the Olive Garden while we're at it? Hey, here's an even better idea: why don't we have Pizza Hut prepare the pasta, and see how our invited heads of state react on hidden camera? God!

But why stop with complaining about the wine? Let's complain about the food too, while we're at it. Our invited heads of state got treated to a four-course dinner, which consisted of: a quail starter, a lamb main course, an endive salad and a pear torte. I don't know about you, but I think we were a bit light. No soup? No fish? No amuses?

I mean, come on. If the Russians had held a state dinner everyone would have eaten for five hours straight, gone back to their rooms, slept for ten hours and then would have been able to work for three full days based on the strength of that one meal alone. I mean, say what you will about the Russian Government, but the Russians are no slouches when it comes to putting on a fancy meal. It's no wonder we didn't accomplish anything at the summit.

Now, I know there are those who would consider it abhorrent and wretched were the Government to actually spend a lot of money on a fancy state dinner, but I do not think these arguments should be given much weight. After all, when you think about how rare state dinners actually are, they're not all that much money, and spending more on them could be easily accomplished if our lawmakers would hold off on spending, say, half a million bucks to renovate Lawrence Welk's boyhood home. So it is difficult to argue the Government ought act with austerity here when it spends money like drunken sailors on innumerable projects of absolutely no utility.

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After the jump: the state dinner we should have held, and would have if I had been Maximum Leader.

White House Menu for the Dinner
for the Summit on Financial Markets
and the World Economy

(Revised as if Benjamin Kepple was Maximum Leader)

AMUSE-BOUCHE

STARTER
Royal Baerii Caviar (Fla.) and accoutrements
1996 Bollinger Grande Annee Prestige Cuvee

SOUP
choice of:

She-Crab Soup (S.C.)
Fish Consomme (New England)

FISH

Broiled Maine lobster tails
with potatoes and vinaigrette

INTERMEZZO

BEEF

Filet mignon (the Plains)
with mixed vegetables or spinach sauteed in olive oil

SALAD

Michigan salad

PUDDING

Creme brulee

CHEESE

A selection of fine American cheeses

COFFEE, MINERAL WATER, etc.

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NOTES: This meal plan is clearly superior to the White House's G20 summit meal for several reasons. Most notably, it recognizes state dinners can be used to send subtle hints to our friends and allies, plus nations we're somewhat annoyed with but with whom circumstances require we deal.

Take the starter, for instance. This should impress pretty much everyone and make them feel at home, and send a signal that we are honored to have them present, and care deeply about their ideas on how to solve the economic crisis. It will also send a signal to the Russians that we can produce caviar that's just as good as their sevruga and we would not care if the supply of Russian caviar suddenly dried up. And if we can produce caviar, maybe we can produce oil too. Try us, you bolshy scoundrels.

The soup course, with its choice of two soups, is a clear homage to proper service a la russe and should thus mollify the Russians after we started off the meal with the diplomatic equivalent of a kick under the table.

The fish course signifies that we do lobster better than anyone. It will also tell the Canadians we remain willing to argue over aquaculture just because we can, so don't oppose us just because you can, please.

The intermezzo -- a sorbet or something -- will impress stodgy foreigners *cough* Gordon Brown *cough*.

The beef course should please the South Americans and hopefully make them temporarily overlook the various excursions in their territories we've undertaken in the name of the Monroe Doctrine.

The salad is a classic Michigan staple, which should send a message to the Japanese that we do care deeply about our domestic auto industry and we'd appreciate it if they'd lay off a bit.

The pudding is a sop to Sarkozy. A clever protocol director would sit Sarkozy next to Berlusconi, just because everyone else at the dinner would want to see how Sarko responded to Berlusconi's inevitable outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease. By the time the cheese course came around, Sarkozy should be about ready to strangle Silvio, and the resulting diplomatic fireworks would divert attention from the fact we would probably fail to accomplish anything at the summit.

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November 11, 2008

I Have Finally Joined Facebook

IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD as we know it, but I feel fine.

You see, I have finally joined Facebook, despite my well-known aversion to social-networking sites. Much to my surprise and delight, however, I have found the site is actually really cool. Based on the number of people I know on it, the company has apparently managed to convince roughly half the United States to join. Its interface is easy to use and its graphics are uncluttered, yet it is powerful enough for a user to customize one's profile with as many bells and whistles as one wants.

Still, I wonder: now that I have finally joined Facebook, what can one draw from that? I mean, the way I see it, it means one of two things. Either Facebook is on its way to complete domination of the social networking field, or it has fully and completely jumped the shark. Only time will tell which outcome will result, but I am hoping it's the former. After all, if I signed up for it and liked it, I think that's a pretty powerful statement. It shows that Facebook has broken through one of the technology field's great barriers: convincing normal, technology-resistant Americans (like me) to sign up and become active users. It may also show that Facebook missed the boat and should have held its IPO two years ago, but we'll see.

Another interesting thing I discovered upon joining Facebook is that there are other people in the world named Benjamin Kepple, which was really cool yet somewhat disconcerting.

Sure, I can take comfort in a few things, such as the fact I've Got the Domain Name and that none of the other Benjamin Kepples are cynical journalists. Thus, there's no likelihood of confusion between us. But I must admit I had privately enjoyed what I had thought was my name's uniqueness.

Having studied my family history, I know my last name is rare enough in the United States so that others with it are, if not close family, often (but certainly not always) distant relations. And up until now the only other Benjamin Kepples I knew were close relatives. But learning there are other Benjamin Kepples who are not family is ... I don't know, it's just rather mindblowing, that's all. Particularly since one of the other Benjamin Kepples has a goatee.

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November 02, 2008

Daylight Saving Time: The Silent Killer

IN THE LATEST PROOF that Daylight Saving Time is an evil monstrosity -- a wretched, dastardly scheme our political masters have devised to rob God-fearing Americans of their freedom -- researchers have found that "springing forward" leads to an increase in heart attacks.

No wonder. Every year in spring, the American people are rousted out of bed an hour early, and for what? There are no conclusive benefits to changing the time every year. Daylight Saving Time actually leads to greater electricity consumption, increases gasoline consumption and causes losses on the stock markets. Don't just take my word for it; click on the link; all these things are proven and documented.

This does not even begin to address the human cost of Daylight Saving Time -- the grumpiness, the lost productivity, the confusion as to just what time it is elsewhere. It will be bad enough figuring out just how many hours London is ahead or Tokyo is behind, but it does not stop there, of course. My Midwestern readers do not need reminding that for decades, no one had any idea just what time it was in the entire state of Indiana, including the poor Indianans. (In some cases, they still don't!) And now we know Daylight Saving Time actually kills.

So how long must we bow to Washington's tyranny? Are we not free men? Do we not enjoy God-given rights, including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and sleeping in if we please? You just bet we do!

Clearly we must demand the Government put an end to this wretched, evil scheme -- or at least limit it to circumstances when Daylight Saving Time might actually prove useful.

Of course, there is only one circumstance under which Daylight Saving Time may reasonably be used. That's during an epic, cataclysmic struggle between civilizations. Then we can call it War Time and use it to constantly remind the American people that our enemies must be destroyed. Plus, it's an extra incentive to destroy our enemies, as the American people will get to sleep in an extra hour once that's accomplished.

But unless the very existence of our polity is at stake, the Government must reject Daylight Saving Time in all its forms and return to pleasing, right-thinking Standard Time -- which here at The Rant is known as God's Time. The American people deserve nothing less than to live on God's Time all year, every year, and people who would argue otherwise clearly hate freedom, democracy, capitalism, hard work, Protestantism, football, motherhood and apple pie. Well, that, or they're mutants who can somehow internalize such clock changes without spending a week in a sluggish, unproductive haze. Either way, they're not on our side.

Also: while I'm thinking of it -- Loyal Rant Readers should check their smoke detectors to make sure they're in good working order.

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October 30, 2008

Well, There's Always Next Year

SO THE LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS, my favorite basketball team, started the season in Proud Clipper Fashion this past evening. Not only did they lose to the Los Angeles Lakers, they lost by 38 points.

The Clippers play in Boston on Mar. 23. If this turns out to be a trend, the guys at the TD Banknorth Garden can plan to queue up Gino sometime in the second quarter.

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October 25, 2008

Michigan: Yeah, That's Familiar

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October 18, 2008

Fish Out of Water

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- SO TODAY I figured I would take a break from my usual Saturday routine, which involves work, and head over to the Seacoast to take in what was left of the fall scenery and get some good seafood. Although I usually approach ventures like this with a degree of regimentation -- I like to know what I'm doing -- I simply hit the road this time around, and after about an hour of driving found myself in downtown Portsmouth.

Downtown Portsmouth, I think, is where New Hampshire's hipsters hang out, to the extent that we have any up here. The colonial section has some impressive old architecture and draws plenty of locals and tourists alike. It also has plenty of shops, selling goods ranging from specialty foods to objets d'art. It was only natural, then, that I would spend my time in the colonial section looking for a cheap lunch.

MARKET SQUARE, Portsmouth -- Members of the upper-middle class take in the bourgeoisity on a Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Benjamin Kepple)

This quest, as I found, was not in vain. However, it certainly seemed futile at times. Initially, my plan was to get some cheap fried seafood at some seafood shack, and I figured there would be at least one in the immediate area. After all, it's Portsmouth. As such, it's a port. A port on, you know, the Atlantic Ocean. So I was sure I could find some place offering this type of lunch in the Market Square area.

Unfortunately, my assumption was faulty. When I asked a nice lady at an information booth where one could find a good seafood restaurant within a few blocks, I was told there were few such places. However, she then offered two recommendations. The first I discounted immediately because, although only a quarter-mile or so away, it was in Maine. I'm sorry, but I was in no mood to hike across a bridge only for the privilege of spending my hard-earned in Maine, a state all can agree is godforsaken and wretched. The second, which sounded promising, ended up being closed -- it was only serving dinner. So this led me to wander around for a bit looking for some place to eat.

Many of the restaurants I stumbled upon, despite being jammed into every nook and cranny down by the water, were only serving dinner. Although I must admit I don't know if I would have eaten at them if they had been open; the prices were simply out of my league. I'm sorry, but I am but a poor writer and given the economic climate, I cannot justify paying $8 for a bowl of clam chowder -- as I saw on one menu -- or $16 for an entree at some place selling fusion cuisine. $8 for a bowl of clam chowder! That reminded me of this:

What's that, you said? "But Ben? You hate Miller?" OK, so I'm not a fan. But that's not the point. The point was I felt like a fish out of water down there, among the coffee shops and art stores and people who clearly had no interest in college football. The whole experience was just strange, as I normally move well in such circles, but it had absolutely no draw for me whatsoever.

But anyway. I did finally "find" a place -- "The Rusty Hammer" -- that sold a decent and cheap lunch. I say "find" because it was the first restaurant at which I had considered eating, but on which I had taken a pass, trying to find a place devoted to cheap seafood. Oh, if only I had heeded its sign proclaiming its generous value for the dollar in the first place! They weren't kidding, either.

Anyway, annoyed at my failure to find a cheap seafood place, I sprang for a bowl of clam chowder, which was about $6. For my $6, I was astonished to find the bowl held roughly half the contents of the kitchen's soup tureen. It was an amazing amount of chowder and enough for a whole meal. I had also ordered a Caesar salad, which was all right, but it ended up being too much food. All told, the final bill came to about $15, not including tip, and it was a quite satisfying lunch. The only minor quibble I had was the programming on the bar televisions -- one was tuned to golf -- golf, for God's sake -- and the other was tuned to some professional football preview. That's fine on Sunday, but Saturday? Put on some ESPN!

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September 29, 2008

Posting Limited This Week

PARENTS HEADING UP FOR A VISIT. That means I'm engaged in housework and what not -- which given my adeptness in these matters, goes somewhat like this:

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September 11, 2008

(I Can't Drive) 75

Rapid motion through space elates one. -- Joyce

THE RANT NOTES WITH disapproval the latest bright idea to come from the establishment, which is that cars ought have speed governors on them. This is because when people drive cars really fast, they sometimes get into accidents. As a result, a prominent doctor -- it would be, wouldn't it? -- has suggested in The New York Times that cars should be prevented from traveling at speeds greater than 75 miles per hour. Ever. Because.

Alarmingly, this idea -- which in a sane and just society would be dismissed out of hand -- has received some acclaim. Ezra Klein, for instance, suggests the idea might be workable if applied to reckless drivers. And Ryan Avent, in responding to a critic who suggests the doctor in question must not drive all that much, writes:

So our blogger recognizes that it is dangerous to drive at very high speeds. And that in fact, some proportion of highway fatalities–less than 30% but likely appreciable–can be attributed to driving at high speed. And yet it was deemed necessary to get in a dig at those crazy eastern elites, who don’t understand the charming, speedy ways of real America? Who will stand up for the right of rural and suburban teenagers to wrap their cars around trees? Who will defend the VERY IMPORTANT commuter riding the tailgates of people driving ten miles over the speed limit, because don’t you know that car can go faster.

Well, Mr Avent, allow me to explain how Flyover Country works.

You see, I'm originally from Michigan -- you may have seen pictures -- and in Michigan, one must often drive long distances to get where one needs to go. Sadly, in Michigan, the population density is insufficient to warrant an excellent public transport system such as exists in Washington, D.C., which according to your blog is where you currently reside. Indeed, I can assure you that in Michigan, there are instances when driving at Very High Speeds is not only perfectly appropriate but an accepted part of the social fabric. Driving at a mere 75 miles per hour on the freeway does not cut it in the Great Lakes State.*

I realize the idea of driving at a speed greater than 75 miles per hour may seem alarming and dangerous -- especially when one considers that in New York and Washington, it is difficult to get anywhere close to 75 miles per hour in heavy traffic. I know this because I used to live in Washington and have driven through New York too many times for my own liking. However, there are places in this country where driving at speeds of 80 miles per hour, 90 miles per hour, or even higher is perfectly reasonable. I know this because I have driven there.

Now, there are times when such speeds are clearly inappropriate -- for instance, during inclement weather. When one is driving through the Cajon Pass in heavy fog, and one must navigate the road through following the tail lights of the car in front of one's vehicle, one must drive at 30 or 40 miles per hour. When one is driving through white-out conditions in northern Indiana, or through a downpour in Cleveland, prudence may even require one pull off the road. But when weather conditions are fine, and it is daylight out, and there is little traffic, and there is great music on the radio, there is no reason not to drive as fast as one wants provided one is capable of handling it.

For instance, on US-23 between Toledo, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Mich., a straight stretch of freeway, I can assure Mr Avent that I have driven 85 miles per hour with no ill effects. In fact, this may have been too slow for conditions, as I have frequently been passed on the right while doing so. When traveling I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I have driven 85 miles per hour and hummed along with the rest of traffic on that glorious desert road. When traveling on certain desert freeways in California, I have found that no speed is inherently unreasonable, although in my age I have held the needle about 80 miles per hour.

Of course, a key element of this is being able to handle driving at high speeds, something which not everyone is capable of doing -- or wants to do. These people should, then, drive at lower speeds, in the lanes set aside for driving at lower speeds. In fact, in my old age, I have found myself traveling much closer to the speed limit on the freeway, in an attempt to save money and take it easier while driving. Driving fast is more expensive, due to greater gasoline consumption, and it also requires more mental energy. One must keep acute concentration on the road and traffic, as opposed to simply keeping an eye on things. These days, I have found the joy in driving slower. (Memo to Mom and Dad: I haven't driven faster than 80 in a long time, so stop worrying).

Furthermore, I readily admit that traveling at extremely high speeds -- say, over 100 mph -- is inherently dangerous. Although my preferred cruising speed is about 80 miles per hour, and there are times when I would like to push it about 90, there are almost no circumstances when I would drive 90 miles per hour these days. Under absolutely no circumstances would I travel faster than 95 miles per hour. When one gets close to (or into) triple digits, you deal not only with greatly reduced reaction times to road obstacles and other concerns, but also physical limitations -- namely, the limitations of most passenger car tires, which generally can't take much more than 100 miles per hour. It is a poor decision to risk a blowout when driving like Mad Max.

However, there's no reason why one must drive achingly slow either -- unless, of course, one wants to. As it happens, there are some insurers who are testing out this concept, and giving their slower-driving members discounts for doing so. That's a much better solution than forcing the vast majority of the populace to slow down via speed governors.

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* For those readers who do not believe me when I speak of driving in Michigan, I would invite them to travel along I-94 between Kalamazoo and Detroit, especially during rush hour. Try traveling 75 mph. Really. Go ahead. When you get sick of the semi trucks and sport-utility vehicles determined to test how well your rear bumper reacts to high-speed collisions, pull off at the nearest exit, find a quality family restaurant, and relax with a refreshing Vernors ginger soda. It's deliciously different! Also, the bite of the stuff might put you in a scratchy mood, mentally preparing you for getting back on the freeway.

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September 10, 2008

Conference Loyalty Cemented for Life

LOYAL RANT READERS know that as an alumnus of the University of Michigan, I detest the Ohio State University and all its works. The Columbus institution, second to Michigan in all but sports, is glorious Michigan's chief rival and total adversary. To defeat Ohio State is a Michigan athlete's crowning achievement; to lose to Ohio State is a Michigan athlete's most burning shame.

Yet I have moderated in my views towards Ohio State over the years. This is not to say that I will not eternally pine for its defeat at Michigan's hands, but rather that I have developed a more realpolitik view towards our situation. Sometimes, you see, the enemy of my enemy is an even worse enemy. As a result, when civilization must be defended from the barbarians, or when the infidels threaten all that is holy, or when USC could become national champions, one must grit one's teeth and root for a team one would normally like to see drown in a festering pit of its own bile.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I have completely and utterly come around to the principle of conference loyalty. Similar to how America's internal squabbles stop at our borders, I realize that no matter how much I detest certain teams in the Big Ten, I must root for the Big Ten to stand triumphant against all opposition. I must pull for the Big Ten to achieve more than its many enemies. And I must defend the Big Ten's honor against all grave insults.

As such, The Rant notes with disapproval the recent remarks of the latest Playmate of the Month, a Florida native and University of Florida public relations major (Gawd!) who disparages the Big Ten -- specifically, the fairer sex of the Big Ten -- in no less than the Gainesville Sun:

The 22-year-old Carrington — Kelly Carrington is not her real name, it’s the pseudonym she uses for the magazine — is a UF public relations major who took a break from school to be photographed and promote her appearance in the magazine.

The annual college edition features a spread on the girls of the Big Ten, so Carrington admits it’s funny that a Southeastern Conference girl made the front.

“There weren’t any girls from the Big Ten who were hot enough to be on the cover, so they had to pull someone from the SEC,” she quipped.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Ha ha!

Ha.

Oh, no she didn't.

This, my friends, is an insult that cannot be borne. Clearly we should avenge our honor by burning down Atlanta again. Well, OK, that might be a bit much, but we can't just let the hotness of the Big Ten's women go unchallenged. I mean, why else do we keep Michigan State in it? Besides, although several SEC schools do offer their students a decent collegiate education -- and Florida is one of the better ones in this regard -- one fails to see how this is equal to the top-notch education one receives at, say, the University of Michigan. So our course of action is clear: the Big Ten must strive valiantly to defeat the SEC in everything -- and especially football.

And to borrow again from Orson at Every Day Should Be Saturday, I would simply note: SPACE, you wretched Floridian succubus! SPACE!

P.S. For those readers interested in Miss Carrington's cover picture, you can see it here, thanks to a Florida television station, which reports: "Stuart naitive is Playboy's Miss October." Yes, that's what the headline says: "naitive." Let's hear it for that Florida educational system!

P.P.S. I'd rate her an eight, but that's just me.

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September 09, 2008

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is ...

SCIENTIST: This district is probably what you'd call the southwestern United States. That was before it was destroyed in the war.
MILES MONROE: War?
SCIENTIST: Yes. According to history ... a man named Albert Shanker got a hold of a nuclear weapon.

-- Sleeper (1973)

A GROUP OF MY FRIENDS are in the midst of an animated e-mail discussion, prompted by this op-ed essay in The New York Times, about the myriad threats facing the United States from Our Enemies. The threat being discussed most is the explosion of a nuclear device somewhere within the United States' borders, most likely in the vicinity of Washington or New York.

One of my friends notes writer Jeffrey Goldberg's assertion that the chances of such a detonation over the next decade are perhaps 10 pc to 20 pc, although another of my friends dismisses this suggestion, saying "suitcase nukes" are not only quite detectable, but likely to kill the terrorists hauling them before they can be set off. My own viewpoint is more in line with my second friend's thoughts, and so I must say that I am not all that concerned about Our Enemies setting off a nuclear device within our borders, whether the target is Washington or Sheboygan, Wisc.

Generally speaking, I do not have a lot of faith in our Government, but one area where I think it has done well is protecting us against foreign terrorism. We have prima facie evidence of this in that there has not been another attack against our shores since 2001, despite several attempts which have come to public light. It stands to reason that if several attempts have come to public light, many more have been thwarted in secret. It also stands to reason that although the Government's power is limited within the borders of the United States, due to our political freedoms, its power is far less limited when operating in the international sphere. Thus, certain things have undoubtedly happened to make us here at home much safer. Bob Woodward, the journalist, has reportedly learned of certain secret programs that have caused untold numbers of our enemies to enjoy early arrivals in Hell, and with the Government's unlimited resources at its disposal, those programs are undoubtedly being refined and improved as I type. I would suggest it is difficult to work on acquiring a nuclear weapon when all one's forces are surrounded and beset by a vastly more powerful enemy.

There are many threats facing us in this world, but to me, actively fearing nuclear terrorism makes little sense. That is not to say the Government should ignore it, of course; but rather that there is no need for the people to worry about it, at least to the point where they are going out and buying plastic sheeting. If you ask me, the greatest threats to our way of life right now are economic-based. God knows these concerns may not be as sexy as nuclear weapons, but I fear that hidden amidst the balance sheets and general ledgers and government statements, there may be problems that are invidious -- and far closer to home.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 02, 2008

Stupid Tropical Storm Aiming for New Hampshire

SO I CHECKED THE National Hurricane Center's Web site tonight and found, much to my dismay, that the remnants of Tropical Storm Hanna are on a direct course for New Hampshire. Naturally, the storm should hit right about the time I get out of work for my weekend, which starts on Saturday night.

What the hell? I mean, if a stupid tropical storm has to hit New Hampshire, why can't it happen at a convenient time, like Wednesday night? The last thing I want is for the stupid storm to hit as I'm about to start my weekend. Besides, other parts of the country -- like Georgia -- need a good tropical storm a heck of a lot more than we do. Earlier this summer, it rained every day for like three weeks.

The only advantage to having a tropical storm hit -- if not here, than elsewhere -- is that it could potentially mean Weather For Football. Like all football fans, I believe football is meant to be played outdoors, and ideally in miserable conditions. Remember last year, when Miami and Pittsburgh slogged it out at Heinz Field in a downpour? Remember how the turf turned into a soupy quagmire? Well, I watched the whole stupid game and loved it, just like all the Steelers fans at Heinz Field. (We did win, 3-0, so that was something). And if you didn't remember it, here's the video!

Also, just because I can show this, here's a video of Hines Ward decking Ed Reed.

Yeah. Oh, right. Where was I? Tropical storm. Anyway, I can assure you that as of this writing, the National Hurricane Center is forecasting a 12 pc chance of tropical storm force winds hitting south-central New Hampshire sometime on Saturday or Sunday. Well, as long as they don't knock out any power lines.

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August 30, 2008

Touch and Go

LAST NIGHT, I GOT A CALL from Mr Kepple back in Ohio. It was a short call, but one with an important message: the game between Appalachian State and LSU had been pushed back to 11 a.m., due to the approach of Hurricane Gustav. Stupid hurricane, I thought to myself. It did, however, mean that football started an hour early on a day when I had Saturday off, so there was that.

Unfortunately, the game had been switched to ESPN Classic. This posed a problem. My cable provider, in a fit of Comcastic pique, decided some months ago it would switch ESPN Classic one "tier" up from my present channel lineup. However, it apparently forgot to mention this to everyone, leaving me somewhat annoyed. While ESPN Classic is not a channel I would normally want, it is starting to show more live events, and as a result it has turned from a novelty into a quasi-necessity.

As a result, after I went out and got breakfast this morning, I came back and steeled myself for the call to my cable provider, which went Comcastic. Well, actually, it went fine. The young man on the other end of the line was polite and friendly, and flipped on ESPN Classic for me. True, it did cost me $10.95 per month extra, but the annoyance associated with this faded once I realized I got Bloomberg, BBC America, and ESPNews. Oh, and I got a bunch of channels just for women.

Ahem.

I'm not saying, I'm just saying. Besides, I have the NFL Network.

Unfortunately, as it happened, there would not be a repeat of Aintgonnawin State's shock victory over Michigan. After 45 minutes, it was LSU 17 and ASU nil. Ugh. That didn't work, I thought. So I switched over to the Big Ten Network -- sweet -- and watched plucky Youngstown State take on the (evil) Ohio State Buckeyes. Then that game went badly. I switched that off when that hit 17-0.

I had hoped the Big Ten Network would have shown the Coastal Carolina - Penn State game, because my first cousin once removed, Brian P. Kepple, was an offensive guard for Coastal Carolina a few years ago. Then again, the game didn't really go all that well -- Penn State was ahead 45-7, last time I checked -- so I was again adrift. The other big games were also blowouts.

Except for East Carolina v. Virginia Tech. I detest Virginia Tech, so the fact East Carolina is giving them hell is wonderful. If you're reading this as of now -- it's 2:10 p.m. -- we're close to the end of the third quarter, and East Carolina is only down a field goal. Oops. Big pass play. They're about to be down two scores. But it's good to have at least one good early game to kick off college football season.

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August 17, 2008

Fun With Mikhail Saakashvili

PROPOSED CAPTIONS ARE BELOW THE VIDEO:

1. What?! Where? HOW many divisions? The ENTIRE province? Well, organize a counter-attack with -- what do you mean, "organize with what?"

2. Honey? It's Mikhail. Yes, ah -- we've got to cancel the vacation. I know you always wanted to visit the south of France, but -- honey, that's not fair, and besides, I -- hello? Hello!

3. I can't believe you picked me as your lifeline. I'm kind of busy, and -- no, I don't know who Heathcliff is and what he does in Wuthering Heights.

4. What? No, I did NOT purchase a 52-inch plasma television from Best Buy! What else did -- a wrench set? What the hell would I need with a wrench set?

5. Out? How can you be out of kung pao chicken? Great, now I have to coordinate the entire order all over again!

6. Aucune?

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August 15, 2008

Why I Don't Hike

THE BOSTON GLOBE has published an important article for any hikers considering a leisurely jaunt in the White Mountains National Forest (or anywhere else, for that matter). Its title? "A Beautiful Place to Die." If you're an amateur hiker, read it, please.

The situations described in the article are a major reason I Do Not Hike. My idea of outdoor recreation is going for a nice walk after dinner. However, for reasons that escape me, many people voluntarily venture out into the Godforsaken wilderness, which is far from the comforts of civilization and contains things like angry woodland creatures, miserable weather conditions and unforeseen dangers, like the bubonic plague. (There are a few cases reported each year in America, and most of the people that get it are hikers). Yet amazingly, a considerable subset of these outdoors enthusiasts go about their "leisure" underprepared or woefully unprepared for the dangers that face them.

Going unprepared -- or even underprepared -- when roughing it is a very bad idea. Trust me on this. You need to be prepared for bad weather. You need to let people know where you're going. You need to have proper equipment and clothing. You need to plan for the worst. This goes especially in New Hampshire, because we bill you if we have to rescue you because you weren't prepared.

So don't become a statistic. Be smart about hiking. Then again, you could just do what I do, which is look fondly at the hiking gear in the mall, and then go have dinner at your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 13, 2008

Day of Sun "Threatens Blade Runner Remake"

By QUINN QUIMBLEY
Financial Rant

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Producers scouting Manchester, N.H., as a shooting location for a remake of the iconic science-fiction film "Blade Runner" warned that today's perfect summer weather threatened the city's potential as a production site.

Although the day was the first in three weeks in which torrential, soul-crushing rains did not fall upon the city, the producers expressed concern the spate of good weather might actually last, thus frustrating their plans to use the city as an inexpensive filming location.

"When we came here two weeks ago, we thought this place was perfect," said executive producer Sidney Argyle, with Wapcaplet-Stone Productions, which is financing the remake. "There wasn't a day without rain. Not only that, the rain was so pervasive and unpleasant that it got on everyone's nerves, giving Manchester the despondent, hopeless aura for which we were looking."

"Today, on the other hand, entirely sucks," Argyle said. "It's sunny, it's shaping up to be a perfect summer evening, and there's very little humidity. We can't shoot Blade Runner if there's no humidity."

The famous 1983 version of the film, which starred Harrison Ford and Sean Young, depicted a futuristic, rain-soaked Los Angeles, in which Ford hunted androids amidst a dystopian megalopolis. Argyle warned that a continued bout of good weather would make Manchester look "like a city, you know, where people were actually happy." As a result, he said, it would thus prove unsuitable for the production's purposes.

Although New Hampshire officials have no means at their disposal to change the weather -- "What are we, China?" asked one official who demanded anonymity -- film buffs in the Granite State are hoping the producers will change the film from a remake into a sequel. This would give them the creative freedom to take advantage of the city's bleak, unforgiving winter, in which citizens must suffer through practical polar darkness, considerable snowfall, and subzero temperatures.

"It's pretty nice here in spring, and there's certainly no better place on Earth to enjoy fall," said Manchester resident Franklin Klurz. "But there are times in winter when this place looks like Pyongyang."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 31, 2008

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

by QUINN QUIMBLEY
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.

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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 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 ...

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

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.

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July 13, 2008

Theologians: Danger of World Ending Lowest Since 2003

By FLIP ARGENTI
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.

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July 08, 2008

July 05, 2008

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

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

July 02, 2008

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

OH NO!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!

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

ANSWER:

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

ANSWER: YES.

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

June 29, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2008

Pot? It's Kettle on Line Three!

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!

(Laughter).

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!

INVESTOR: Eh?

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!

(Murmured agreement).

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!

(Cheers)

EXECUTIVE: That's right! FREE GELATO!

-------------

I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

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

June 22, 2008

Get Smart ... Got Smart

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

This Weekend's Football Update

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:

NATIONAL CONFERENCE
* No. 3 Dallas easily defeats No. 6 New York.
* No. 4 Cleveland defeats No. 5 Orlando.

AMERICAN CONFERENCE
* 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!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Important Safety Tip: Speak -- and Write -- Clearly

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.

LOW-INCOME: Poor.

VERY LOW-INCOME: Dirt poor.

WELL OFF: Rich.

WEALTHY: Filthy rich.

HOMESITE: House lot.

USER FEE: Use tax.

PARADIGM: Mindset.

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.

METRICS: Standards.

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 20, 2008

Bachelor Attempts Cooking Project

OH NO!
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.

Bachelor Carnitas

Serves: 2
Time: Let's say 20 minutes

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Ingredients:
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)

Preparation:

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.

Cost analysis:

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 18, 2008

When Competing Sports Loyalties Collide

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!
ME: God!

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.

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

June 15, 2008

Attention, George Will: Baseball Sucks

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."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

An Open Letter to CONCACAF

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 12, 2008

The Conundrum of Chain Restaurants

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.

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

June 11, 2008

Basketball is Not a Sport, Plus It's Crooked

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:05 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 10, 2008

Tennis: Australia's No. 1 Sport

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!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 09, 2008

Being a Minor League Sports Fan is Tough

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Demon Out, Lawsuit In

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:34 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 07, 2008

Defending Against the Zombie Menace

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 ...


Col. Douglas Mortimer from "For A Few Dollars More."

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2008

The Game I Wish My Folks Had Seen in Cleveland

FOUR-and-SIX! FOUR-and-SIX!

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2008

In the Event of Rapture, I'm Stealing Your Car

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.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hell Hath No Fury Like an Arena Football Fan Scorned

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!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:58 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 30, 2008

A Haunting Window Into the Soul

EVERYONE LOVES LOOKING at old photographs. When they date from the 19th century, they showcase success or aspirations to it; when they date from the early 20th century, they are a window onto a young republic on the rise. During the Wars and the Depression, the joys and agonies and victories and defeats seem to burn through the paper; and today, although our photos are largely electronic, they carry with them our own hopes and dreams.

Then there are all those old photos from the Sixties and Seventies, which cause relatively young people like myself much mirth and glee. You see, this is one of the few pleasures of being part of Generation X. We can collectively express our frustrations towards our immediate forebears through snickering at their silly fashions, odd ideas and general non-coolness. But at the same time, we can also use our knowledge of that era to lord it over Generation Y, which being young and foolish has no idea what it was like back in the day. Some of us remember a time without microwaves, personal computers, and cable television -- and these experiences allow us to make fun of the kids these days, whom we resent for their youth and fear for their weird and outlandish behaviors.

This brings us to Mango Falls -- the excellent site which a Portland, Maine, Web designer dreamed up after he discovered undeveloped film inside ancient cameras. He developed this film and has displayed the best of the photos on his Web site. It is SO COOL. Anyway, there are hundreds of different photos, but here are my favorites (with my own captions):

"Mom! Dad! I scored!" wrote the College Republican.

"You'd think Floyd would realize I think he's groovy," said the girl in pink.

"I told you we should have bought American-made signs."

"Oh my God, I have to go to Michigan State!"

"In today's lesson, we look at the events of Isaiah 38." (viz)

"Gee, everybody at the Woody Allen Film Fest will LOVE this!"

"I''ve been waiting for this Jets-Raiders game the entire year!" (viz)

"Guaaaaaaaan - taaaan - a - merrrrra!"

"This postwar prosperity thing would be great if the hippies didn't make fun of my cardigan."

"I didn't have the heart to tell them about the oil shocks and stagflation heading their way."

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

May 28, 2008

What's in a Name

IN THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF The Economist, the magazine printed a letter from a David Miller of Austin, Texas, in which Mr Miller discussed the social ramifications of naming one's children. Mr Miller was a bit uncharitable in his missive, but I do not think his point was entirely off the mark. Mr Miller wrote, in part:

I recently attended a ceremony at a university and was amazed at the recurrence of traditional first names; a plethora of Anns, Elizabeths, Johns and Stephens (many of them Asian-Americans) with nary a Staci, Crystal, Cody or Elvis in sight. Parents express their aspirations when they name their children, and usually get what they expect.

Even for a Staunch Traditionalist like myself, I think this is a bit harsh. People can and do succeed even if they were given an iffy name at birth, while those who received excellent names often turn out badly. Plus, even iffy names may be perfectly acceptable if they were given for family, ethnic or other connections that play a big role in one's life. Still, this is a big reason why I think giving one's offspring proper names is so important, and why naming one's child is a decision which must be treated with the highest gravity.

Thus, I was gratified to see the Social Security Administration recently hinted that it shared this view, and politely rapped the knuckles of America's more free-thinking parents on their name choices. In a rather extraordinary release, the agency highlighted one of the particularly odd trends taking shape in American life, that of strange names for male children:

For reasons likely to puzzle baby name experts around the world, American parents have become infatuated by names, particularly for their sons, that rhyme with the word “maiden.” These names for boys include: Jayden (No. 18); Aiden (No. 27); Aidan (No. 54); Jaden (No. 76); Caden (No. 92); Kaden (No. 98); Ayden (No.102); Braden (No.156); Cayden (No.175); Jaiden (No.191); Kaiden (No. 220); Aden (No. 264); Caiden (No. 286); Braeden (No. 325); Braydon (No. 361); Jaydon (No. 415); Jadon (No. 423); Braiden (No. 529); Zayden (No. 588); Jaeden (No. 593); Aydan (No. 598); Bradyn (No. 629); Kadin (No. 657); Jadyn (No. 696); Kaeden (No. 701); Jaydin (No. 757); Braedon (No. 805); Aidyn (No. 818); Haiden (No. 820); Jaidyn (No. 841); Kadyn (No. 878); Jaydan (No. 887); Raiden (No. 931); and Adin (No. 983). This startling trend was present, but less pronounced, with girls' names: Jayden (No. 172); Jadyn (No. 319); Jaden (No. 335); Jaiden (No. 429); Kayden (No. 507); and Jaidyn (No. 561). Social Security spokesman Mark Lassiter indicated that the agency would resist any legislative efforts to standardize the spelling of these names.

Now, looking closely at the list, one will notice that No. 54 (Aidan) is a perfectly fine Irish name, so one might suggest this particular name is not like the others. But the others -- oy. Some of these names are so amazingly awful it boggles the mind. Consider: in naming their boys Raiden, 210 American couples voluntarily named their children after the thunder god of the Mortal Kombat universe.

Here's the truth -- that's just wrong. I don't care if the couples met at the local video arcade and first made out after beating Mortal Kombat II -- you don't name your kid after the lame-o thunder god character. (The Rant, as one might suspect, played Sub-Zero).

But it doesn't stop there. Consider what the agency said about the necrotic, civilization-destroying influence of America's celebrities on baby name choices:

Although “American Idol’s” Sanjaya did not influence this year’s list, other young celebrities influenced the naming of American children. The 2007 success of popular race car driver Danica Patrick undoubtedly inspired her first name moving from number 352 to number 307. Similarly, the name of the first pick in the 2007 NFL draft, Oakland Raiders’ quarterback JaMarcus Russell, rose from number 914 to number 743 on the boys’ list.

Shiloh, the youngest daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, debuted on the list at number 804. Maddox, the name of their oldest child, has seen steady gains since first appearing on the list in 2003 at number 583 and now ranking at number 226. Suri, the name of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter, did not make the list. But Britney Spears' second son is named Jayden, which ranked at number 18. Miley is new to the girls’ list this year, entering fairly high at number 278, attributable to the popularity of teen sensation Miley Cyrus.

Does anybody else find it patently disturbing that 297 American couples named their boys after an Oakland Raider? Well, I certainly do. But that's not the only worrying football-related statistic I discovered after plowing through the list of names. Even more alarming, 3,336 American couples named their boys Peyton, after -- well, you know. (1,221 couples named their boys Payton, which on one hand could be considered even worse because of the non-standard spelling, but on the other could be considered far better because Walter Payton would have approved). It is also worth noting that Peyton is a more popular girls' name than it is a boys' name, which opens an entirely different can of worms, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Now, I see nothing wrong with naming one's child after a football player. However, if one does this, there are plenty of perfectly fine football names one should choose instead of, say, Peyton. For instance, what about Terry? Or John? Or Lynn? Or Franco? For that matter, what about Jerome, Troy, Hines, Santonio, Marvel, LaMarr, Jack, Ernie or Mean Joe? Give your kid a good start in life -- don't doom him to a preening, smug existence in which he must boast about his so-called "rocket arm" even while his inability to deal with defensive pressure means his team sits at home -- again -- on Super Bowl Sunday.

Also, while I see nothing inherently wrong with naming one's son with an ambiguous name, one must take care to make sure the name works, as the choice can be fraught with peril. Peyton clearly does not work because one's son should not be typecast as a whining pansy who blames his failures on others. However, a name such as Lynn or Gale -- especially Gale -- would clearly work. After all, none of the kids would make fun of Gale, because his name would signify that he needed just 18 inches of daylight to kick their asses.

But there is good news amidst all this. The twenty most popular names for boys and girls only contains one that makes one wince and three that should have been tabled at their second reading. For the boys, the only truly miserable name is "Jayden," (No. 18) which brings to mind an unpleasant and hardscrabble existence somewhere in California's high desert.

For the girls -- where choosing a proper name is twice as important -- most of the names are also excellent, but I myself would instantly veto Madison (No. 5), Olivia (No. 7), and Addison (No. 11). Addison is a bit too masculine for my taste, Olivia is too old-fashioned (when I hear the name, I think of a Rhoda Henry-like character) and Madison -- well, that's what we named the dog when I was growing up. The way I see it, one wouldn't name one's kid Rover or Fala, so that's right out too.

At least, I hope.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 21, 2008

A Style Note

SO I JUST SENT AN e-mail to some friends in which I used the long S character throughout it. No, really, I can aſſure you I did. I just had to mention it because it's ſimply the lateſt proof that I do, in fact, rule.

Well, that and it's the latest proof technology is amazing. I can't believe the long S would have an electronic code for it, but it does.

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

May 15, 2008

Recap: Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5

THIS PRETTY MUCH SUMS UP Game 5 between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers:

This, I might add, is a shame, because it didn't let me use the original video I had planned for the game recap. However, given the way the series is going, here's my prediction for the recap of Game 6 in Cleveland:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 09, 2008

The Worst Sports Team Names of All Time

WHEN IT COMES TO SPORTS, the easiest part of the business -- as most folks in a front office would gladly tell you -- is actually playing the game. Success requires great sales and marketing work, smart personnel management, an eye for controlling costs while still producing an excellent product, and a hell of a lot of sweat equity. I am convinced that sports teams whose owners think the business is like running a bank won't do all that well, while sports teams whose owners realize their business involves competing for entertainment dollars will do quite well, and perhaps even great.

But let's get focus on one point -- the selling. If you want to succeed, your sales and marketing operation is key. Thus, it quite frankly stuns me just how many sports teams out there operate with names that can be charitably described as stupid. Yes, stupid.

I mean, we've all come across sports teams with stupid names. If you're like me, you wonder a few things upon hearing the names, such as, "What the hell were thinking?" and "How the hell do the fans root for the team without bursting into gales of laughter?" That's to say nothing of the opposing players. This might earn the home team a touchdown or goal or two, when the defense gets distracted at having to play the Local Yokels, but it sure won't earn them a bit of respect.

Before I get any further, though, I should note that all the teams I root for -- in order: the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Michigan Wolverines, the Manchester Wolves, the Grand Rapids Rampage, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- all have excellent names. As a fan, this boosts my loyalty to the team, something I could not have pulled off if I was rooting for, say, the Colorado Crush. (The Crush have such a bad name that it got mocked in The Onion).

Now, the worst offender when it comes to bad team names -- inexplicably, I might add -- is the Women's National Basketball Association. Why the WNBA's names are so amazingly bad, I don't know, but out of 14 teams in the league only ONE has a semi-decent name, that being the New York Liberty. Whatever one thinks of that name, one must agree that it is far superior to say, the Atlanta Dream, the Chicago Sky, and the Seattle Storm. I mean, come on. The Atlanta Dream? Even the "Lady Hawks" -- which I am not suggesting, I would note -- would be a better name than that.

I have to think the amazing prevalence of bad team names in the WNBA has hindered its success -- just as stupid team names hindered the success of the XFL. (The New York/New Jersey Hitmen? But what about Connecticut? And the Hitmen -- yeah, that's a team everyone can get behind). Now, obviously, a dumb team name isn't going to hinder a well-run organization, just as a great name (Minnesota Fighting Pike!) won't automatically lead to success. But in honor of team names That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, here's my rundown of the Worst Sports Team Names of All-Time.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: There are so many bad team names out there that limiting my list to just, oh, let's say 15, will provoke cries of outrage from readers. So here are my list of honorable mentions, and their leagues:

New York/New Jersey Hitmen (XFL), Memphis Maniax (XFL), Atlanta Dream (WNBA), Chicago Sky (WNBA), Detroit Shock (WNBA), Staten Island Stapletons (NFL), Arkansas GlacierCats (WPHL), Cape Cod Freedoms (NEHL), Tampa Bay Strong Dogs (ABA), Roanoke Dazzle (NBA D-League), and the Toronto Ontarios (NHA).

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the Grand List:

15. WISCONSIN BLAST
This professional basketball team, which competed in something called the International Basketball Association, was based in Appleton, Wisc. Despite this, the "Wisconsin Blast" was the best name they could come up with. I don't know about you, but when I think of the phrase "Wisconsin Blast," I think of the Sunday morning torture innumerable frat boys suffer through after downing far too much Milwaukee's Best the night before.

14. OHIO GLORY
A team that played for one year in the World League of American Football, the Ohio Glory finished their 1992 season 1-9. What was their team fight song? I imagine it went something like this:

We don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
the whole state of Michigan, the whole state of Michigan --
we don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan --
'cause we're from O-HI-O.

13. ROCHESTER SKEETERS
Another IBA team, the Rochester Skeeters were apparently named with the idea that even if the team didn't perform all that well, it would still be really annoying. Why the team was named after mosquitoes in a place where the ground is only free of snow for two months out of the year is beyond me, but there you go.

12. LANCASTER RED ROSES
Back in the days of the early 20th century, there was actually a baseball team called the Red Roses in Lancaster, Pa., that faced off against the nearby White Roses of York, Pa. Given the rivalry and the history behind the original War of the Roses, the team name was an inspired -- almost genius -- choice. Furthermore, given the state of education back in the day, most people would actually have gotten this -- unlike today, when people would think Dennis Miller had somehow been allowed to come up with the team's name.

But I'm not talking about the baseball team. I'm talking about the CBA team from the Forties, which clearly tried to piggyback on history with the name choice. It didn't work -- and without a rival in York, the team name instead made the players seem like a bunch of pansies.

11. LOUISVILLE ALUMNITES
What the hell is an Alumnite, you're asking? Beats me, but I daresay this was the first basketball team to ever get named after a shaving product. This may have been why the team -- and the NPBL in which it played -- folded before its season ended back in 1950-1951.

10. ANAHEIM AMIGOS
Ole! This ABA team was named in that fraught-with-danger sports tradition, the Name That Team Contest. Amazingly, the team ownership went along with this name, despite the fact that it would undoubtedly annoy a good portion of its fan base. Also not helping matters: the mascot was a stereotypical "Mexican bandit." The average attendance of their games was 1,293, according to Wikipedia.

9. (tie) ROANOKE STEAM/RICHMOND SPEED
These two af2 teams, now mercifully defunct, violated the Cardinal Rule of Sports Team Naming Conventions: don't name your team after some lame-o physical force, especially if that makes the team sound like an WNBA team. Why Roanoke has issues with naming teams -- see above -- is beyond me, but they might want to do a better job with their marketing in future.

8. HOUSTON THUNDERBEARS
I'm sorry, but ThunderBears reminds me too much of this.

7. DANBURY TRASHERS
Since the team was sponsored by a trash-hauling company, you can't exactly blame the marketing guys for this one. In fact, I'd venture to say the marketing guys tore their hair out at having to come up with a team name and appropriate mascot for the owners, who should have stuck to hauling waste. According to the team's Wikipedia page, the mascot was a trash can wielding a hockey stick.

6. LOS ANGELES XTREME
The winner and champeen of the XFL's only season. Sadly, nobody told the XFL guys that -- how to put this -- it's completely and incredibly lame to use the letter X in an attempt to impart coolness. Despite this, there are several sports teams that have done this. As for the Xtreme bit -- although "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" didn't arrive until a few years after this, it should have been pretty clear that using the word "extreme" can only be used in a cynical or sarcastic sense, as in: "So -- not -- extreme!"

5. MINNESOTA FIGHTING SAINTS
I'm sorry, what? The Minnesota Fighting Saints? I don't care if they played hockey in the Seventies -- it's the sports equivalent of UHF's "Gandhi II" sketch serving as your team name for all time. ("No more Mr Passive Resistance!")

4. SOO MICHIGAN REALTORS
Someone please tell me the team's star player wasn't known as "Six Percent." Please. I'm begging you. I mean, can you think of any team name less likely to get your fans fired up about the squad? (I've got three, actually, but we'll get to those). What was the mascot for this Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League team? A guy in a suit with a bunch of paperwork? I guess we should be thankful they weren't a baseball team, because the jokes about closing would be too much to bear.

3. PEORIA PRANCERS
Nothing brings to mind Eddie Shore and Old Time Hockey like a team named ... the Peoria Prancers. Holy God! What were they thinking? Think about it -- it's minor-league hockey. Your natural audience is a blue-collar crowd who shows up to see grown men beat the hell out of each other, and you name the team the Prancers? What was the mascot, a rotating collection from My Little Pony?

To the team's credit, though, the Prancers nickname only stuck for two years in the early Eighties. Someone apparently got out the epsom salts and the owners changed the name to the "Peoria Rivermen." That's not a great name either, but at least it doesn't conjure up images of tea parties and Care Bears.

2. SACRAMENTO ATTACK/MIAMI HOOTERS
Now here's genius for you: not only did you have the team with the worst name in the Arena Football League, you moved the team and found an even worse name. Was there no one with an IQ of 80 in the ownership group that could have said, "Say, I don't mean to rain on anybody's parade, but couldn't this new name complicate matters in terms of attracting families with children to the games?" I don't care if it was a sponsorship agreement: as amazing as it might seem, there are times when not being stupid trumps a lot of money.

Miami Hooters. My God. It's worth noting, by the way, that average attendance fell from about 9,000 in the first year to about 6,250 in the third year, according to ArenaFan. Fortunately, after 1995, the team got an actual decent name and continued to play on for several years.

1. OMAHA BEEF
In South Park, the kids' football team is named the "South Park Cows," who famously play the Middle Park Cowboys. Tell me how this is different. You can't, because it ain't. I mean, if there's nothing that suggests an immobile offensive line, a slothful defense and a quarterback who spends more time flat on his back than Jimmy Clausen playing Michigan, I don't know what does. I don't care if beef's an Omaha specialty, this is ridiculous.

Even worse, the beef analogies exist throughout the whole bloody organization. The mascot is Sir Loin. Yes, Sir Loin. That's somewhat alarming. More alarming is that the cheerleaders are called the "Omaha Prime." God help them -- if somebody from the University of Nebraska's Women's Studies Department picks up the sports section, there's going to be trouble! Or at the very least, two or three doctoral dissertations. ("Patriarchy, Indoor Football and the Continued Sexist Objectification of Women in Minor-League Sports.")

That said, unlike many of the teams I've listed, the Beef are doing quite well and have spent several years in the United Indoor Football league. I just hope they've got a backup name just in case. How about the Berkshire Hathaways?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 08, 2008

Return of the Gunslingers

I MUST SAY I was rather pleased to see an article, in today's edition of The New York Times, which reports on the emerging popularity of the "steampunk" subculture. Living in the provinces as I do, I had not realized that steampunk -- which combines modern-day technology with the fashions and mannerisms of the late 19th century -- had made the move from science-fiction literature to an actual subculture. But that said, I approve of it.

I realize this may come as a surprise to Loyal Rant Readers. After all, I have settled well into my chosen lifestyle, that of a traditionalist, curmudgeonly Midwesterner, albeit one with certain decadent weaknesses (like sashimi) internalized during a period of high living in my twenties. Consequently, my idea of fashion involves buying a new power tie. But as a traditionalist, curmudgeonly Midwesterner -- one who often looks upon the foibles of this modern age with a mix of cynicism, shock and despair -- I find much to like about steampunk culture. For one thing, there's this quote from Mr Giovanni James, a devotee of the subculture:

"“I’m so sick of baggy pants hanging off your bottom,” he said. “This is more refined. It goes back to a time when people had some dignity. It’s a new day.”

I mean, I don't know about you, but in my book, any subculture which encourages stylish dress -- along with wearing neckties and bowties as a matter of course -- can't be a bad thing.

Also, on a related note, I understand that a certain subgroup of young people in New York are eschewing modern mores for the joys of family life -- to the point where one magazine has dubbed them "New Victorians." Why, there might just be hope for the kids yet.

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Man Suffers 15 Months of Hiccups

SOMETHING HAS GOT TO BE DONE. I mean, no one should have to go through that in this day and age.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

One Light Goes Out ... But Not This One

A QUICK QUESTION: if a four-watt glass light bulb in Livermore, Calif., can burn for 107 years straight, why can't we create other durable goods with the same staying power? I mean, really.

So perhaps that's wishful thinking. Still, it's amazing to think the thing just keeps burning -- it's been going strong for nearly a million hours now. That's roughly 100 times the life of a typical incandescent light bulb. Maybe there's something our engineers could learn from this.

Alarming corollary: the light bulb has its own Web site. Not only that, but the Web site has received so many visitors that it has crashed.

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

May 05, 2008

Notice: Catastrophic Hard Drive Failure

DUE TO A CATASTROPHIC FAILURE of my old computer -- it is dead, kaputski, an ex-parrot, etc. -- The Rant will be on a temporary hiatus while I restore my system. The good news is that true data loss associated with the failure was minimal, and I have somehow managed to restore not only my e-mail connection but also locally-based stuff associated with my blog in a surprisingly short amount of time. The bad news is I have a lot of stuff I need to set up again from scratch. So as a result, things here will be a bit quiet until I can bring everything back.

As for my new computer, it rules. Although I have learned a couple of lessons from this. The first is that paper records, although scorned in this day and age, remain invaluable. The second is that I should probably "upgrade" my computer more frequently -- my old one WAS six years old, after all. Anyway, that's the update.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2008

Hail to the Victors (We Hope)

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Apr. 27 -- SINCE FOOTBALL will be the prime focus of this and several posts following, it's important to mention The Rant's football-related quote of the week, from none other than my good friend Geoff Brown:

Michigan State is like Scrappy Doo -- lemme at 'em! Lemme at 'em!"

This quote, admittedly, will make no sense to anyone over 40 years of age, nor anyone who does not follow college football or the Big Ten Conference. But if you are under 40 years old and do follow college football, you realize the beauty and majesty of this simple statement, which is clearly correct and just.

You see, like many second-rate agricultural schools, Michigan State is in a one-way rivalry with their more prestigious big brothers in Ann Arbor. Simply put, they can't stand us and would consider their annual football season a success if they beat us. We, on the other hand, find Michigan State an annoying irritant. For fans of the Michigan Wolverines, the idea of losing to the hapless Spartans is mortifying and a loss to them would prove hugely embarrassing. Fortunately, we have beaten the Spartans six years straight in our annual matchup. Unfortunately, as Mr Brown pointed out during our recent dinner togheter, they could pull it off this coming year.

After all, as Mr Brown noted, Michigan has a new coaching staff, a new offensive scheme, and a lot of relatively new players. Not only that, it's still somewhat unclear who our starting quarterback may be. All this, therefore, led Mr Brown to conclude Michigan will get beaten like the proverbial red-headed stepchild this season, and part of my worries he is right.

But I remain cautiously optimistic about the season. After all, college football is played in autumn, and autumn is the Season of Miracles. If a miracle doesn't happen, well, I'd settle for beating Ohio State. If we lose to both Ohio State and Michigan State, it will immensely suck, because wearing a paper bag over one's head to mask the shame isn't any fun.

Anyway, Geoff and I had dinner -- as we traditionally do -- at Good Time Charley's, a hangout on South University Street famed for its "count twists," which are a type of cheesy bread. I must say I've never seen Ann Arbor that quiet before -- but it was the day after graduation, and so the campus was quickly emptying out. Although this did not change some things -- the line at Blimpy Burger was still very long -- it did have its benefits, much to my surprise and amazement.

For instance, parking was free in the Maynard Street parking structure. This was downright amazing -- free parking? in Ann Arbor? As a former resident of the city, I concluded what any Michigan student would have concluded: that the rage virus had somehow gotten loose from the University's researchers and was rapidly turning Ann Arborites into zombies. But then I realized the tired, frustrated Baby Boomers I had come across were just ruminating about their kids' tuition bills. A degree in art history, even from a prestigious school like Michigan, is still a degree in art history.

But Ann Arbor was as nice as ever -- and both Geoff and I admitted it would be pretty cool to move back to the place. (Mr Brown lives on the outskirts of metropolitan Detroit). There's something to Ann Arbor that is incredibly pleasant. Perhaps that's just a combination of nostalgia and the grass being greener, but there are fewer places in the world I would rather live.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You Can't Go Home Again

KALAMAZOO, Mich., Apr. 26 -- SO ON MY DRIVE between Grand Rapids and Fort Wayne, I briefly stopped in my hometown to grab lunch and see the old neighborhood and the house where I grew up. A few brief points: although many houses seemed to be for sale, I saw some impressive new construction -- at least to me -- and a lot of the old landmarks that I knew grewing up were still there. The neighborhood in which I grew up was also much the same.

Now, the particular neighborhood in which I grew up -- and the residential streets to the east of it -- were nice places to live. Much of this had to do with the fact they were actual neighborhoods; you know, those mythical places where people who live in adjoining homes actually know each other and socialize. Plus, in the springtime and the fall, they were absolutely beautiful. When I drove along the tree-lined streets, it was an amazingly glorious sight -- the trees were in bloom and the leaves were coming out and the sun was shining. Beautiful.

Then I drove by my old house and said:

"Dear GOD -- what have they done?!"

To the new owners' credit, the house is not much changed from how it was when I grew up (at least from the outside) and given my nostalgia for the place, it is no surprise I would disapprove of any changes. After all, these things are matters of personal preference. Also, it was the end of April and I am sure it will look much better come summer.

But still. They've got this hideous plant -- I don't know what it is, but it looks like a goddamn truffula tree -- in the front yard. It's near the sidewalk leading to the front porch, from what I could tell from the street. Also, the entranceway from the side porch into the garage has been enclosed and it has these godawful octagonal windows -- I hate octagonal windows -- and if you ask me that takes away from the colonial-style architecture of the house. I was so stunned that I didn't even make the drive over to Simon From Jersey's old house to see how it stood up, and instead went to get lunch down on Stadium Drive.

I suppose the long and short of it comes down to this: they weren't kidding when they said you can't go home again.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Grand Rapids Victorious

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Apr. 25 -- WELL, THE DRAFT WEEKEND turned out to be a hell of a good time for a football weekend back in the Midwest. I did catch some of the draft commentary on the radio while driving about, but all-in-all I thought my trip made more sense. After all, what's more fun: going to actually watch football or listening to analysts drone on about drafted players, 95 pc of whom will be consigned to relative mediocrity over the span of their careers?

As readers may recall, my trip was financed through the Government's tax rebate scheme, which will soon arrive in my pocket. I can assure readers that I spent my tax rebate on goods and services that will directly help the economies of Michigan and northern Indiana. This included roughly $100 spent on tickets to two football games, sodas at the games, parking expenses and one $2 coaster emblazoned with the logo of the Fort Wayne Freedom. Additionally, I spent $144 on a rental car, $225 on hotel rooms and $99.75 on gasoline. Oh, and I spent $18.20 at Meijer for snacks and sodas for my road trip. Throw in meals and that adds up to $650 or so. So: mission accomplished. I spent my stimulus money and did it in a way that will help our most troubled states. I rule.

Oh, and the football was awesome. Not only did Grand Rapids win convincingly, so did Fort Wayne, so I went two-for-two in my football watching. Here, we'll discuss the Grand Rapids game, between the Grand Rapids Rampage and the Kansas City Brigade of the Arena Football League.

Grand Rapids is the one area of Michigan that is seemingly booming and full of economic vitality. There's plenty of activity going on, especially in terms of construction work, and the whole town seems to be doing all right for itself. The Van Andel Arena, its downtown venue, is a well-built and pleasant arena with convenient and inexpensive parking right across the street. I arrived at the arena about 5:45 p.m., about an hour and a quarter before the game got underway, and I was stunned at what I saw.

Outside the arena, a group of teenagers were painting their faces in the Rampage's colors, and chanting "Let's Go Rampage!" with an impressive fervor. A man noticed me standing outside the arena and asked if I had any extra tickets to the game, which stunned me -- either he was a scalper or thought I was one. Keep in mind this is arena football in Grand Rapids. When the doors opened at 6 p.m., the team cleverly had its cheerleaders at the doors passing out souvenirs -- which was a pretty clever idea, I thought. Also, the Rampage's cheerleading squad got a serious upgrade over the past year.

Fast forward to 7 p.m. and the arena was, if not full, pretty close to it. Attendance at the game was 8,102 and it certainly felt like it in the arena, where the crowd was boisterous and happy. My sixth-row seat at midfield gave me a great view of the action and I was in a section with some devoted football fans. Much to my surprise and amazement, there were two former Manchester Wolves players I noticed on the field. On Grand Rapids' side, defensive back William "Roc" Haith, a standout DB with the Wolves, was starting. On Kansas City's side, the starting quarterback was none other than D. Bryant, who was once a starting QB for the Manchester Wolves.

I couldn't believe it. Bryant apparently did quite well after leaving the Wolves and so got a boost up to the big league, but upon seeing him as starting QB, I was feeling pretty confident about Grand Rapids' chances. After all, Bryant was inconsistent in Manchester, so why should that change now that he's in the AFL? And I was right! Not only did he fumble the ball on the first snap -- resulting in Grand Rapids recovering the ball -- he threw two interceptions right after that, leading to Grand Rapids take a 13-0 lead. It was not Mr Bryant's night.

The best thing about the game? It was a true defensive battle -- at least on Grand Rapids' side of the ball -- and the team's defensive antics helped put the game away early. At halftime, Grand Rapids was up 41-17, and we would end the game up 72-38 -- with Kansas City's last touchdown coming in garbage time at the end. But the best part about the whole experience, I think, was the level of fan enthusiasm -- it was a fun time, and that added a lot to the game. So anyone in the greater Grand Rapids area who isn't presently attending the games should look into tickets -- it would make for a fun night out.

I am also glad to report that Grand Rapids now goes to 3-5 on the season, and with the win is actually getting itself into playoff position. Seeing the Rampage in the playoffs would be super cool, especially since the playoffs will be televised. As for Kansas City -- well, they're 1-7, so they have a lot of makeup work to do if they hope to make it to the postseason.

Highlights and the game recap are here.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 22, 2008

Benjamin Kepple "A Joke to America," Commenter Claims

ONE OF THE THINGS I enjoy about The Rant is that I get to see, through my comments feature, what people think about my writing. Most people who write comments are civil and well-meaning. Then, there's the guy who took issue with my post on basketball, which I claimed (and continue to claim) is not a real sport. My favorite line in the whole screed? "You're a fucking joke to America you lazy faggot."

It may seem strange, but when you're a writer, you don't just live for responses like that -- you think about making them into T-shirts!

Anyway, scroll down on the above link to see the comment in full -- and my response. I will say this, though: I don't think I've gotten a reaction like that since my college days!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 13, 2008

"Leatherheads" Actually an Enjoyable, Decent Movie

OK, I HAVE TO ADMIT IT: I went to see "Leatherheads" tonight not simply because I was bored, but because I thought it would make a good "Bad Cinema With Ben" post, and I haven't done one of those in a while. However, that Bad Cinema With Ben post is going to have to wait, because "Leatherheads" turned out -- wait for it -- to be an enjoyable movie. Silly in some ways, but a heck of a lot of fun.

That I enjoyed the movie quite a bit undoubtedly helps explain why financially, the film is facing a fourth-and-long and will probably turn the ball over on downs. This is a shame, because the movie really was fun. Not only was it fun, it was actually decent -- a movie that relies on wit and humor to score points, and clean humor at that. My God, what a concept. In short, it's a movie that you could take an eight-year-old to see and you wouldn't have to deal with any embarrassing questions afterwards. Also, if you ask me, there's something to be said for movies -- especially romantic comedies, which this was -- that actually have smart dialogue.

True, the marketing of the movie might not have been the best. I never got the sense it was marketed to couples or families, and it might not have been the best move to launch a football movie right when baseball season is opening up and basketball and hockey are headed to their playoffs. The multiplex where I watched the movie was deserted -- no doubt because a) everything else playing was shit and b) the Red Sox were playing the Yankees. In my own theatre, there were all of four people watching "Leatherheads," and I was the youngest one of them. Not good signs, if you ask me.

But that didn't take away from the goodness and beauty of the film, which really was quite well done, and managed to capture the feel of the Roaring Twenties. I always like movies about the Roaring Twenties. For one thing, I like seeing everyone having a good time, because God knows the Thirties and Forties weren't a picnic. For another, the mid-Twenties seemed like a pretty good time -- one full of optimism and full of hope. Of course, as we know, it's easy to be full of hope and optimism when the stock market is booming thanks to a margin-fueled bubble, but hey. Good times were had, and it's nice to see that on film these days; it's a nice escape.

Anyway, the plot takes some explaining, so here goes. Of course, before I do that, I should deliver a quick primer on the history of professional football in America.

As I think we all know, American football was the brainchild of none other than George Washington, and the first football game was played at Valley Forge in 1778. The first epic battle, between Col. Henry Purvis' Fighting Wolverines and Maj. Enoch Tarleton's Redcoat-Buckeyes, resulted in the Wolverines defeating the Buckeyes by the amazing score of 42-3. But in the years to come, football went dormant, as the victorious Americans became soft and decadent and started playing baseball.

However, in the late 19th century, thanks to the efforts of various American heroes, football started to develop into the great sport we know today. By the early 20th century, college football was wildly popular -- extremely dangerous, but still wildly popular. Eventually, massive crowds would turn out to watch college football games -- but professional football, which was formally established in 1920 with the creation of what is now the National Football League, struggled in its infancy. However, it started to pick up speed when the league started hiring football stars out of college -- such as Jim Thorpe, who was paid $250 a game when the Canton Bulldogs signed him in 1915. (When you consider a bricklayer at the time made $33 a week for 44 hours on the job, that made Mr Thorpe kind of a big deal).

Anyway, this is the period in which "Leatherheads" is set -- as professional football is first starting to make its way from an also-ran of a sport to an actual professional phenomenon. (There are some parts in the film where the historical aspects of football's development are completely laughable, but by that point you're having too much fun to really mind). George Clooney's character, Dodge Connolly, is the team captain of the woeful Duluth Bulldogs, who play to pitiful crowds and are lucky if they can get to the next town for their next game. Teams in their league are folding left and right, and Duluth itself finds itself in big trouble. Enter clean-cut Princeton College football star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), whom Clooney convinces to play for Duluth and provides the spark to relight football's pilot light. Enter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who is investigating whether Rutherford's tales of heroism are all they're cracked up to be. With two guys and one girl, you can see where this is going.

All in all, though, "Leatherheads" was a fun movie and thoroughly enjoyable to watch -- and Mr Clooney got the classic "big football game" at the end just right. (Football fans who watch it will understand why). As I said, it's a shame the movie hasn't done well at the box office, but I'll probably pick it up on DVD when it comes out. Good movies about football -- that also happen to be good movies in and of themselves -- are precious hard to find.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 06, 2008

The Silent Killer: Death by Blogging

THE NEW YORK TIMES has published an article that suggests all is not well in the blogging world. According to the Paper of Record, some professional bloggers are working under sweatshop style conditions, being forced to toil for the modern equivalent of piece work, and suffering accordingly. Even worse, a couple bloggers have actually died -- a result, the paper suggests, of their blog-centered lives.

I would be more sympathetic to the Times story if I did not happen to know professional conditions for young journalists just starting out are not particularly lucrative. For instance, I was talking with a relative some time ago when she told me a young man she knew had just started out working on a weekly newspaper, located back in the Midwest. She told me all about his job and what he was supposed to do, and etc., and my reaction to this was: "Eighteen thousand?" Although the young man made more than that per year, it was not much more than that, and he was certainly expected to work hard for that money. (My relative, however, was appalled at how close I was to guessing the kid's pay).

Of course, once you get into the higher echelons of the field, you can and do make more -- in many cases, considerably more. For instance, at the New York Times, reporters' top minimum salaries are about $87,000 per annum. But starting out at the very bottom rung -- challenging in many fields -- is particularly challenging in journalism. It's simply a supply and demand function. A lot of people want to write, and there aren't that many jobs, so the pay is lower. This dynamic continues as you go higher in the field, but since the skills and experience required for those higher-level jobs are more demanding, it reduces the supply of available workers, who can thus demand higher wages for their services. Somehow, I'm guessing things are the same in the professional blogging world.

So for the Times to suggest that bloggers are working in some sweatshop-style environment is a bit much, because neither bloggers nor journalists do so. When you're a professional, you work hard, and when you're just starting out, you work hard for not that much money. It is the way of things.

Also, to be perfectly blunt about it, a journalist's life (or a professional blogger's life) is not equivalent to that of, you know, a hod carrier, or a breakfast waitress, or those of myriad other people who work very hard in physically demanding jobs for not all that much money. A journalist gets to talk with people and write about it. A professional blogger does much the same, and due to the nature of blogging gets to have more fun with his work. It's not like they're putting up drywall for a living. This helps explain why lots of people want to write for a living -- it is fun work and they enjoy it. It's not as if the professional bloggers -- or the professional journalists, for that matter -- are slaving away cooking bricks in an oven.

I would argue that for the vast majority of bloggers, blogging is -- dare I say it -- fun. For me, at any rate, blogging is a great stress reliever -- I get to write about things in which I'm interested, crack a few jokes here and there, and talk with other people about them. I don't make any money at it, and in fact, lose $71.40 per year to engage in my hobby. For me, it also carries the benefit of being able to improve my skill set -- the faster I can write and the better I can write, the better it is for me.

Could I make money at this? Well, perhaps. Certainly one of the reasons I blog is to have something I could monetize in the very unlikely event I find myself made redundant. But since at this point blogging for cash would require me to turn over about 40 percent of my profits to the Government, and could also open up a can of worms I don't want to open, I've elected to keep the non-profit model. I'm perfectly fine with that.

But I would imagine that nearly all the bloggers who are paid for their work don't rely on it for their full-time income -- and most of the top bloggers out there still keep their day jobs. Rather, they find themselves in the enviable position of being able to make money through a hobby -- and so I doubt the circumstances described in the Times' story would apply to them.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 02, 2008

Man of the People Bowls a 37

LIKE NEARLY ALL Midwesterners, your humble correspondent grew up bowling. Although I was never any good at it -- save one brilliant exception* -- I did manage to gain a measure of competence at the game in my day. I was typically good for a score in the low 100s using my patented "throw the ball really hard" system.

Now that I am older, I haven't been bowling in years, and I daresay I've gotten a bit rusty. Plus, up here in New England, most places you go have "candlepin bowling," which is a regional variant of bowling unique to New England and the Maritime provinces of Canada. The pins are a bit different, and you get three shots per frame instead of two, and the balls are tiny. Under the rules, they can't weigh more than about 2 1/2 pounds, and they can't be more than 4.5 inches wide. Basically, it's bowling for wimps.

Well, it is, I'm sorry. Gad. Anyway, the last time I went bowling -- real, ten-pin bowling -- I scored in the low 100s and I daresay I could do it again. So what I want to know is how Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., scored a 37 when bowling in Altoona, Pa., recently. No, really. How the hell do you score a 37 at ten-pin?

I mean, think about it for a second. That's an average of 1.85 pins per throw -- or 1.76 pins if Sen Obama somehow picked up a spare on the tenth frame -- and works out to 3.7 pins per frame. I mean, that's bad. There's no polite way to put it.

From the news reports, one couldn't tell why the senator had performed so badly, other than the fact he hadn't bowled in about 30 years. But fortunately, in this day and age, we have video of Sen Obama graciously bowling badly:

Could you tell the problem in that video? I think I picked it up, and if I'm right, the senator's throwing style was once like my own. Look how Sen Obama follows through. It looks as if his "swing" is a bit slanted. He's bowling with his left arm, but it looks as if when he releases the ball, his release sends the ball to the right due to his follow-through motion. I had the exact same problem -- as a right-handed bowler, I would send the ball left into the gutter because my follow-through wasn't straight. Once I learned how to deliver a straight follow-through -- something that took repeated lessons to learn -- my game markedly improved.

As a result, I am confident Sen Obama's game will improve once he changes his throwing style, and embarks on a consistent practice regimen. As it happens, the White House has a bowling alley of its very own. Should the senator win the election in November, he'll have plenty of opportunity to practice. True, one could argue the next president will have many more important things to worry about during his tenure. But I always found bowling rather relaxing, and perhaps he would as well.

-------
* This brilliant exception took place during my high school years, in which I went bowling at the old-school bowling alley at Western Michigan University with friends, including Simon From Jersey, who can thus vouch for this story. During one game, yours truly managed to bowl a downright amazing game -- a 227, or a 231, or something like that. For some reason, everyone had an outstanding game.

This was especially amazing since my average at the time was in the 120 to 130 range. It was also especially amazing because near the end of our play -- I can't remember if it was the same game -- one of my throws went astray. It tipped over into the gutter near the end of the lane, hit a loose metal part of the gutter, flew up out of the gutter and struck the pin display over the lane, then crashed back down onto the lane and knocked over a bunch of pins. It ruled. Understandably, we soon left afterwards, as the pin display looked a little worse for wear. And I'm not kidding -- Simon can vouch for this. Unfortunately, Simon can also vouch for the time I was shooting pool and managed to break all the lightbulbs in the lamp hanging over the table. (Don't ask).

Oddly, the pool hall is a bank now.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 27, 2008

For God's Sake, It's Almost April!

THE WEATHER FORECAST calls for four to six inches of snow to hit on Friday. You have got to be kidding me. It's almost April. We're supposed to be done with all this winter crap.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2008

Yeah! We're No. 24!

JANE'S INFORMATION GROUP, the British intelligence firm, has released a study ranking the world's nations in order of their relative stability and prosperity. This will come as a shock to many readers, but the United States of America is ranked ... 24th. Yes, 24th, out of 235. Although many of the top 50 nations aren't far apart -- the top nations earn a score of 99, compared to America's 93 -- this is a troubling state of affairs.

I mean, depending on how once looks at it, one can argue America's rank should be far different. Some might argue America should be ranked No. 1, because we rule. Others -- like me -- would put America at No. 6 or No. 7, behind super-stable and super-tiny states like Luxembourg. Still others would look at the No. 24 ranking and say, we should be down in the forties or fifties. No matter what one's view, everyone can stand up and say, "Hey! We're America, goddammit! We're a hell of a lot more prosperous / stable / mercenary / dangerous than 24th! What the hell's up with that?!"

I myself wonder how the ranking came about. Did the guy from Jane's get stuck on I-94 near Detroit, or the Cross-Bronx Expressway? Did he get heartburn in Phoenix? Did he get lost in East St. Louis? Did he turn into the wrong alley in New York, and find himself accosted by the criminal element?

MUGGER: Gimme your wallet!
JANE'S MAN: What!
MUGGER: You deaf or something? Gimme your wallet!
JANE'S MAN: No!
MUGGER: That's it!
(a struggle ensues)
JANE'S MAN: Of all the antisocial things I've ever --
MUGGER: What the hell's this? Don't you have any euros in here?
SECOND MUGGER: No, man, those are pounds! They're better than euros!
MUGGER: Yeah, but there's like ₤45 in here.
JANE'S MAN: Ah, but those are worth $900 in American dollars.
MUGGER: Who asked you?
SECOND MUGGER: Dude, you're right. Let's see if he has any euros on him.

In any event, let's look at the nations Jane's ranked, most of which inexplicably ranked higher than the United States. This might be alarming for some of us Yankees, so remember -- if you come across something you think is crap, start chanting U-S-A! U-S-A! loudly. It freaks out the foreigners.

--------

1. VATICAN CITY
As a Roman Catholic, I can only take pride and joy in this ranking. I mean, of course the Vatican is No. 1. Apostolic succession, baby! Besides, just because only 800 people actually live there is beside the point: this is a country with 1.1 billion people around the world obeying (well, kinda sorta) its commands. Also, the Papacy has its legions -- well, legion -- well, battalion -- OK, company -- of Swiss Guards, who have swords and fancy uniforms. Of course, as every Catholic knows, the Vatican has plans in place to seize Naval Base San Diego for its own -- but only if push comes to shove.

2. SWEDEN
One fails to understand how a nation with an expensive social-welfare scheme -- to say nothing of the fact it produced ABBA -- ranks second on a list ranking stable and prosperous nations.

3. LUXEMBOURG
Ah, Luxembourg! It's like Liechtenstein's older brother. Actually, this one makes sense.

4. MONACO
Yay Monaco! Would love to visit this charming place. No income tax! The Grand Prix! Wonderful!

5. GIBRALTAR
Eh? Gibraltar? But don't the Spanish want it back? Isn't that a bit problematic?

6. SAN MARINO
Yeah, that would make sense too -- after all, everybody from Rome on down pretty much ignored the place until now, and you know, it doesn't seem like that will change.

7. LICHTENSTEIN
This was 3rd prior to the LGT scandal!

8. GREAT BRITAIN
Dear God! What an idea! Britain? Eighth? They must be mad; or, if not mad, have forgotten the old Biblical admonition that one ought not point out the mote in someone else's eye whilst ignoring the beam in one's own. I mean, my God. It's Britain. The Government is taxing everyone to death, the politicians have crippled the military, the criminals run rampant throughout the streets causing strife and mischief, and the middle classes are oppressed. Britain! Eighth! What an idea!

9. THE NETHERLANDS
Give it time. Something will happen here. After all, it was pretty prosperous and stable before the panzers zoomed through back in 1940.

10. IRELAND
If the Jane's folks had stayed a week longer, they might have given it a better ranking!

11. NEW ZEALAND
Gained 30 places once Jane's realized New Zealand would be the only place left standing in the event of a thermonuclear war, and simply because the bad guys forgot about it.

12. DENMARK
Placed 12th, at least until they publish some more cartoons.

13. AUSTRIA
Still hasn't fully recovered from the 30 places it lost when Falco gained international fame in 1985.

14. ANDORRA
This makes sense too. I mean, this is a country that declared war on Germany in World War I -- and didn't settle things officially until 1957, primarily because Wilson forgot to invite them to Versailles.

15. GERMANY
Fünfzehntes! Ach du lieben! Ach, Warten Sie eine Minute! Ihre Papiere, bitte! Ihre Papiere!

16. ICELAND
This was published before the Icelandic krona fell through the floor and landed on its head in the basement.

17. SWITZERLAND
Damn the European Union and its money-laundering laws!

18. PORTUGAL
A nice country that is known for its enjoyable and pleasant beaches, scenery, and so on. This may explain its 18th ranking.

19. AUSTRALIA
Tentative ranking. Permanent ranking 42nd, after Jane's men subjected to hours-long rendition of "Waltzing Matilda."

20. NORWAY
20th place obtained after accounting for oil money (+37), herring (-18).

21. MALTA
Originally ranked 53rd, but score improved after offering second passports to Jane's men.

22. FRANCE
Feh! We spit on your Jane's Information Group and your filthy rating scheme! Why, everyone knows Jean's Information Group has ranked France first, no? Qu'est-ce que c'est? Les banlieues? Les no-go areas? Minor irritations, we can assure you! Vive le France!

23. CANADA
Oh, for crying out loud, we're never going to hear the end of this from the Canadians, are we?

24. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!
All right! 24th! Yeah! ... uh ... wait a minute. We're 24th?! WTF? Who came up with this stupid list anyway? Who? Never heard of them ... well, there's got to be some mistake. I mean, 24th ... there's no mistake? Uh ... U-S-A! U-S-A! Sorry, I can't hear you. U-S-A! U-S-A!

25. BELGIUM
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold the phone a minute. Belgium's 25th? Their whole stupid country's coming apart at the seams and they're 25th, and we're 24th? What the hell?

26. SPAIN
Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!

27. ITALY
Italy would care about this, except it is too busy enjoying a nice lunch with some great wine. Also, it won the World Cup, so it does not have to care what the English think.

28. JAPAN
Japan got screwed. Second largest economy, no crime whatsoever, pretty country -- and it's 28th.

29. FINLAND
The Finns are reserving judgment.

30. CZECH REPUBLIC
This sounds about right, actually. Not that I have any basis for saying that, it just feels right.

....

42. ST. PIERRE and MIQUELOT
An idyllic French overseas territory that oddly exists just a few miles from North America. This unfortunate geographic happenstance accounts for most of its low ranking, as either the Canadians or Americans will get fed up with this someday and invade it.

....

229. ZIMBABWE
Do you think a dollar should be worth a dollar? Well, thanks to 100,000 pc inflation -- that is not a typo -- one dollar is worth Z$70 million (or, alternatively, Z$70 billion if one discounts the revaluation of Aug. 1, 2006). A quarter-century ago, the ZWD and USD were at parity. Of course, these figures were relevant as of Mar. 19. It is now Mar. 25, meaning six days have passed ... and God only knows how far the ZWD has fallen since.

You know, for once, even I'd agree that it would be a good idea to buy gold.

....

234. SOMALIA
Well, yes, the whole "no functioning Government" bit might cloud things.

235. GAZA/WEST BANK
Just for the record, it's really bad when your country -- or territory, I guess -- ends up being ranked below a place with no functioning Government. Of course, I suppose the problem here is that Gaza and the West Bank have two functioning Governments -- both of which hate each other, and one of which has apparently no problem with angering its much larger neighbor by lobbing missiles at it. This is not exactly what one would call a recipe for success.

----

BASED ON THE ABOVE, I'm starting to think America's 24th place ranking might not be so bad, after all -- even if it is a little annoying. I mean, come on -- did we have to get ranked lower than the Canadians? It's bad enough their dollar is worth as much as ours is -- now we have yet another indignity with which to deal. As for Britain, I remain convinced that its 8th-place ranking (technically, tied for seventh) is a bit rich. But then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 22, 2008

Basketball Haikus (Part II)

No. 10 DAVIDSON, 82; No. 7 GONZAGA, 76

What! Gonzaga lost?!
Once again, my dreams are dashed
as the Zags are crushed

How did this happen?
Oh -- Davidson's star player
put up forty points?

Well, that would do it;
but I feel for Gonzaga
who once again failed;

After all, without
Michigan, just who am I
supposed to root for?

No. 12 WESTERN KENTUCKY, 101; No. 5 DRAKE, 99 (OT)
No. 13 SAN DIEGO, 70; No. 4 CONNECTICUT, 69 (OT)

Overtime glory
propelled underdogs to win
intense victories

Are there glass slippers
on these teams the sharps forgot?
Or hard boots of lead?

Perhaps the latter;
they could face UCLA;
but then again, no --

The Angelenos
are getting pounded tonight;
they're down by ten points.

Cinderella teams
could meet in the Sweet Sixteen
oh, how that would rule.

No. 7 WEST VIRGINIA, 73; No. 2 DUKE, 67

HA! HA HA HA HA!
Oh, praise the Lord's sweet mercy!
For Duke has gone down!

There's a CBS poll
that asks for folks' reactions;
three of four like it.

One cannot complain
about Duke's ignomious loss;
their pride has cost them.

One could only hope
Duke's football team can improve;
they're not gauche at all.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 20, 2008

It's That Time of Year Again: Basketball Haikus!

ONCE AGAIN, THE RANT shall look at one of America's truly great sporting events, the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, and record the glory and the heartbreak, the suspense and the excitement, the victories and defeats -- in haiku. The first day of this year's tournament was an interesting one, so let us begin with an introductory poem:

March to the trenches
the autumn wind, a pirate
-- oops, that's the wrong sport

Sorry. My brain is tired; very tired; for I can assure you I got home from work at like 10:15. Let's try again, shall we?

Alas, Michigan
Basketball is not your game
and Threet's your QB

Well, two out of three lines isn't bad, anyway. Anyway, now that I'm in a basketball frame of mind, now let's commence:

No. 3 WASHINGTON STATE, 71; No. 14 WINTHROP, 40

A project beating
was delivered on Winthrop;
not pretty to watch.

A team with high hopes
folded like a cheap lawn chair;
it completely sucked.

Winthrop's grim humbling,
that brutal execution,
shan't be forgotten;

After all, Winthrop
used to be an all right team;
what the hell happened?

No. 2 DUKE, 71; No. 15 BELMONT, 70

You rotten bastards!
Escaping by just one point!
Damn your wretched luck!

How the world wished
Stinking Duke would crash and burn;
all would seem just, then;

But you shan't escape;
for sharks circle the wounded,
and laugh at weakness.

May you fall broken
in the second round of play;
that would be enough!

No. 11 KANSAS STATE, 80; No. 6 USC, 67

Song Girls' beauty
will not mask your grim failure;
nor soothe gaping wounds.

Your loss carries joy
to the great plains of Kansas;
I exult with them.

Slain at Omaha,
and the multitudes rejoice;
how could one blame them?

Remember -- palmam
qui meruit ferat -- aye,
recall, and shudder.

No. 3 XAVIER, 73; No. 14 GEORGIA, 61

Our brackets are saved!
cried the people 'cross the land;
Xavier came back!

Rome's faith had wavered
in the Cincinnati squad,
but then, that last half!

How did Georgia fall?
Did Providence take action,
skew the final score?

Well, no, one doubts that --
for it is just basketball;
but God is cryptic.

That's it for this edition of NCAA Basketball Haikus. But we've got plenty of basketball to go, too, so let's make the most of it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2008

This Would Be My Future in the Service

A WHILE BACK, I decided that if war or other national emergency compelled me to join the armed forces, I'd sign up for the U.S. Navy. There's a few reasons for that. One, family history. Two, Pug Henry was in the Navy, and Pug Henry kicks ass. Three, you don't need a reason three with Pug Henry as reason two. Oh, and four, Navy has a better football team.

However, I have a feeling the Navy would look at me and figure I would ... well, fit the profile of this recruitment video.

I mean, hey. I've been on ship, OK? It's embarrassing when you try to climb all those ladders -- which are straight up, dammit -- and after four or five of them you're starting to flag and you start wondering if all the sailors are covertly rolling their eyes and snickering at you, Mr Out of Shape Civilian. Especially the hot girl sailors. Crikey, that was almost enough to start making me think about getting into shape.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

But Nothing Tops These Guys ...

ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE, NO ONE does commercials like the Marines. No one.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

If the French had invented baseball, we'd call it a lazy, pointless, nagging game with an inept strategy and 162 game marathon of a season, full of seemingly meaningless small victories of style over substance. Instead, the US of A did, so it's our pastime, a glorious ode to all things American.

-- Simon from Jersey

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

All-Star Game Focus: Basketball Is Not a Sport

WITH THE NBA All-Star Game on tap for Sunday evening, this seems like as good a time as any to declare a theory I've been mulling for some time now. Although it may infuriate some of my readers and appall others, I am going to throw down my gauntlet and openly declare: basketball is not a sport.

Now, I understand many Loyal Rant Readers may be shaking their heads and saying, "But Bennnnnnnnnn. Basketball is one of the nation's most popular ... uh, competitive activities! How could you say such a thing? Besides, look at the athleticism it requires!" As a result, allow me to address this point before I lay out my case against the game of basketball.

There is no denying basketball requires considerable athleticism. After all, most of the game involves running down a 92 foot court, stopping for a bit, and then running back up the court. This continues for 48 minutes and is not fun. Also, one must be adept at throwing the ball into the hoop, which is not easy. I know it is not easy because I played basketball for one year as a boy, and during this time managed to score all of one basket. So I do not mean to disparage the athleticism of those playing the game.

That said, basketball's still not a frickin' sport. Here's why:

Item. It was invented by a Canadian. As such, its claim of being a real sport is suspect. True, this Canadian invented the game while in Massachusetts, but the way the Canadians talk up Naismith's accomplishment, you would think he walked over the Detroit River with a halo and glowing basketball. Thus, if we all got together and declared basketball wasn't a sport, it could deflate Canada's giant smugness reserve -- at least until the loonie becomes worth more than the dollar again.

Item. One of basketball's major influences, Amos Alonzo Stagg -- yes, that Amos Alonzo Stagg -- decided to focus most of his life's energies upon American football, the greatest sport in the history of man. This, I would suggest, says a lot about the respective games of football and basketball, as well as for my theory. It is one thing to argue with me, but arguing with Amos Alonzo Stagg? Good luck with that.

Item. Unlike football, which has clear and concise rules for everyone that are easily understood and uniformly enforced, basketball's rules are murky, opaque, and byzantine. The rules are also enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner, said manner depending on factors such as whether the referee is in a bad mood, has selective vision, or is trying to throw the game for syndicate men.

Item. Along these lines, consider the frequent occurrence in basketball of rule violations, known as "fouls." There are approximately 625,000 fouls that everyone -- ranging from players to coaches to hot-dog vendors -- can commit. However, unlike in football -- where a false start is a false start -- fouls in basketball are apparently a subjective thing. Major stars can break certain rules (e.g. travelling), while other players can get fouled for having the audacity to get run over by a charging forward. Also, there are apparently times when it's OK to call fouls, and not OK to call them.

As an example of this, I would note a recent college basketball game I watched between Georgetown University and Villanova University, two long-time powerhouses of the game. At the close of this game, which was remarkable due to both sides' ineptitude at actually playing basketball, the score was tied at 53-53. Villanova had the ball in the final seconds and tried to score, but failed. Georgetown recovered the ball with just a couple of seconds to go and was turning down the court when a Villanova player brushed a Georgetown player. A foul was called with one-tenth of a second remaining. Georgetown took two foul shots, made them, and won, 55-53.

This pathetic call, which decided the game instead of forcing the matter to an overtime period, was upheld despite several instances earlier in the game where clear misconduct went unpunished. This, and innumerable instances like it, does not aid basketball's reputation as a sport.

Item. The commission of fouls, something which is avoided in real sports, is actively encouraged during the waning moments of a basketball game as a strategic ploy and time-management tool. Aside from unnecessarily dragging the game out, this tactic allows bad teams to scheme their way towards victory, as opposed to actually beating their opponents like men.

Item. The National Basketball Association's season is 82 games long. As a result, no one really cares about the NBA until its playoffs commence, some six months after the regular season has begun.

Item. 16 NBA teams make it to the playoffs each year. There are only 30 teams in the league. This works out to a playoff acceptance rate of 53 pc. Compare this to baseball, where eight out of 30 teams (27 pc) make it into the playoffs, and football, where 12 out of 32 teams (37 pc) make it into the playoffs.

Finally, the proof that basketball isn't a real sport is borne out in public opinion surveys, which show basketball's popularity is on the wane. No less an authority than the Harris Poll -- whose unimpeachable authority I note here -- notes that just 8 pc of the American public consider basketball (either professional or collegiate) as their favorite sport. (That's down from 19 pc ten years ago).

This compares to 42 pc for pro and college football, 15 pc for baseball, and 10 pc for auto racing. AUTO RACING. Auto racing may be competitive, but it sure as hell isn't a sport. And perhaps an even more damning finding is that, when one breaks apart pro and college basketball, each sub-group is less popular than ice hockey. Ice hockey -- the red-headed stepchild of American sport! What does it say about the NBA that the NHL -- which kicked its fans in the teeth for an entire year and then laughed in their faces -- has a more enthusiastic following?

In conclusion, I think I've made a powerful case that basketball is not a real sport, and that Loyal Rant Readers should instead follow real sports, like American football, or baseball, or even ice hockey. Unless, of course, basketball is the only thing on television. Or it's March Madness and you can root for the underdogs in the tourney. I'm rooting again for Gonzaga this year.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:01 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 23, 2008

AFSCME: The ^%#^@%! Union that Works for YOU!

The above video is an extremely profane parody, apparently made in the late Seventies, of a public-relations advertisement for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It is also riotously funny. If you watch it -- and you should -- do watch it at home, or with headphones at the office. Did I mention it was extremely profane and riotously funny? OK, you've been warned. Especially if you're a mid-to-senior level executive who still has a thing for Seventies-era fashion.

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

Crikey, What A Week

SORRY ABOUT THE ABSENCE. Between an emergency room visit on Saturday night, and the recuperating from the issue that sent me to the emergency room, I haven't exactly been in a blogging mode. You know, because I've been weak and in pain and what not. But I will be back soon. For those of you unfamiliar with what sent me to hospital, here's a helpful video to show what I've been through. Well, except the "falling from a tall building bit." Oh, and it didn't involve my knees. But still, it's a good approximation:

Long story short: it was serious, but not too serious, and I'll be fine. Happy landings, everybody!

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

January 16, 2008

Well, I Didn't See THAT Coming

UH, SO IT TURNS OUT a former Congressman -- who once represented Michigan's 6th Congressional District, where I grew up -- has been charged with helping an "Islamic charity" funnel money to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. No, really. That's what the Detroit Free Press says:

A former Republican congressman from west Michigan was indicted today on federal charges of money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice in a scheme to assist a U.S.-based Islamic charity organization funnel money to Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked terrorists in Pakistan.

Mark Siljander, 56, also a former state legislator from St. Joseph County, was hired by the Islamic American Relief Agency in 2004 to assist in having the group removed from a U.S. Senate list of terrorist-linked charities, according to a statement released by the Department of Justice, then helping the group launder stolen federal funds with which to pay for his services. ...

Siljander served five years in Congress beginning in 1981 when he was elected to replace David Stockman, who had been hired as President Ronald Reagan’s budget chief. He was defeated in a re-election bid in 1986 by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Kalamazoo, following a well-publicized incident in which Siljander sent an audio tape to church pastors in the district urging them to fast and pray for his re-election to “break the back of Satan.” Today’s indictment describes Siljander as the owner of a company called Global Strategies Inc., based in the Washington D.C., area.

OK, the whole "re-elect me and I can carry out my delusional messianic ambitions" bit? As someone who grew up in western Michigan during the Eighties, this does not surprise me. The "help fund America's enemies for one's own tawdry personal gain" bit -- well, that does.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

It's Not Just a Job, It's an Adventure!

HEY, MUSICIANS! Uncle Sam wants YOU -- yes, YOU -- to provide Our Boys serving abroad with Musical-Themed Entertainment! Not only will you get to meet interesting people, visit new and exciting places, and generally rock out with the enlisted men, you'll actually get paid -- in actual U.S. dollars!

Professional Celebrity Rock Music Band, group not to exceed seven people for tour of FOB's in Kuwait and Afghanistan for February 4-13 2008. The band should be an active rock band, with a music genre consisting of Southern Rock, Pop Rock, Post-Grunge and Hard Rock. At least one member of the band should be recognizable as a professional celebrity. Protective military equipment, such as kevlar, body armour, eye and ear protection will be provided when the group is travelling on military rotary or fixed wing aircraft.

Interested bands should remember to pepper their applications with plenty of military lingo: for instance, note how their MTE, as part of an MST, will result in a non-SFUS even if everything gets FUBARed. But remember to use Army acronyms! If you screw up and assure the Army there is no way BUPERS will have to deal with the ONI as a result of your visit, they will wad up your application, stomp on it, and then throw it in the trash. So be vigilant!

Also: note that Today's Army is Not the Army of the Seventies, when you could get away with all sorts of wacky shit.

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

January 04, 2008

So the Gallup People Wanted to Know My Opinion ...

SO THIS EVENING I got a call from the nice people at the Gallup Poll wanting to know who I was supporting in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary. Normally, I would not have answered the call -- I don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the telephone number -- but I did this evening just because I wanted to hear the pitch I'd get.

As it happened, a nice lady from Nebraska was on the other end of the line and wanted -- oddly -- to speak with the person 18 years or older who had most recently celebrated his birthday. After looking around, I realized this person was me. However, before my questioner could get any farther, I interjected and said that my line of work prevented me from taking part in any polls. Given my line of work, this generally results in the pollster saying, "Thank you," and me saying, "Good night."

Not tonight, though. Much to my surprise, my questioner said this didn't matter at all -- which kind of floored me. I mean, I'm sorry, but there are 400,000 people expected to vote in the primary. Surely the Gallup people would want a "civilian" taking part in their survey. But it was the next line of questioning which really made me chuckle -- don't you, the pollster asked, want to voice YOUR OPINION about the race? Well, not really, no.

At that point, I realized New Hampshire's really starting to rub off on me. Not only did I not want to give my opinion to some pollster, I wanted my opinion to be a goddamn surprise on primary day. (At least to the world at large). That said, I daresay the best reporting on the presidential primary so far comes from none other than Dave Barry, who writes:

And so the eyeballs of the world turn to New Hampshire, a tiny, flinty, gritty, Dunkin' Donuts-intensive state located mostly inside the Arctic Circle. On Tuesday, the voters here will troop to the polls, where -- as they have done every four years since 1952 -- they will turn around and troop back home, because the polls, like virtually everything else here, are under 23 feet of snow.

But a few people, the truly flinty ones, will manage to actually vote, and they will determine the course of this presidential race -- and, yes, America's future -- for approximately two news cycles. Then the eyeballs of the world will turn to either North or South Carolina (nobody is sure which) and the people of New Hampshire will go back to their traditional flinty New England lifestyle of sitting around eating doughnuts and waiting for the August thaw.

"Dunkin' Donuts-intensive." Heh. YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I mean, they have locations in HOSPITALS up here.

Perhaps it's warranted, actually. Although the company does sell donuts, few people around here really seem to go for them. It's the coffee, made with the finest arabica beans and a healthy dose of stimutax, that people demand -- to the point where if the world ends anytime soon, Dunkin' Donuts coffee will prove more valuable than gold, more sought after than penicillin, and more fought over than canned goods.

Fortunately, as a transplanted Midwesterner, I am immune to these temptations. This is good, because in the event of a disaster, I'll be able to stock up on the stuff and make a mint. Admittedly, the whole "world-ending" disaster thing might put a crimp in my scheme to profit from any shortage, but I'd still be able to do all right with my idea -- after all, I'd need to have something to barter for my Diet Cherry Coke. I may even start stocking up now. With the way the market's been, buying Dunkin' Donuts coffee beans would probably deliver a better return than any of my other investments.

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

I Am So There on Opening Day

STEVE CARELL? As Maxwell Smart? I am so there. I just hope they haven't screwed things up too much in making the Updated Adaption From an Old Television Show, which is always Fraught With Peril. I mean, the show was so great because it was so silly. Maxwell Smart heading up the secret agents' union? KAOS establishing the secret POW camp in South Jersey? Approximately eight million running gags? Genius. So I hope they've kept to that somewhat in making the new film.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 01, 2008

The Rose Bowl Parade Ought Not Be Televised

I KNOW WHAT I'm about to say may seem a bit curmudgeonly, but does anyone else find the Rose Bowl parade spectacularly boring television? I mean, it's a parade. You have floats and marching bands and balloons and a beauty queen here and there and people lined along the streets. That's all well and good, but the broadcast is ... two hours long. It would be one thing if it was a movie, but it's a parade. Thus, it's about as interesting as "Festival of Patriotic Songs" or some other television show from the old Eastern Bloc.

Now they're showing the float for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Say, I knew this broadcast reminded me of something:

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I Have Been Called Out As a Jingoistic Nationalist

FOR THE RECORD, I LOVE TECHNORATI. It allows me to find out blog posts that reference The Rant, which is very handy considering I might well overlook people responding to my posts, or holding my work up as examples of things wrong with our culture, polity, etc.

Anyway, thanks to Technorati, I noticed that a post I wrote a while back has been held up as prima facie evidence that Americans boorishly and arrogantly claim we are the greatest nation in the world.

I would be more sympathetic to this argument had the writer not used my "In 'N' Out Burger Served Up a 100-Decker Cheeseburger" post as his prima facie evidence. I mean, come on: how could anyone not be proud of America in such a situation, where our grand system of free enterprise allows people to get a 100x100 from In 'N' Out? Besides, this post was notably free of the petty regionalism to which I'm admittedly prone, and was composed with nothing but love and admiration for the nation I call home.

Anyway, our writer, Mr Michael J Gonda, argues as follows:

Of all the pressing matters in front of the people, the starkest is the fact that many Americans do not really understand or know what the meaning of freedom really actually is.

This can be attributed to a number of factors, including our lack of knowledge about our own history, our mental amnesia in connection with any world events preceding 9/11/2001, and our stubborn (arrogant) claim that we are the greatest nation in the world - not arrogant, just the greatest - and think the rest of the world should follow and be replicas of our government and system.

Well, since I've been called out as indicative of this problem -- rather insulting, n'est ce pas? -- I'm going to defend my stance accordingly. For America is the greatest nation in the world: not because of our military might or our geopolitical power, but because we value freedom. This freedom is necessarily entrenched in private property rights, the rule of law, our capitalist system and our openness towards allowing people to create wealth and find personal fulfillment. That doesn't mean the rest of the world should replicate our Government and system -- but it does mean we do a lot of things right. Other nations here on God's green earth could improve the lives of their citizens if they embraced the freedoms which we in America enjoy.

And I'm not going to apologize for making an entirely positive case on behalf of the United States -- especially when so many people from abroad would give their right arms to move here, and when people in the most wretched corners of the earth look to us for help and inspiration. I'm not suggesting there isn't room for us to improve -- that would be a bit much -- but sometimes it seems those who run down the United States are like parents who criticize their kid for getting a 95 on a test instead of 100. Let's keep things in perspective here, shall we?

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

December 25, 2007

My Favorite Restaurant in Manchester Has Burned Down

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

MY FAVORITE RESTAURANT BURNED DOWN.

GODDAMMIT.

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

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

This completely and utterly sucks.

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

November 28, 2007

The Pros and Cons of the Celebrity Culture

RECENTLY, IN AN INTERVIEW with Time magazine, the writer Stephen King heaped much scorn and ridicule upon what Mr King termed America's "celebrity culture." It was a rather fascinating interview, and during it, Mr King said:

I think there ought to be some serious discussion by smart people, really smart people, about whether or not proliferation of things like The Smoking Gun and TMZ and YouTube and the whole celebrity culture is healthy. We've switched from a culture that was interested in manufacturing, economics, politics — trying to play a serious part in the world — to a culture that's really entertainment-based. I mean, I know people who can tell you who won the last four seasons on American Idol and they don't know who their fucking representatives are.

OK, Mr King, here ya go.

Of course it's not healthy -- but not for the reasons one might think.

We can start off the discussion looking at the celebrity culture of which Mr King speaks. The people, Mr King laments, pay an inordinate amount of attention to the zany antics of movie actors, pop singers and -- to a lesser extent -- sports figures. The news media and other media outlets, who have figured out that people will pay for information about these zany antics, thus focus an inordinate amount of attention on these shenanigans. The movie actors, pop singers and sports figures, who have figured out the news media and other media outlets are quite interested in them, thus indulge in more zany antics. This gives them free publicity, which translates into paid subscriptions and bunches of advertising for the media, which allows them to try to satisfy the people's insatiable lust for information about their heroes. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.

Meanwhile, as the people argue incessantly about whether Britney Spears is a horrible mother, the Important Issues of the Day go unnoticed. The weak dollar and the federal deficit and efforts to reconcile the AMT and disputes over resource extraction -- to say nothing of things happening outside America's borders -- are brushed aside with the argument that only the elites care about such things, and if they are really interested in them they can buy the goddam New York Times. Meanwhile, boatloads of ink are spent disseminating the latest news about Paris Hilton, who is a celebrity yet no one can understand why.

Given this, one could argue that Americans are thus devolving into two separate camps: a technocratic elite that cares deeply about things like Federal Reserve policy and the environmental concerns surrounding extracting oil from the Rocky Mountains, and the easily-distracted commons, who care deeply about things like whether they can find naughty pictures of movie starlets on the Internet.

But I would argue this is not the case. After all, even "smart people" need a bit of brain candy once in a while, while "average Joes" often care about matters like the environment and trade issues, even if they do not take part in the political process or hold just rank-and-file jobs in the economy. There is no reason why one cannot be interested in both subjects, even if the interest in one or the other may seem mystifying to an observer. Furthermore, American culture has long been interested in celebrities -- arguably, ever since the Roaring Twenties, when the entertainment industry and an increasingly well-off public really discovered each other. And even before that, most people were not interested in the weighty subjects of the day, as H.L Mencken observed so wittily.

So why are things different now? I would argue the inordinate focus on celebrities we see today is the direct result of alienation among the American people -- alienation that exists among all economic classes and people of all social backgrounds. To borrow from Kissinger, it is much easier to focus on trivial matters because the stakes are so small. After all, one's life is not going to change tomorrow if one's favorite actress dyes her hair green, or one's favorite quarterback gets caught fighting dogs. Thus it is much easier to be interested in such things.

It is also worth noting this inordinate focus comes as people move away from the traditional support structures this society has offered its people -- the Church, the family, the Government. When people turn away from those support structures, they inevitably look for something to fill the void and the celebrity culture fits the bill. We can see how the celebrity culture has risen even as religiosity, family bonds and trust in Government have waned.

This trend is also apparent in certain aspects of our celebrity culture, which is much different than the culture extant in the pre-war and post-war periods in terms of the aspirations people have.

Back in the Fifties and early Sixties, as various scholars have noted, people aspired to act like the rich, who were well-regarded in society. Thus, people read literature and took an interest in classical music and generally worked to get on board with what society deemed proper. Today, on the other hand, popular culture is very much a reflection of the various troubles affecting the poor: glorification of the street life, glorification of violence and criminality, glorification of consumption and petty decadence. Back in the day, stars were rich and they acted like it. Today, stars are rich, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one who knew the meaning of, or would even flinch at, the age-old insult of parvenu. Thus the only aspiration for regular folks is economic -- they want a bathroom they can play baseball in, as the popular song puts it, and hang everything else.

That, I think, also ties in directly with the economic uncertainty many Americans face: something I would argue reaches well into the upper-middle class. After all, how many people out there actually feel secure in this day and age? I certainly do not, and I daresay I am in a much better position than most (the whole bachelor/no kids thing helps). This, I would submit, is a further level of alienation that separates people from their society. They don't trust the Government, they worry about their jobs and their employment, and their financial situation is -- if not precarious -- at least not where they want it to be.

So if people don't have faith in their own situation, don't have faith in themselves, don't have faith in God, don't have faith in their jobs, and don't have faith in the Government, they turn to the one place where they can have faith, or something that does a fair enough job of approximating it: their favorite stars. They feel they can depend on them because they have nothing else on which to depend. I would also argue people with an inordinate interest in celebrities also probably are lacking in conviction about themselves.

And this is a tragedy. It really is. As such, I find it tough to blame the "celebrity culture" for our problems when its ascendancy is a direct result of society's other institutions dropping the ball.

The way I see it, any solution to this problem -- if one considers it a problem -- must be two-fold. The first, and more important part, must involve Americans getting themselves on a better footing. If Americans rediscovered the values of living frugally, and religiosity, and a strong family, I think people would generally be better off -- or at least have a lot less to worry about. The second part involves society's institutions doing a better job at reaching out to a populace that clearly is in a lot of need. Religious groups need to be more effective, Government needs to be more competent, and businesses need to be more in tune with the communities in which they do business.

OK, thus endeth today's lesson. Which is good, because now I'm depressed. To cheer myself up, I'm going to get work started on another search-engine query post. Yeah.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 20, 2007

Winter: A Musical Interlude

----------------

SNOW EVIL 9

Sung to the tune of "Karn Evil 9"
(with apologies to Emerson, Lake & Palmer)

----------------

WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS,
to the snow that never ends
We're so glad you could attend,
stay inside, stay inside!
Look outside the glass and see the icy cold morass;
see all the drivers crash, move along, move along!

Get inside, the snow's about to start
It'll blow your sinuses apart!
Rest assured there's no reason to delay
though the snow's staying until late May
You've got to see the snow, it'll make you throw
You've got to see the snow, it's damp and cold, oh --

Right before your eyes, see the cursing from the guys;
and they laugh until they cry, and they cry, and they cry.

Get inside, the snow's about to start
It'll blow your sinuses apart!
You've got to see the snow, it'll make you throw
You've got to see the snow, it's damp and cold, oh --

Soon the driving teens in giant SUVs
will around the streets careen, what a scene, what a scene;
Next upon the roads -- you'll want to lay real low --
are the speeding maniacs, foot on gas, foot on gas

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up!
See the snow!

Driving 'round like tools are these imbecilic fools
cut you off on the freeway, lose your cool, lose your cool;
We would it like to be known the idiots who were mocked
make life a living hell -- yes, just hell -- yes, just hell.

Come and see the snow! Come and see the snow!
Come and see the snow!
See the snow!

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

November 13, 2007

Report: Networks to Shovel More Crap Onto Airwaves

IT'S TIMES LIKE THIS I'm really glad my television viewing is limited to football and the occasional dose of CNBC. No less a personage than Nikki Finke reports that due to the television and movie writers' strike, the television networks are working on developing a host of crappy game shows to fill airtime.

If this isn't proof the networks are cutting off their nose to spite their face, I don't know what is. As Ms Finke's descriptions of the "game shows" in question show they're all, well, amazingly stupid, I suppose I'm just going to have to hope for a lot of good pro football over the next few months, plus a lot of good football methadone during the horrible seven-month NFL off-season -- arena football and spring football and Canadian football.

You know, Direct TV is starting to look a HELL of a lot more attractive.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Chicago! (Whoa-oh!)

CHICAGO, Nov. 9 -- SO THERE I AM in Chicago with my friends Mark and Norm and we're standing in the lobby of the Chicago Board of Trade on Friday afternoon, trying to wheedle our way into the glorious temple of capitalism. Alas, it was not to be: not only had the exchange closed before we arrived, it was no longer open to the public, and like many of our nation's grand institutions it now required Knowing Someone on the Inside to visit. You know, for security reasons.

Gee, was that disappointing. I mean, it's the CBOT -- where commodities of all kinds are traded, in the name of God and profit, by crazy people wearing funny looking jackets. After being denied at the security desk, I had thought to myself that perhaps we could harass one of these traders to let us in, as a few of them were rushing about. But that didn't seem to be much of an option, because those traders had looks on their faces that seemed to say, "Christ! I'm down-limit on pork bellies!"

So we were disappointed and left without seeing the floor of the exchange. That said, I have to think this whole matter of "security" seems a bit much. I mean, it's the CBOT. If there's any group of people capable of ripping apart limb from limb those who would disrupt their work, it's the people on the CBOT floor.

So yeah, I was in Chicago this weekend on a business trip. Fun stuff and enjoyable all the way around. Got in Friday afternoon and went into the city for much of the day. After dark, we saw the cityscape from the top of the Sears Tower, and it was starkly beautiful; it looked like something out of a science-fiction movie. Then, we made our way back out to O'Hare, where our conference was being held, with a side trip to procure beer.

READER: So where was your conference held exactly?

Shoeless Joe's Sports Bar in Rosemont.

READER: Wait, what?

OK, it was actually held in the Sheraton on the other corner, but much of the scant free time we had was spent in Shoeless Joe's. This was a great sports bar, and especially good for anyone who likes Big Ten football, like I do. Another advantage: Midwestern portions. On Saturday night, whilst watching the Boston College-Maryland game with my friend Norm, my friend Norm got an entire chicken coop's worth of wings, while I can say my order of fried calamari represented the first time I've been presented with a whole squid.

It was a crazy weekend for college football and I am actually glad I didn't get to see most of it. Amazingly, all three college teams of my crew lost this weekend -- Michigan, Ohio State and Boston College. It was downright bizarre. First, Michigan fell to Wisconsin, and then the Fighting Zooks of Illinois stomped Ohio State, and then Maryland beat the Eagles. I did, however, get to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers make an amazing comeback against the Cleveland Browns in NFL action. True, I had to watch at a cramped bar in Concourse B of the United terminal at O'Hare, but I still got to see most of it. I would have preferred, though, to see the game at Billy's Sports Bar back here in Manchester, if only because I think Hapless Browns Fan Rick's head may have exploded.

I'd like to say Pittsburgh, which is now 7-2, is the No. 2 team in the AFC. However, I can't. Such a statement, you see, relies heavily on the idea that one actually knows which Pittsburgh team is going to show up in any given week. There are some Sundays when we look like a Super Bowl team and others when we look, well, like we did last year. Ugh. Still, I think all can agree that Pittsburgh remains the No. 3 team in the AFC, and that ain't all bad.

But back to Chicago, whose football team stinks this year. I like Chicago. I was duly impressed with its mass transit system, which actually works. A good mass transit system is invaluable if one lives in a big city and Chicago's seemed to fit the bill. My only regret is that I wasn't able to get some Chicago-style pizza while in town -- but hey. If I ever truly have the yen for it, I can order it on-line!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2007

If Time Equals Money, Then Washington Owes Me Interest

ONE NICE THING ABOUT this weekend is that it marked a return to Standard Time -- or, as it is known here at The Rant, God's Time. Like all right-thinking people, I am glad to have my hour back but not so glad to have had it stolen from me in the first place. This was made even worse by the fact the Government, always eager to perniciously meddle with the lives of its citizens, decided to push back the return to Standard Time a week, thus extending the agony of Daylight Saving Time even longer than before.

Now, if one operates under the assumption that time equals money -- and I do -- then Washington owes me and everyone else in America roughly one minute and 34.5 seconds for borrowing the hour in question, at least based on the going interest rate for Treasuries. But do we get anything in return for our slaving away under the Government's diabolical time scheme these past months? No, of course not. So now my sleep schedule is all screwed up and I'll have to spend a good week adjusting to this new time scheme. By the time I do adjust, of course, we'll be back on Daylight Saving Time and I'll be in a fog then too. It's enough to make one wonder why we go through this annual charade every year.

But oh well. I guess I should be happy I get my hour back. Oh, and I guess I should be happy I didn't live during the 16th century, when the God-fearing people of Europe had ten entire days stolen from them as part of the switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendar. (It was even worse for countries that switched later on).

However, I realize all this is quibbling. Particularly when one considers that with winter's approach, I am now about to fall into an unpleasant and agonizing seasonal depression which should last until about April or so. The days are growing shorter and colder and more desolate, and the next thing I know, I'm going to be moping around in the gloom. Winters here aren't fun, especially when one considers the overall atmosphere is somewhat akin to the movie "Blade Runner," except not as cheerful.

I mean, for God's sake, the sun set at 4:30 today. 4:30! And in December it will set around 4:10 or so. That's just wrong. True, the sun WILL rise at about 7:15 or so even during the shortest days, but it's still ridiculous. As we get into mid-December, we'll receive all of nine hours of sunlight a day. Nine hours! Even back home in Michigan, we got nine-and-a-half. And in California we got ten hours.

It could be worse, I suppose -- I could live in some place subjected to horrible polar darkness, which would drive me into hibernation or complete and utter insanity. But still -- it is bad enough so that I'm going to take a winter vacation this year, to someplace warm. Warm and dry. Yeah. That's the ticket.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 28, 2007

Poison Ivy

AS I UNDERSTAND IT, it is apparently fashionable again to Not Like the Ivy League, at least based on a couple of articles and blog posts I've read recently. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently had a story which looked at a tongue-in-cheek debate on whether society ought dismantle the top Ivy League schools, and Meg McArdle took a look at the issue with a post about why it is so fun to hate Ivy Leaguers. (Ms McArdle herself, as she notes, is an Ivy alumna; she went to Penn).

Now, as strange as it may seem for someone who regularly insults institutions of higher education based on their football prowess, and who gleefully mocks and taunts their graduates accordingly, I do not hold any animus against Ivy graduates. This is because I went to Michigan, and as such I am supremely confident in the academic reputation of my school. Furthermore, were anyone so foolish as to disparage Michigan's academic reputation, I could point out this:

Yes, that's right. Space, dammit! Space! And if that doesn't do the trick, I can point out that Michigan is the only institution of higher learning with an alumni chapter -- and a flag -- on the moon. (Some people say the flag story is a myth, but I can assure you that stories to the contrary are all lies, spread by Communists, anarchists, and scoundrels of the highest order).

But I digress. I myself have never had a bad experience with a graduate of Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell or Pennsylvania, so I have no reason to dislike the Ivy League. Indeed, I have found graduates of these institutions to be smart, charming and likable people. Yale, on the other hand, is a different story. But I'm open to changing my mind about Yalies -- it's just the two I've met personally were disagreeable.

On a deeper level, though, I am surprised the Ivies as institutions have not taken more pains to publicly emphasize the value of attending their institutions. From a business perspective, they seem content to rest on their reputations, and while that does count for a lot, it doesn't seem like the most proactive strategy.

One can argue that education, as a service, has diminishing returns. If a student can spend $50,000 attending Public School A to get an education, compared to spending $200,000 for an Ivy League education, why would he willingly spend the extra $150,000 to receive an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school? In both cases, he'll have a quality degree.

While I fully admit going to a top school might improve one's chances of getting hired out of college, after that first job recruiters will care only about one's job performance -- not where one went to school. Furthermore, since graduates from lesser institutions can easily parlay their work or school experiences for admission into fine professional schools, it seems to me that low-cost schools really bring a lot of value to the table, while the Ivies are comparatively disadvantaged.

Besides, the lower-cost schools have better football programs, and there's something to be said for the joyous intangibles associated with watching one's alma mater play on Saturdays.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 23, 2007

Fire Season

A SHORT TIME AGO I sent my good friend Chris a note about something he had sent me, with the post-script: "Uh, what's up with fire season this year?" I tend not to read the news much on my weekends, so the news I heard Monday night about the massive wildfires in Southern California caught me by surprise. Had I known they were THIS bad, though, I would have been less flippant.

Especially since they're, you know, tearing through my old stomping grounds. Son-of-a-gun! This might well affect me at work tomorrow but I've been up for the last hour or so just reading about the fires. It's actually a little alarming, although I think this is due to the peculiar geographic bearings I have as a former resident of Southern California.

For instance, my good friend Chris and his family are roughly 17 miles away from the Ranch Fire, which has burned at least 29,000 acres around the town of Piru. (The fire was apparently starting to surround Piru and in the immediate area I understand it is an extremely acute situation.) Now, 17 miles is a long way -- it is roughly the distance between Manchester and Nashua, New Hampshire's two largest cities -- but I'm not thinking about the distance. I'm thinking, "Uh, that's only two towns away," and, "Wait a minute. Didn't I drive through Piru when I was back in California the last time? Yeah, I did. Jesus Christ!"

Just as worrisome to me was news of a small fire between Thousand Oaks and Moorpark, a bit to the south. Fortunately, it only burned 35 acres and didn't cause much damage. But I had an ex-girlfriend whose home was in Thousand Oaks and for several minutes I was frantically searching on Yahoo Maps trying to find out where this fire was, and racking my brains trying to remember what street my ex-girlfriend lived on, and where it was in relation to this fire. I may not have talked to her in years but that doesn't mean you're not concerned, you know? The good news, though, was that the fire was again several miles distant.

The number of fires and the devastation they have wrought have amazed me. The worst of it, of course, has been around San Diego but even around Los Angeles I recognize places I've been and roads I've traveled that are being consumed by the blazes.

Given the strength of the Santa Ana winds, and the unpredictable nature of how the fires are starting and spreading, I would urge people near fire-affected areas to take basic steps to prepare for evacuation if need be: get your papers in order, pack a suitcase, that kind of basic stuff that doesn't take a lot of time but could really come in handy if you have to move quickly.

Also, I am stunned at reports coming out that firefighters aren't able to fight fires because they're stuck rescuing people who defied evacuation orders. It is understandable people don't want to leave their homes -- but for the love of God, the fire crews aren't kidding around here. When they tell you to go, for the love of God, GO. GET THE HELL OUT. There's a reason they're telling you to do this: it's because bad things will happen otherwise. Trust me on this one.

That said, I hope all my readers in the Southland are OK and that these fires aren't affecting you. Take care and be careful out there.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 17, 2007

Depressing Fortune Cookies Sweeping Nation

WELL, IT'S ABOUT BLOODY TIME. The nation's largest fortune cookie company has apparently told its writers to turn out new slogans. Being writers, they've apparently produced a whole line of depressing, soul-crushing fortunes that have diners shaking their heads and looking at each other in alarm.

Good. There are few things more annoying in life than getting Chinese food and then discovering the fortune in the fortune cookie is stupid. (One of these things is getting Chinese food and finding out the chefs used MSG, but that's a whole other story entirely). The worst of it comes when you crack open a fortune cookie and discover some aggravating message such as, "You are wise and harmonious." Of course I am, dammit; give me a fortune. The last thing I need from a fortune cookie is silly self-help balderdash or useless platitudes telling me to better serve my fellow man. What am I, some kind of Communist? Give me a fortune. Is the market going to go up? Is the price of pork bellies going to crash on Thursday? That's the type of stuff I want and need to know.

Along those lines, if the fortune cookie tells me I'm about to get hit by a bus, or my portfolio is going to crash, that's good stuff. I may not want to hear these things, but at least it's a fortune and not some damnfool nonsense about my surprising optimism. If the writing team can't figure this out, I would ask the good people at Wonton Food Inc. to actually go out and hire a fortune teller, who should be adept at offering actual fortunes -- no matter how silly or ridiculous -- for $5 a shot. For the people have spoken, and we demand real fortunes.

They can keep the cookie recipe the same, though. I don't think anyone actually eats the fortune cookies. They're kind of like those shrimp chip things -- you know they're edible, but even still, you don't really want to go there, if you know what I'm saying.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 05, 2007

Baseball is More Interesting With Attacking Hordes of Mayflies

SO I WAS WATCHING the Utah-Louisville game tonight when I noticed the score in the Yankees-Indians game was tied at one run apiece in the top of the 9th inning. I am not much of a baseball fan, but even I am a sucker for a tied playoff game. I turned on the game and noticed, much to my surprise, that Jacobs Field in Cleveland was simply swarming with mayflies. The players were swatting at them. The pitchers were covered with them. They were readily apparent to the eye -- and it was a sight, I am assured, that was even more amazing in high-definition.

This was even more incredible than watching the Utah Utes light up the scoreboard in Louisville every time I checked back there. Apparently, I didn't see the worst of it, either. The mayflies were reportedly so bad in the 8th inning that one of the Yankees pitchers got hugely distracted as a result, eventually allowing Cleveland to tie the game -- which they then won in the 11th inning, putting the Indians up 2-0 in the series.

The reason for the invasion was apparently due to the warm weather, which tricked the nasty little bugs into waking up and climbing out of Lake Erie long before they were supposed to do so. If global warming is responsible, then I think it's important to note that global warming meant the Yankees lost, and as such can't be all that bad.

That aside, though, I have to say the baseball was a lot more interesting with the attacking hordes of mayflies. One of the glorious things about football, of course, is that it is played in pretty much every type of weather -- and bad weather is actually welcomed, as it will make the game more interesting and will heighten the excitement of the fans. I don't see why baseball can't do the same thing. Teams don't necessarily have to play amidst a swarm of locusts, of course, but some sort of additional elements out of the teams' control would really make things interesting. Especially because the games ... just ... drag ... on ... regardless of whether they actually go into extra innings or not. We saw how that happened in the Yankees-Indians game tonight. I swear, it took a good five or six minutes just to get through one at-bat.

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

September 25, 2007

Report: Parallel Universes Actually Do Exist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 31, 2007

Labor Day Celebrated Through Not Working

SO FOR THE FIRST TIME in six years, I'm celebrating Labor Day by ... not working.

At first, this seemed pretty bloody cool. Since I now have Mondays off at the office, I'd get to put the holiday "in the bank" while still getting to do all the things I normally do on a Monday. This Monday, I had plenty of things planned -- I was going to take down all these boxes of books down to the library, take care of some financial transactions I needed to do, and so on.

Then I realized everyone else had the day off.

All the Government institutions will be closed. All the banks will be closed. The national financial markets will be closed. Plus, a lot of private businesses will be closed, or have reduced hours. As Loyal Rant Readers might expect, this realization was accompanied by a particular nine-letter profanity.

I mean, crikey. I'm not gaining a holiday, I'm losing a good productive day. Even worse, there's no football. So what the hell am I supposed to do, anyway? Go fishing? Have a barbecue? Enjoy the bounty and goodness of a late summer day? Please. You think I'm back home in Michigan? I don't have a canoe or fishing gear, I don't have a grill or a patio, and if I go outside I'll end up wheezing due to the hay fever, and --

What's that? Fried clams? Chowder? A coffee frappe? Say, that's a pretty good idea. OK, so I'll spend my labor day chilling out after I go out and have a high-quality, old-fashioned New England lunch. Yeah, that's the ticket. Also I will -- eh, I'll vacuum the apartment or something. It may be a holiday, but it's still Monday.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2007

Spirit Willing, Flesh Weak

SO I HAVE had quite a week here. I made a marathon drive down to Washington for an old friend's wedding, had fun at the wedding and drank a lot, made the drive back up to New Hampshire, had a very productive week at the office, and completed a bunch of chores around the house while still managing to blog up a storm.

Naturally, this was the perfect time for my fibromyalgia, which had been dormant for YEARS, to make a surprise return and leave me in constant physical pain.

Fibromyalgia, for those of you unfamiliar with the syndrome, is what they now call muscular rheumatism, which I personally think is a much better name for the wretched condition. For that matter, most of the old names for disease are better. Nobody's going to think twice if they're told they have "Hansen's disease," but tell 'em they have leprosy, and they'll sit up straight at hearing that. Similarly, tuberculosis is inferior to consumption, pertussis is inferior to whooping cough, and so on. But I digress.

The good news here is that the pain is so far tolerable. In some, the syndrome can result in excruciating and disabling pain, but for me it is neither. However, I do feel as if I just got in a car accident the day before, as my entire body just aches. My shoulders ache; my legs ache; my ankles and feet ache; and my hands really ache. That last part is the most annoying thing about this. Dammit, I type with these hands, and it's no fun typing when my wrists and fingers are constantly aching.

At this point, I feel about all I can do is take bunches of over-the-counter pain relievers to help mitigate the situation, and take rational steps to address the underlying causes of the pain. This basically means that I need to sleep more, eat right and generally relax. So blogging will be a little lighter over the next few days as I try to get my body back in the swing of things. However, as I've worked hard to get back into the swing of things with my blogging, and my readership numbers have gone up as a result, I still plan to keep at it. I've beat a lot of things in my day and I'm sure as hell not letting this lay me up.

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

August 22, 2007

My Kingdom for a Working Comments System

AS LOYAL RANT READERS KNOW -- all too well, I am afraid -- The Rant's technological capabilities are a bit limited. Let us compare The Rant to a car and you'll see what I mean. The engine might run flawlessly, and its horses might plow through any and all obstacles placed before it, but there's no denying the body is a little rusted, and has chipped paint, and a huge scratch some wretched little hellion dug into the side of it with his skate key.

Perhaps the most obvious outward sign of wear and tear is The Rant's comment system. Like a smashed passenger-side mirror, it is not essential to the machine's overall operation, but it leaves people who see it wondering why the hell the owner doesn't get it fixed.

My friends, I can assure you I have no idea how to fix it; the programming skills required to do so are far beyond me. But its present state is not my fault. The comment spammers -- God damn them! -- forced my hosting provider to impose some strange technical requirements that would supposedly allow me to have comments whilst keeping the spammers at bay. But I can't figure them out and so I must go without.

This state of affairs has not gone unnoticed. Loyal Rant Reader Matt (REDACTED) recently wrote me an e-mail to complain about the situation. By the way, Mr (REDACTED) has an interesting blog of his own -- for instance, you know that guy who rants about free money* on late-night infomercials? No, not Jim Cramer -- this guy. Anyway, it turns out That Guy Who Screams About the Free Money has had some Strange Cosmic Role in Mr (REDACTED's) long-running relationship with his girlfriend.

But anyway. As I was saying, Mr (REDACTED) recently wrote me an e-mail to complain about the lack of comments on The Rant. He writes:

----------------

FROM: Matthew (REDACTED)
TO: Ben Kepple
RE: The techonological disgrace that continues to be your Web site

Ben, if you are going to continue to put a "comments" link on your
blog entry - every blog entry - then you have a legal obligation to
make sure that that comments link works! I am sick and tired of not
being able to leave a witty comment on your latest witty post!

Your loyal reader,

Matt

------------

Well, Matt, if you have any ideas as to how to reprogram my Movable Type comments scripts to make the comments work again, I'd love to hear them -- because I'll need step-by-step directions. I would, however, take issue with your statement that I have a "legal obligation" to provide comments.

I have consulted with my legal team and they have assured me that, although my continued failure to fix them could be considered "arbitrary and capricious" in certain jurisdictions, I can't be held liable for this state of affairs, except in southern Illinois. And under The Rant's articles of incorporation, I don't have to take Illlinois seriously until they beat Michigan in football. So until the Fighting Zooks measure up, I think I'm safe.

While I certainly think getting the comments working again would be a net good for the site, I have to admit that I have found minor advantages in not having them. These advantages are spelled out in a naughty and profane educational video from collegehumor.com, viz. and to wit:

So, in summary, if I can restore the comments, I will -- even if there might be something to the relative peace and quiet of a comments-free blog.

------------------
* Oh, and last time I checked, "free money" is only "free" when it is voluntarily lent out at zero percent interest. This would seem to preclude the idea that money is "free" when the Government redistributes it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 19, 2007

A Note of Thanks

WHILE I'M CERTAINLY GLAD to be back and blogging again, I should note that a technical snafu nearly prevented all this swell blogging from taking place tonight. The log-in script somehow got fouled up and I couldn't sign into my blog, even though all my files were still there. I reacted like any blogger would do in such a situation -- I completely panicked and called Dean Esmay, my technical guru and all-around good guy -- to get his take on the situation.

Dean graciously took time out of his Sunday night to assist me through the process. This despite the fact that it was a) Sunday night, b) he is recovering from breaking two ribs, c) it was something that was easily solved with a note to the technical assistance people at my hosting service and d) I am a notorious technofeeb. So on behalf of everyone here at The Rant, I'd like to thank Dean for his gracious help and understanding. It was greatly appreciated.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

And Just What Trickery is This?

FULLY 94 PERCENT OF AMERICANS are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with how things are going in their lives, according to a recent edition of The Harris Poll, while 92 percent of Americans believe their own lives will stay about the same or get even better in the next five years.

The poll also found that young people and people in my age bracket were even happier and more optimistic about their lives and the future than the population at large. As one might expect, I found these results surprising to say the least. Actually, to be perfectly blunt, I was stunned to hear about them.

Utterly gobsmacked. Completely dumbfounded. Totally amazed.

I mean, I don't know about you, but I only know a few people who are very satisfied with how things are going in their lives, and not all that many who are somewhat satisfied. Certainly I'm not, and I think I have a pretty good existence compared to most people. I mean, if I really wanted to dwell on things, I think I could come up with a good list of things I'm not happy about, even though my doing so would be unmanly and tiresome. (I wouldn't say I'm really unsatisfied with how things are going, but I'm kind of in this middle ground where I'm annoyed and alienated and full of vinegar and in a bad mood a lot. This makes for good blogging, so let's not upset the apple cart too much).

And I'm not the only one either. I mean, I think most people I know are feeling kind of blahed out right now for whatever reason(s) and are vaguely hoping or looking for improved circumstances, but they're certainly not expecting them to come down the pike anytime soon.

But a big reason I don't understand these results is that they come from The Harris Poll, which is conducted by one of America's best and most well-respected polling outfits. Normally, the company's data are beyond reproach, its methodologies are sound, and its questions are so thought-provoking and lively that no one would ever think to question their results.

We know this because The Harris Poll from Sept. 26 proved conclusively that the Pittsburgh Steelers are America's favorite football team. Fully one out of six football fans root for the black-and-gold, a ratio I would note beats out those of the goddamned Dallas Cowboys and the wretched Indianapolis Colts. The poll also found only four percent of the American football public are fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and even fewer like the Baltimore Ravens.

Sure, I know what you're thinking: "But how could it be otherwise?" Well, I agree this poll wasn't really necessary, as everyone knows the Pittsburgh Steelers are America's Team and the Baltimore Ravens are evil. But the fact the poll results squared so well with the reality on the ground speaks volumes about the polling company's inherent soundness, professionalism and commitment to the truth.

This was again shown in a separate Harris Poll on Jan. 9 that found football was America's most popular sport. Fully 42 percent of Americans selected professional or college football as their No. 1 Sport, while baseball was the favorite sport of just 14 percent of Americans. Professional or college basketball ranked third with a combined 12 percent, while auto racing was America's No. 4 Sport. (Hockey was tied for fifth, along with men's golf). The poll also found football fans were better educated, made more money, and were generally much more fun to be around than fans of other sports. (Despite what I wrote above, I am fun to be around during football games).

So I'm faced with the disturbing dilemma that faces all non-believers. For, as Graham Greene might have put it, could what these men say possibly be true? Could it be possible that nearly everyone in America is happy and I am but an outlier on the graph, stewing in relative solitude along with the few other angry and embittered souls out there? My God, what a disturbing circumstance that would turn out to be.

But until I can be convinced otherwise, I must believe that some sort of inadvertent error -- perhaps some results were counted twice, or Harris did its polling at Disneyland -- contributed to these wacky and strange findings. For although Tertullian's old maxim is ringing in my mind -- it is certain because it is impossible -- I just have to think there's a perfectly rational explanation for all of this. And once I figure out what that is, I'll be able to enjoy some peace of mind. Ahhhh, peace of mind ...

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

August 15, 2007

A Victory So Sweet

SIXTY TWO YEARS AGO today, the Allied Powers, led by the United States, threw down the cruel Empire of Japan, putting an end to that nation's decades-long reign of terror over much of eastern Asia. It took nearly four years and cost untold lives and required incredible sacrifice, but we did it.

I was pleased to learn today that Rhode Island -- who knew? -- actually had a state holiday commemorating the day when Japan finally surrendered, but less pleased to learn some in the Ocean State would rather not celebrate it at all. Opponents argue that Japan later became an ally of the United States and surely it is time to bury the hatchet. Besides, they argue there's no holiday for beating the Nazis, something we accomplished a few months earlier.

There is no denying that Japan -- like Germany -- has markedly changed for the better over the past several decades, and there is something to be said for not burdening sons with the sins of their fathers. But unlike Germany, which has wholeheartedly repudiated its Nazi past, Japan has not fully apologized for the crimes it committed during the war. (Here's a list of the major atrocities -- you won't find a dull sentence in it). Until the Japanese can muster the courage to fully put their wartime atrocities behind them, and make full apologies to the people who deserve them, Americans should continue to politely remind Japan that these things happened, and that there are some accounts which still need settled.

(Photo credit: U.S. Navy, from the surrender ceremony of Sept. 2, 1945)

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August 01, 2007

The Culling of the Books, Part II

Of the pleasant and mighty inquisition held by the journalist and the writer on the library of our imaginative correspondent, Benjamin Kepple ....

THE WRITER, holding up a volume: Behold the beauty of the literary franchise, for it brings great wealth to writers near and far, and lets them pay their kids' college tuitions! Truly this book, "Foundation's Fear," with its blatant attempts to capitalize on a masterwork, should be kept among the elect!

THE JOURNALIST: It's worth 25 cents.

THE WRITER: Vile cur! Surely even you cannot dispute the beauty of this fine work that only seeks to continue the wonderful stories of Isaac Asimov. Why, you can see right here it is authorized by the estate and that alone suggests it is worth keeping.

THE JOURNALIST: I can't believe this cost $7.50. What was he thinking when he paid $7.50 for this?

THE WRITER: Fool! How you can dispute the thoughts of our master, for whom money was no object when given the chance to buy books? Why, clearly his devotion was on par with Kung I-chi, except he held to basic principles like "fair exchange" and "property rights."

THE JOURNALIST: Out it goes!

THE WRITER: Fair enough. What's next?

THE JOURNALIST: "Freehold," by Michael Z. Williamson. Oh, yes, I remember this one. It looked like a good adventure story at first but ended up being this politically-minded screed where the United Nations got control of Earth --

THE WRITER: No!

THE JOURNALIST: -- and then went and attacked a peaceful society that was kinda set up -- well, imagine if Ron Paul was President. IN SPACE.

THE WRITER: But that doesn't make any sense. I mean, the United Nations can't even police Haiti, much less manage to create a giant superstate. And even if they did, why would they attack the one place in the galaxy where they would have put all the money they ... uh, received as gifts? Yeah. Gifts. And consulting fees. I mean, a place like that is going to have bank secrecy laws like you wouldn't believe.

THE JOURNALIST: Yeah, I'm the High Commissioner of Graft and Unpaid Parking Tickets, reporting for duty! Well, that'll make a good one for the library to sell. OK, what's next?

THE WRITER: Hey, wait a minute! You know politics is off limits. Why are you mentioning Ron Paul here? Is this some kind of trick to get your page rankings up, like all those other bloggers have been openly and blatantly doing, even to the point of writing joke posts about it?

THE JOURNALIST: No.

THE WRITER: Oh, well, that's all right then. Let's see what's next -- ah, "Invasion" by Eric Harry. Oh, this one clearly got picked up in LAX. It's anti-Communist like James Clavell was anti-Communist, except Clavell was clever and witty and saved his disgust for the Russians.

THE JOURNALIST: I like Clavell but he depicts all the reporters in his books ... accurately. Um. Never mind. Let's move on.

THE WRITER: OK, John le Carre's "The Honourable Schoolboy." Uh, this was published in October 1978. How exactly did he get a hold of this?

THE JOURNALIST: He probably got it from his father, who was clearing out his OWN books at the time and is much better at clearing stuff out than his son.

THE WRITER: Wow! Isn't that ironic?

THE JOURNALIST: Actually, in this case, it kind of is. Plus, I don't think Mr Kepple would mind if this went out. So out it goes! Hey, look here -- "Gotti: Rise and Fall" from Capeci and Mustain.

THE WRITER: I wonder if they ever updated the book with all the stuff about the family's reality show. Boy, and here the Mob thought RICO was bad for their recruiting prospects.

THE JOURNALIST: Heh heh heh. Oh, here's a short story anthology -- "Armageddon." Short science-fiction stories about the end of the world. Not on Amazon for some reason, but computers aren't perfect.

THE WRITER: Oh! This was the one where one of the stories had the end of the world taking place in Delmont, Pa. Now that was a weird coincidence, wasn't it?

THE JOURNALIST: Yeah. I mean, talk about unexpected. I mean, you would normally think that Delmont wouldn't realize the world had ended until folks couldn't get the Steelers on television. It's a nice place, but it only has -- what -- 2,000 people or so?

THE WRITER: Something like that. Boy, I'm beat. Let's just send out the rest in this box along with the ones we've already looked at.

THE JOURNALIST: Sounds like a plan. Well ... let's see. At 10 paperbacks to a column and four columns to the box ... hey, that makes like 40 paperbacks we've managed to purge. And they said it couldn't be done! Amazing!

(with deep and sincere apologies to the late Miguel de Cervantes)

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July 12, 2007

The Stupidest Idea in Years

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

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

---------

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

---------

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

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

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

(via Meg McArdle)

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July 10, 2007

Sometimes, A Picture Says a Thousand Words ...

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

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

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The Jefferson City of Presidents

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

(via D. M. Darlington)

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July 07, 2007

The Location of This Should Surprise No One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 28, 2007

Well, Somebody's Really in Trouble Now

SO I WAS WATCHING the Copa America soccer tourney tonight and I fell asleep in the midst of the game between Colombia and Paraguay. It started out great for the Paraguayans, who quickly established a 2-0 lead, and somewhere along the line I drifted off. Then, I awoke to a shout of "GOOOOOOOOOOOOL!" from the television and woke up to discover it was the 80th minute and lo! Paraguay had scored again.

The amazing thing was that Paraguay went on and scored two additional goals in the next eight minutes, which put the final score at 5-0. I can assure readers this was not just a defeat for Colombia, but rather a humiliating project beating of a game in which New Granada was humbled before all the other nations of South America. I mean, Christ, who would have expected Paraguay -- Paraguay, for God's sake -- to not only beat Colombia, but do so in such a stellar fashion?

Well, I certainly didn't. This is based on Kepple's Theory of International Soccer Matches, in which the projected winner of a given match between two nations is calculated based on the value of its currency unit vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar. To work, the theory requires that both nations are outside what used to be called the First World, primarily because the U.S. stinks at soccer, England always manages to screw up and lose, Europe has the euro, and over the decades inflation has crushed the Japanese yen and South Korean won. But for developing and newly-industrialized nations, this scheme actually isn't all bad, as you can see from this clever example:

For the record, the Brazilian real is worth about 50 U.S. cents and the Argentine peso is worth about 33 U.S. cents, which I would suggest bolsters the credibility of my theory significantly.

Anyway, as one might imagine, I was shocked to see Colombia go down to such an ignomious defeat at the hands of the Paraguayans. Besides, look what happened the last time Colombia really screwed up in a game. While one would hope that no one would receive a permanent red card as a result of tonight's game, there's no denying a lot of people are undoubtedly rather upset about Colombia's performance. Let's just hope that if heads roll as a result, they'll only roll figuratively.

Speaking of ass-kickings, could someone kindly explain how the U.S. team managed to give up four goals against Argentina? I mean, I can understand losing the game, because Argentina clearly outplayed the U.S. squad from the moment the game began. But we just fell apart at the end of the game and turned what should have been a 2-1 loss into a 4-1 loss. If there's any consolation to this, we get to play Colombia on July 5.

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June 17, 2007

Are You Ready, Weaver?

OK, SO LAST NIGHT I went out and saw the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Manchester's very own AA baseball team, play against the Erie Somethings-or-Other. I never did find out what Erie's nickname was, but it was Erie. For someone with Pennsylvanian roots, that's kind of all you needed to know.

Anyway, we won 5-1 after a killer 8th inning, but that's not really why I'm writing. Oh, no. The real reason I'm writing about the game is because it reached a new high (or low) in terms of meeting Kepple's Minor League Sports Promotion Yardstick, in which various in-game promotions are compared to the fake television shows in "UHF," Weird Al Yankovic's comedic masterpiece from 1989. The Yardstick's Gold Standard is none other than the infamous "Wheel of Fish" segment, viz.:

So you can imagine my shock when, during the first inning's intermission, some poor teenager was dragged out onto the field to play -- wait for it -- "Wheel of Groceries." Friends, I shit you not. There was a wheel, and they spun it, and said teenager won one of those pound-sized plastic containers filled with cookies. Yes, cookies. At this point, I was expecting Hiro-san to walk down the aisle of Section 101 carrying a box -- but instead, that was the end of the promotion, which I think all can agree was incredibly lame.

Switching gears, I may as well recap recent developments for the Manchester Wolves, Manchester's very own minor-league arena football team for which I have season tickets. I haven't blogged about this lately, due to scheduling reasons, but the long and short of it is that we're now 5-6. We won our last home game against Albany 47-35, but got beaten like a drum in last night's game against Florida. It was so bad that we got shut out in the second half. That's bad enough for regular football, but it's a special type of low for arena football.

Speaking of arenaball, I had the good fortune on my recent vacation to take in a big-league Arena Football League game. It was perhaps the best arenaball game I've ever seen. The Grand Rapids Rampage (Mich.) scored a last-second field goal to beat the Colorado Crush, 58-56. Not only was the game exciting the whole way through -- several kickoffs off the crossbar, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and so on -- I had a fourth-row seat and it was right at mid-field.

The quality of play in the AFL is noticeably better than in the af2, the development league in which the Wolves play. There were virtually no dropped passes, the kickers were more on-target and the players were more in tune with their routes and coverage. However, in terms of the experience of attending a game, the af2 is able to hang in with the teams in the senior league. Perhaps the best example of this may be found in comparing mascots.

As it happens, both Grand Rapids and Manchester have mascots named "Blitz." But as you can see, Manchester's Blitz is notably more friendly and pleasant than Grand Rapids' Blitz, a sadistic and demented-looking rhinoceros who looks as if he suffered a traumatic brain injury:

Plus, Manchester's dance team is better-looking and more accomplished than Grand Rapids' dance team, even though Grand Rapids' dancing squad wears naughtier outfits. (What's that? Yes, I know I should feel guilty for blogging that on a Sunday morning. I don't care).

However, Grand Rapids' involvement in the AFL does give it more resources. At the Rampage's next home game, according to the stadium announcer, the team was going to give away a new Ford Fusion sedan to one lucky fan. Now that's a promotion. Interestingly, that didn't have too much of an impact on the next game's attendance -- only about 5,000 fans showed up, compared to the 4,900 or so that were at the game I attended -- but I have to think that type of incentive would cause a lot of folks to show up if really marketed well. I mean, crikey, it's a new car.

One thing I wasn't too impressed with at the Rampage's game was the heavy use of indoor pyrotechnics at the beginning. As the home team took the field, each player was introduced with blasts of fire so fierce that I could feel the heat -- and I was more than 30 yards away! The home team crowd responded with plenty of cheers, but all I could think about was The Station nightclub fire and where exactly the nearest exits were. Perhaps my reaction was due to me living in New England, but I've long had the mindset that fire's not something to screw around with, even if controlled.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 14, 2007

Seen But Not Heard

WRITING IN The Telegraph of London, Janine di Giovanni has penned a sharp essay on the peculiar way in which the French raise their children -- it is, one learns, rather heavy on the rod -- and how this rather despotic parenting surprisingly pays off in the form of well-mannered children. The result, Mrs di Giovanni writes, is that French children are far more agreeable than their English and especially American counterparts, the latter group being spoiled and rotten.

While one is loathe to embrace the crueler aspects of French parenting Mrs di Giovanni recounts, I do think there's something to be said for the old adage that in public company, children are to be seen but not heard. This is made especially clear when Mrs di Giovanni recounts how a dinner party she threw was ruined when two of her guests brought along their wretched nine-year-old son, who had manners almost as appalling as his parents. Bringing a child to a dinner party uninvited -- there surely must be a special place in hell for such people! (And indeed there is! 8th circle, ninth chasm: instigators of scandal and schism).

As one might expect with such an essay, the general wretchedness of American children is accepted as if one were to state the sky is blue. I would note, however, that I myself have known several children who act contrary to that stereotype, and would like to reassure Mrs di Giovanni that proper manners are still instilled among some minors in the Colossus.

For instance, when I recently visited some dear friends of mine in California, we attended Mass at their local parish. I was stunned to see that, although their children were still but toddlers, the kids behaved impeccably throughout the entire service. They were attentive, respectful, and did not raise so much as a peep during the entire service, which lasted more than an hour.

As readers might imagine, I was -- to use the English phrase -- utterly gobsmacked at this turn of events. After all, think of all the adults who don't even try to conceal their rush to get out of Mass after receiving Communion. Plus, religion, being an adult matter at its core, can often prove incredibly dull to children. So I inquired of my friends how exactly they got their children, particularly the younger one, to behave so well. As it turned out, the boy's father had noticed that his son had been a bit restless during Sunday Mass. So he took him to morning Mass every single day until his son was trained to attend service quietly and respectfully.

There's something to be said for such discipline. Looking back on my own life, I like to think -- like to think -- that I was a reasonably well-behaved boy growing up, and I don't recall any instances where I was severely punished for misbehaving. But I do know this -- the two times when I did embarrass my parents out in public, justice was swift, relentless, and comparatively harsh. Mr and Mrs Kepple were willing to forgive minor offenses, and even quietly support me on those occasions when the stupid and clumsy hand of grade-school discipline was unfairly applied. But if I committed the ultimate sin of causing them embarrassment, I was -- to use the technical phrase -- shit out of luck. (Lesson learned: do NOT talk back to your piano teacher, because you'll be grounded for what, to a sixth-grader, seems like forever).

I can assure readers, though, that Mr and Mrs Kepple Most Certainly Did Not take me along to adult dinner parties, and on the few occasions when they entertained at home, I was generally confined to my quarters upstairs, except for that one time when I was assigned the task of operating the VCR.

I daresay that, if (when? if?) I do have children of my own, I shall endeavor to instill the same sense of discipline in them. Children, after all, are children. There are yet still places in this world where they do not belong and myriad matters about which their ears ought not hear. Plus, even in this day and age, they must still learn proper manners; it will serve them well down the road. Far better for them to learn about the adult world as time goes on than to be thrust out upon a stage where they are neither welcome nor ready.

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June 13, 2007

Isn't She Lovely? Isn't She Wonderful?

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Edition of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!

An occasional Rant feature

AH, SUMMER. A time for romance, a time for lovers, and a time for people who really don't have a goddamn clue to perform silly searches on the Internet. Most of these people, one suspects, are men -- men lost in the wilderness of the modern American dating scene, men stumbling and fumbling for the right thing to say, men who truly and desperately want to believe that their woman truly wants and needs a set of power tools for her birthday.

Unfortunately, they've turned to The Rant for advice, which we shall designate Mistake Number One. After all, I am not exactly Casanova, and my views on these types of things are so traditional that I am useless as a dispenser of advice in this modern age. However, I am feeling a bit wistful tonight about an old relationship (it's my own damn fault) and I'm listening to Stevie Wonder, so I'm feeling -- rather rare for me -- a bit romantic tonight. Thus, I'll endeavor to impart what wisdom I can to my questioners -- the wretched, pathetic downtrodden souls who seem even more incompetent in this field than I am. Should be fun!

QUERY: my milkshake brings all the boys...what is a milkshake

ANSWER: Son, The Rant is intended for readers over 21 years of age. When you attain majority, and are able to do cool things like rent a car and buy stock, kindly return then. In the meantime, you could ask your father about this.

QUERY: i had a romantic birthday dinner

ANSWER: I spent my birthday drinking tequila. This was also fun, although I think I've had preferred the romantic birthday dinner bit, as the romantic dinner undoubtedly included, um, dessert.

QUERY: if you take the red pill pickup line ...

ANSWER: ... the girl you're trying to ask out will spend the rest of the night ignoring you. If you pursue the matter, she will give you a fake name, and eventually give you a number that, upon your call the next day, will connect you with a bad Chinese restaurant. Mentioning a "pill" in a pick-up line, you see, will undoubtedly send a signal that you're planning to slip her a Mickey Finn.

QUERY: you ll discover soon enough that karma is a bitch

ANSWER: No, I won't. Behold -- I stand like Capaneus against karma and all its works! Neither fate nor joss nor Murphy's Law will derail me from my position. (The Franchise Tax Board, maybe. Damn you, Sacramento! Damn you to hell!).

QUERY: cute people doing nothing

ANSWER: Well, I guess that sums up this fall's television lineup! Looks like I'll be watching football yet again.

QUERY: attraction of subordinate women for overachieving men

ANSWER: I can only assume this state of affairs results from the early days of evolutionary biology, when it made sense. If one assumes that women are looking for stable and successful mates who will do well in terms of providing for them and their offspring, then it stands to reason that overachieving men will have an advantage over their competition. However, I would argue the Overachievement Factor is often outweighed by more recently-developed considerations, such as the Boy, This Guy's Really a Douchebag Factor.

QUERY: usa dating relating to eharmony

ANSWER: I am skeptical of the whole "eharmony" business, primarily because I can't believe that any dating site with such annoying commercials can really be all that splendiferous.

QUERY: dating bullshit from women

ANSWER: Yeah, women can be so difficult, what with all that, "When are you going to get a job? When are you going to clean the garage? When are you going to get off your broke ass and do something with yourself?" stuff they've been sending your direction. Now get back to work!

QUERY: men who cut women down

ANSWER: This has ALWAYS aggravated me to no end, if only because it is so cruel and churlish and wretched. A real man does not cut down his woman. This is because a real man possesses minor character traits such as "self-confidence" and "ambition" and "a healthy sense of perspective." A real man does not cut down his wife or his girlfriend if he is annoyed. Instead, he does the traditional, tried-and-true thing: he works harder.

QUERY: warning signs of a unhealthy relationship when your mate doesn t accept your children

ANSWER: Well, that's a warning sign right there, isn't it? Maybe counseling would work.

QUERY: what keynes mean by in the long run we are all dead

ANSWER: (Sigh). Well, it's a bit self-explanatory, isn't it? Of course, it also refers to Keynes' argument for state intervention in the economy and the use of short-term stimuli to artificially boost an economy as opposed to long-term measures which may take too long to satisfactorily resolve a present problem.

QUERY: ex wife revenge stolen pension

ANSWER: A QDRO is not prima facie evidence of revenge, but rather an indication of your ex-spouse's contributions to family life when you were married. As such, she gets a cut of your pension. Deal with it.

QUERY: is the girl all the bad guys want qed

ANSWER: Yes.

QUERY: per the maryland state law does an engagement ring need to be returned if the engagement is broken

ANSWER: Never mind the law, it's just proper decency to give back the ring if an engagement is broken. Keeping the ring is gauche, honorless, and wretched. It is also a sign the one-time groom may have really dodged a bullet, but that's small consolation when a man is out several thousand bucks.

QUERY: why do guys disappear and reappear?

ANSWER: As Woody Allen put it, "We need the eggs."

QUERY: the answer is yes but what i mean is no. what was the question?

ANSWER: Do you like this pastel blue leisure suit I'm going to wear to the Johnsons' dinner party, dear?

QUERY: i m going to tell you a secret madonna location

ANSWER: Oh, please don't. She bores me.

QUERY: i don t want to be your valentine

ANSWER: Well, you wouldn't be the first. But se la vie.

QUERY: stesichorus homer

ANSWER: Ah, Stesichorus! A pity more of his work hasn't survived. But you've got to love a guy who, more than two thousand years ago, wrote angry and cynical poems like this:

The story is not true.
You never sailed in the benched ships.
You never went to Troy.

QUERY: its called love sweet love its the only thing that theres just to little of

ANSWER: Well, that all depends on your point of view, doesn't it? If you ask me, there are plenty of other things of which there are too little, such as "refining capacity" and "ready cash" and "those canteen trucks with a skilled cooking staff who serve cheap Mexican food."

QUERY: men hardwired to not do the dishes

ANSWER: That's what we want you to believe.

QUERY: cleveland browns

ANSWER: Being a fan of this team definitely involves true love. Given the way they play, how could it not?

QUERY: women love assholes

ANSWER: This statement should be rendered, "Women don't love men with inferiority complexes and enough issues to clog the Hoover Dam." Get over it already.

QUERY: lauriol plaza vegetable fajita recipe

ANSWER: Aphrodisiac.

QUERY: song love sweet love is the answer in a world that is greedy

ANSWER: Actually, the answer in a world that is greedy would really be "speculation on the Hang Seng Index."

QUERY: bitter poem

ANSWER:

Oh! The Spurs rolled on
to win against The LeBrons;
could the brooms be next?

How sad for Cleveland
suffering in its malaise;
could they win just one?

QUERY: why so many celebrities are dangerously thin?

ANSWER: They're not like normal people. No, really, they're not like normal people -- they're manufactured in a Van Nuys warehouse and programmed to only take in calories through drink and narcotics. At least, that's how I figure it.

QUERY: what does the term cherry vanilla mean?

ANSWER: "Cherry vanilla" is a marketing term which means, "The marketing people decided they had to screw up a soda which already had a distinctive flavor of its own, and instead of focusing on the core competentcy of their brand, throw out something entirely new for no apparent reason."

QUERY: kate winslet weighs

ANSWER: One hundred-and-I-don't-care. Oh, God! Kate Winslet.

QUERY: engagement ring two months salary reasonable

ANSWER: As I understand it from knowledgeable sources, the standard these days for an engagement ring is a one carat diamond; less is seen as cheap and more is seen as gaudy. Still, I don't think you could go wrong if you spent two months' salary, provided you held to that tenet. You could undoubtedly have a very nice ring designed.

QUERY: unlucky date

ANSWER: Having an unlucky date isn't as bad as one might think; after all, it means that unlucky happenstances will almost certainly overshadow your own mistakes.

QUERY: plan hippie wedding

ANSWER: You have so come to the wrong site.

QUERY: reasons to date a journalist

ANSWER: We're fun at house parties! Also, we know where the good bars are.

QUERY: she said shed like to score some reefer and a forty shell never know that im the best that shell never have

ANSWER: If you listen carefully you can hear the world's smallest violin playing JUST FOR YOU right now!

QUERY: casa carino weddings san miguel de allende

ANSWER: This is a great idea, particularly if you're not the one paying for it. After all, the place runs ten grand a week. But I've seen pictures and it definitely seems like a great place for a wedding.

QUERY: college students and young people tend to use the tu form

ANSWER: Yes, and it's appalling. Never, ever, ever use the tu form unless you're absolutely sure you may do so. About the only people I would use the tu form with are my brother and my close friends -- certainly not my parents and certainly not anyone I had just met.

QUERY: is beauty manufactured?

ANSWER: To the tune of billions upon billions of dollars each year, my friend.

QUERY: reduce man breasts

ANSWER: It's called the gym. You might want to consider this.

QUERY: statistic on money involved on plastic surgery on adolscents

ANSWER: Why any doctor would perform plastic surgery on an adolescent is beyond me. After all, they're adolescents. It stands to reason that they're not fully grown and as such the surgery carries far more risk than with an adult.

QUERY: call me later

ANSWER: I approve! You can call me in New Hampshire at HAmilton 530 ^#^@%^ -- ah, stupid keyboard!

QUERY: i hate peyton manning

ANSWER: You'll make an excellent spouse and parent someday.

QUERY: she tells him she must to go out for the evening he knows where shes going shes heading for the cheating side of town

ANSWER: I've written about this before, but I must again ask: what exactly defines the "cheating side of town?" Anyone? I mean, last time I checked, marital perfidy was not restricted to a particular social class or geographic area within a municipality.

QUERY: popular rappers seventies

ANSWER: Hotel! Motel! Hol-i-day Inn!

QUERY: women love brooding men

ANSWER: Uh, not in my experience. I mean, last time I checked the whole down-on-the-world, angry and embittered, suffering from terminal ennui bit didn't make for a fun date. My God, just imagine it:

WOMAN: Gee, this Thai place really looks good, don't you think?
MAN: Oh, what's the use! Everything is transitory and fleeting! And where's my goddamn vodka?

QUERY: puritan kill the spider

ANSWER: The proper and well-bred man must be prepared to kill the spider, even at three in the morning.

QUERY: do clothes make the man or woman

ANSWER: Not generally. If you're like me, the right woman looks sexy in anything she's wearing. But that said, it's important to look good if you're going out on a nice date.

QUERY: ways to impress a female friend

ANSWER: Oh, just be yourself. If she's your friend you don't have to go out of your way to be flashy and impressive.

QUERY: britney spears a good role model?

ANSWER: FOR THE LAST TIME, NO.

QUERY: why do men loosen their ties

ANSWER: Say, it's getting hot in here, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. Very hot indeed.

QUERY: what type of woman is a biker attracted to

ANSWER: How the hell should I know? Not only am I not a biker -- as if one couldn't tell -- I've never even ridden a motorcycle, machines which I consider dangerous and annoying. Trust me, when you're in a hospital intensive care unit, and the guy next to you has road rash and is screaming because asphalt has burned into his legs, this impression tends to stick.

QUERY: pecunia non olet means

ANSWER: "Money doesn't stink." Which it doesn't, even if the person with it happens to give off a foul stench.

QUERY: the moneychanger and his wife is located

ANSWER: I have no idea, but God! Quentin Metsys was a fabulous painter, wasn't he?

QUERY: bathing in custard

ANSWER: Barry and LeVon, where did you get two hundred and forty dollars?

QUERY: spendthrift engagement ring can t make girlfriend happy

ANSWER: Well, that's not a good thing, and it suggests your girlfriend has issues that run deeper than those related to the ring in question. I wish you the best of luck in dealing with those in your relationship.

QUERY: wedding registry and upper middle class

ANSWER: You'll want to choose places that put an emphasis on words like "premium" and "hand-crafted" and "imported from Europe." I suggest Pier One, Restoration Hardware, and Williams-Sonoma. Make sure you include all sorts of upper-middle-class items on the registry, too -- things like a bread machine and a special coffee maker and a cookery set doomed to infrequent use. After all, you want to send a message to your guests: that you're upper-middle-class and you've arrived, dammit. So don't ask for a functional cookery set -- ask for things like a clay tagine dish that will be used all of three times and later consigned to a moving box labeled "SUPPLIES" that stays forever in the basement.

Well, that's it for this edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered! Tune in next time when we deal with various Mysteries of Life, such as why it's apparently impossible to hire decent customer service help these days and why otherwise intelligent people keep buying gold in outrageous proportion to their overall portfolio. Until then, take it easy!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I WAS REALLY expecting the series to conclude with Tony waking up next to Bob Newhart."

-- commenter YL Hollander
"Solving the Sopranos"
The New York Times

UPDATE: Mr Hollander wasn't alone!

"I still think it will end with Tony waking up next to Susanne Pleshette. And then he goes into his real job, which is psychiatry."

-- James Lileks

Now that was a finale.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"What the Hell is an Aluminum Falcon?!"

VIA ROBOT CHICKEN -- here's what REALLY happened after the Rebels destroyed the Death Star in "Star Wars" ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2007

It's Sonic Good

WHITEVILLE, N.C., June 1 -- Well, for the first time, I was able to stop in at a Sonic drive-through restaurant on my trip through the South. I have to say I was impressed with the service, the food, and pretty much everything else about the place. For a fast-food restaurant, it wasn't bad. My only complaint is that I was alone when I ate there. It would have been a lot more fun if, say, Simon From Jersey had been along for the ride:

ME: It's so filling it's like a feast for breakfast. A break-feast!
SIMON FROM JERSEY: ...
ME: Yeah! A break-FEAST!

As it turns out, some of the commercials are on-line -- but for some reason one can't embed them in one's blog, which is weird. Plus, they don't have some of the best ones up, like the "break-feast" commercial. But still, here are several of them for your viewing pleasure.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

1942

MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER was issued this draft card on April 27, 1942, as part of the fourth wave of draft registrations during World War II. While he was not liable for military service -- that was restricted to those under 45 years of age -- the Government required all men aged between 18 and 65 to register for the draft.

These days, of course, there is no draft. In the unlikely event conscription would resume, only those men under the age of 27 would even be considered for military service. So one can deduce, therefore, that things were looking rather bleak in April of 1942 -- when Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were at the height of their cruel power. I do wonder whether people living during those dark days could have imagined that, just a couple of years later -- and 63 years ago today -- the Allies would launch the greatest military operation of all time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 05, 2007

Elvis Has Left the Building

MEMPHIS, Tenn., May 28 -- As Loyal Rant Readers know, The Last of the Petty Cash Tour ran through a good portion of the Southland, an area of the country which I had never before visited. As I had already made it to the Midwest on my trip, it only made sense the first stop of my southern leg would be Memphis -- home to blues music and Beale Street and most impressive of all, Graceland Mansion -- the one-time home of none other than Elvis! Presley. Well, Memphis also has this giant weird pyramid building down near the riverfront, and that was damned impressive too. But I wanted to visit Graceland for a few key reasons.

For one thing, I wanted to see who all these people were who made pilgrimages to Memphis, and thus made Graceland a huge tourist attraction. For another, I knew that Graceland had been largely preserved as it was in the mid-Seventies, when the King died on his Throne. As such, I knew Graceland could be a key link in my Grand Theory of Modern American Power, in which I argue the Seventies were a low point in modern American history, with the low point coming on July 12, 1979, the day of the Disco Sucks Riot at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Plus, to be honest, I didn't know all that much about Elvis!

You see, in my family, the life and music of Elvis! was entirely skipped over due to generational factors. I never heard my grandparents mention Elvis!, and my parents were fans of the Beatles and the Stones. As a result, Elvis! basically got no play in the Kepple household growing up. As a result, I've never understood the rapt fascination people have with the King -- even decades after his demise.

After visiting Graceland, I still don't get it.

Oh, sure, he was a great musician and entertainer, and he made an alarming number of really bad movies. But he was just a man after all. Not that I mentioned this to the German tourist in front of me in line, who was sporting a giant Elvis! tattoo on her arm and carrying a rose to lay on Elvis!'s grave. Nor did I say anything to any of the other Elvis! fans present, who flocked to Graceland in the hundreds on this cloudless, hot day. Many of these fans -- who, in the aggregate, made New Hampshire's demography seem like the United Nations in comparison -- seemed really quite into the King and undoubtedly better appreciated the whole Elvis! experience better than me.

Graceland, you see, is all about the Elvis! experience. Not only can one tour the mansion itself, one can also experience tours of Elvis!'s classic car collection, private airplanes, and myriad other exhibits. One can also experience the myriad gift stores and souveneir shops located in the Grand Graceland Tourist Bottling Complex. In this complex, one can also experience getting nickled and dimed at every turn.

But wait, you say. Surely, Kepple, you must have expected something like that would be de rigeur at Graceland, which is after all a tourist trap of epic proportions. And indeed I did. What really got my inner cynic going, though, was the fact that at the pseudo-Fifties eatery in the Grand Graceland Waiting Area/Tourist-Dollar-Harvesting Scheme, there was a sign proclaiming NO FREE REFILLS on the soda fountain. After paying $6 to park and $9.49 for a bacon cheeseburger meal that would have appalled even the most well-dispositioned elementary schooler, this just rubbed me the wrong way.

Thus, I resolved not to buy any of the overpriced souveneirs -- did $7.99 get a visitor one or two Elvis!-themed salt-and-pepper shakers? -- available at the Graceland plaza's gift stores. After all, I had already spent $45.49 -- the ticket itself was $30 -- and I hadn't even made it into the shuttle line for the Graceland tour.

Oh, the tour. Dear. God. In. Heaven.

I should preface my remarks by saying that words cannot do justice to a tour of Graceland and its grounds. Trust me on this. There are some things that must be seen to be believed. Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to do so as best I can.

First off, Graceland is a small mansion by modern standards, or even those of the late 19th century. It was originally built as a home for a well-to-do professional and it still has that feel even now. The entryway into the home might even be considered stately and elegant in this day and age, and had a well-designed feel about it. Once one steps inside, one can see the main living room and dining room of Graceland. These rooms were actually pretty nice. The decor was certainly dated, with a late-Fifties/early-Sixties feel to it, but if one scrapped some of the awful light fixtures and the more gaudy drapes, the rooms would arguably still work well today. That says something about the power of nice neutral tones, I think.

Then, there's the rest of the house.

One of the amazing things about the Graceland tour was that, generally speaking, each room in the house got progressively more hideous as one went on. Behold the horrible kitchen, with its awful dark paneling and grim above-the-waist oven. Behold the awful Seventies-era light fixtures and wretched carpeting. Behold Elvis!'s TV room, which was reportedly done up by a professional decorator in 1974. Bedecked in yellow and blue, the TV room had an atmosphere which reminded me of the multi-purpose rooms at the YMCA when I was growing up. The dated equipment also showed that no matter how cool technology may seem at the time, something far better will supplant it a matter of years.

Then, there was the pool room.

Good God.

At least that was my reaction upon entering this foul, campy, wretched testament to Seventies-era excess. Even the other tourists remarked on how gaudy the room was. It was -- well, let's describe it like this. Let's say you took seven or eight of those Wagner power painter things, filled them up with different colors of paint, set them into the middle of the room, and then contrived things so they exploded simultaneously. The result might approximate the appalling riot of color in the decorations. But it would only be a pale imitation of the King's pool room. For just as true genius inspires great works of art, staggering badness also has the hand of man behind it.

How I wish I could explain the impact that room had on me. After that, I kind of stumbled around in a daze, mumbling, through the rest of the tour. I mean, in the room itself, the decorating overpowered everything else in it -- including the pool table. The audio recording I had with me -- recorded in a cheerfully sedate Southern voice -- told me to focus on a corner of the pool table, where a trick shot gone bad had gouged a chunk out of the felt. "Pool table?" I thought to myself. "Where the hell's a pool table in this whole mess? Oh, there it is!"

As for the famed Jungle Room -- well, as it turns out, it's not an Animal House-style love den but rather a sort of especially hideous living room. Complete with shag carpeting on the floors. And on the ceilings. Pea green shag carpeting. Plus, there's a whole bunch of godawful animal-themed furniture that Elvis! apparently picked out himself. I'd have suggested the King use a professional decorator, but look how the TV Room turned out. My God.

Generally speaking, that's about all there is to the tour of the house. Oh, there's an office room and several other rooms one tours, but for the most part, the rest of the manse is given over to Elvis! hagiography. Look, kids! Here's Elvis!'s army uniform! Here's his gold records! Here's all the checks he wrote to charity! Here's a half-eaten BLT the King ate when he played at Saugatuck in 1963! OK, well, so I made that last one up. But you get the idea.

Sadly, one does not get to see any of the upstairs on the tour. Supposedly, this is out of respect for the King's family, although I have my suspicions about this stated reason. After all, they're fine with people charging at least $25 per head to see the rest of the house. After touring Graceland, I think they can't show the upstairs because the public health authorities warned the decorations would cause blindness and insanity among the general public.

For in another exhibit at Graceland, the grand bed which Elvis! slept in during the mid-Seventies is shown off for display. It's covered in some sort of awful beige fur, while inside its Clockwork Orange-type canopy are mirrors and a dated stereo system. While staring at this, it hit me where I thought I had seen something like this before -- inside the pages of James Lileks' Interior Descecrations.

There are some sleeping hound dogs, I suspect, which are better left to lie.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I'm the Guy with the Weird Voice

THERE'S NO BETTER WAY to reminisce about one's great vacation than by watching mildly embarrassing video footage of oneself. At least that's what I think, anyway. If you visit my friend Matt's site, you can see the full 27 minute video of our dinner at Lauriol Plaza, one of Washington's best Mexican restaurants. You can also see the 13 minute video of 2006's dinner at Lauriol Plaza, which was conducted along similar lines. The '06 dinner was the genesis for many of the jokes in this year's get-together.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2007

You Know, Because My Day Couldn't POSSIBLY Get Worse ...

... IT GOT WORSE. I went over to The Bleat tonight and saw James Lileks' description of his new job at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

-----------------

In short, it’s everything I’ve been looking for. All these worlds are mine, except Europa! There are union rules about that, I gather.

Hah! Just kidding.

That didn't happen.

As it happens, they've killed my column, and assigned me to write straight local news stories.

Really.

---------------

You know, I may just break out that bottle of Patron Anejo I've been saving. Well, no, that's for happy occasions, isn't it? Entonces, traigame alugno gin, por favor. !Que sabor amargo!

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

April 17, 2007

Hook, Then a Slice

SO ON MONDAY the Boston Red Sox stomped all over the Los Angeles Angels at Fenway Park, with the final score being 7-2. I must admit that as a football fan, such a victory is not something that would make me joyous and gleeful. Sure, I was glad to see the Sox win, of course, but not to the point where I would really care passionately about the victory.

However, this game was also the scene of an Infamous Sporting Incident, in which a fan attempting to catch a foul ball was assaulted with a slice of Fenway Park pizza. The Boston Herald has the full story, but what really made it memorable was the reaction from the broadcast booth.

This story becomes even better when one realizes, according to the Herald, that the pizza incident stemmed from smack-talking between the assailant and his victim. The victim had been harrassing the assailant over the pizza, and when the foul ball came down, the assailant snarled, "You want some pizza now?" as he let the slice fly.

Of course, as a Michigander, I can take pride knowing that nothing like this ever happens Back Home, where fans act with all the ... what's that? Yeah, but that was a long time ago.

Well, 2004 was a long time ago. I mean ... oh, all right. Here's the tape.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2007

Weather Report

When consciousness returned, after the darkening
Caused by my pity for the two kinsfolk
Which made me so sad that I was stunned

I saw then, all around me, fresh torments
And tormented spirits I had not seen before,
As I moved on, turning this way and that, and looking.

I was in the third circle, where it rains
Eternally, icily and implacably;
Weight and direction are invariable.

Great hailstones, muddy water, mixed with snow,
Fall through the darkened air without respite;
They rot the ground they fall on, and it stinks.

THESE ARE lines 1 through 12 of Canto VI in Dante's Inferno -- and a reasonable observation of how the weather was today here in Manchester, New Hampshire. Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 01, 2007

April Showers Bring May Vacation Plans

BOY, I LOVE APRIL. It's the first true month of spring, of course, and it brings with it so many wonderful things. For instance, April brings its attendant rush of allergen-induced sinus headaches, clogged nasal passages and general wheezing. If I seem out of it for the next six weeks or so, it's not my fault -- I've simply taken enough antihistamines to knock out a herd of cattle. But I can assure you this is far better than the alternative, in which I lumber zombie-like throughout the day and intermittently groan in agony.

Anyway, that's one reason I've been away from the blog as of late. But I've also been busy with other fun stuff, such as vacation planning. I'm taking a major road trip in May and as a result, I've been spending a good deal of my limited free time planning. One key component of the trip, aside from hitting my usual destinations such as New Jersey and Michigan, will be a swing down south.

I've never really been to the South*, so I figure I should go. There's a lot of history there and it's pretty country. Plus, as a dyed-in-the-wool Northerner, it probably would do me some good to spend a week down South. With the influence the South has on American life and culture, it makes sense for me to see the place and experience it at least a little.

Besides, I've never had decent barbecue. Ever. My Southern readers may be a bit puzzled at the idea one can go through 31 years in life without experiencing at least one honest-to-God great barbecue, but it's true. It's not like you can just get good barbecue up here -- that's as ridiculous as the idea of getting decent clam chowder in Tulsa, or getting good Maine lobster in Arkansas. It is fundamentally impossible.

So, as I said, I'm planning a trip down to Dixie, confident in the knowledge that I'll be welcomed with the traditional Southern hospitality we have so often heard about up north. That's because it will be obvious to everyone that I'm a bloody tourist. I mean, crikey. I can't even say "y'all" without it sounding forced, much less some folksy saying such as, "All y'all are dancin' on my last damn nerve with the Trace Adkins marathon." But despite that, I'm confident that I'll have a great time and plenty of memories to share in the months ahead.

---------------

* The Rant considers Florida an Eastern state -- at least those parts of Florida where I have traveled. However, I've had no desire to return to the Sunshine State since. For one thing, the place is awful humid. For another, any state with a town named "Yeehaw Junction" must have a few jokers to hide.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:18 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 24, 2007

Cricket, Schmicket

MY FELLOW AMERICANS, Shashi Tharoor thinks we have a problem. Simply put, we don't care much for cricket, a state of affairs which horrifies the United Nations' outgoing Undersecretary-General for Communications. As a result, Undersecretary Tharoor did what any UN chief flack would do -- he sent an op-ed to The New York Times, in which he condemned this state of affairs. Also, as he is an outgoing undersecretary, the man made plenty of nasty asides at the United States in his essay.

While Undersecretary Tharoor's unfortunate remarks about America have been condemned elsewhere, The Rant would take the high road in this instance.

As Loyal Rant Readers know, I am a great supporter of American football, the greatest sport in all of human history. Like Undersecretary Tharoor with cricket, I have tried to spread this football gospel to those who don't yet realize the beauty and majesty of the sport. Sometimes, this falls on deaf ears.

As amazing as it may seem to Americans, many foreigners want to stick with their own sports, like soccer. But the proper response is simply to allow them time to understand American football's sublime spirit, as well as those of its close variants, Canadian and arena football. They'll discover it eventually, because American football has so many great human qualities which transcend politics and nationality. When they do, they will become as passionate and devoted fans as any Midwesterner. We're already achieving some small measure of success in Germany and I am confident the rest of the world will eventually come 'round.

Sadly, Undersecretary Tharoor has given up on his mission and instead reverted to angrily bashing the nation which has hosted him for so many years. He writes:

In any event, nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld. They are rather like Indian classical music, in which the basic laws are laid down but the performer then improvises gloriously, unshackled by anything so mundane as a written score.

Cricket is better suited to a country like India, where a majority of the population still consults astrologers and believes in the capricious influence of the planets — so they can well appreciate a sport in which, even more than in baseball, an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss of the coin at the start of a match or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform the outcome of a game. Even the possibility that five tense, hotly contested, occasionally meandering days of cricketing could still end in a draw seems derived from ancient Indian philosophy, which accepts profoundly that in life the journey is as important as the destination. Not exactly the American Dream.

So here’s the message, America: don’t pay any attention to us, and we won’t pay any to you. If you wonder, over the coming weeks, why your Indian co-worker is stealing distracted glances at his computer screen every few minutes or why the South African in the next cubicle is taking frequent and furtive bathroom breaks during the working day, don’t even try to understand. You probably wouldn’t get it. You may as well learn to accept that there are some things too special for the rest of us to want to waste them on you.

Okay.

We love you too.

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

March 22, 2007

Basketball Haikus (Sweet Sixteen Version)

No. 1 Kansas 61, No. 4 S. Illinois 58

Oh, wretched Kansas
You live despite all efforts
to send you back home

You'll choke soon enough
for karma can't be denied,
and you will collapse

God knows the Bruins
would love to throw you down
to the hardwood floor

Your run will end soon
for if Bucknell could beat you
UCLA can.

No. 1 Ohio State 85, No. 4 Tennessee 84

Crikey, not again
Why won't Ohio State lose?
Does fate demand this?

Must Ohio pull
victories out of its ass
ev'ry single game?

I mean, they were down
twenty points against the Vols,
yet came back to win

Maybe we should blame
the wretched squad from Knoxville
that failed on TV

No. 2 UCLA 64, No. 3 Pittsburgh 55

We saw it coming
just like everyone else did;
UCLA won

Not much to say here;
Pitt got outplayed, as usual
but that's how it goes

No. 2 Memphis 65, No. 3 Texas A&M 64

Oh, those two free throws
put Memphis over the top
in the last seconds

How great were those shots
as they broke the Aggies' spirit
after a tough game

Now the real test comes
as they must face the Buckeyes
over the weekend;

Please, beat them soundly;
let the Buckeyes reap defeat;
let the clock strike twelve.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Basketball Haikus (Sweet Sixteen Version)

No. 1 Kansas 61, No. 4 S. Illinois 58

Oh, wretched Kansas
You live despite all efforts
to send you back home

You'll choke soon enough
for karma can't be denied,
and you will collapse

God knows the Bruins
would love to throw you down
to the hardwood floor

Your run will end soon
for if Bucknell could beat you
UCLA can.

No. 1 Ohio State 85, No. 4 Tennessee 84

Crikey, not again
Why won't Ohio State lose?
Does fate demand this?

Must Ohio pull
victories out of its ass
ev'ry single game?

I mean, they were down
twenty points against the Vols,
yet came back to win

Maybe we should blame
the wretched squad from Knoxville
that failed on TV

No. 2 UCLA 64, No. 3 Pittsburgh 55

We saw it coming
just like everyone else did;
UCLA won

Not much to say here;
Pitt got outplayed, as usual
but that's how it goes

No. 2 Memphis 65, No. 3 Texas A&M 64

Oh, those two free throws
put Memphis over the top
in the last seconds

How great were those shots
as they broke the Aggies' spirit
after a tough game

Now the real test comes
as they must face the Buckeyes
over the weekend;

Please, beat them soundly;
let the Buckeyes reap defeat;
let the clock strike twelve.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 16, 2007

Scots Wha Geall a Holiday

AH, ST. PATRICK'S DAY -- a day for Americans to celebrate their Irish heritage, enjoy Irish culture and cuisine, and have a drink or two even before the clock strikes noon. It is such a fun time, in fact, that even people without any Irish heritage join in the fun, and celebrate through wearing green, holding wild parties, and what not. Why, even I -- noted curmudgeon and raconteur that I am -- will celebrate with a beer or two around 11 a.m.

I must admit, though, that as someone with no Irish ancestry whatsoever, I don't get into the holiday nearly as much as other people. On one level, this is understandable: as I'm not Irish, I can't understand what the day means to those with that ancestry. But on another, it suggests that I'm looking for someway to celebrate my own ethnic heritage, which has always been a bit problematic.

After all, my ancestors made a point of leaving the generally Godforsaken places from whence they came, primarily because they knew that if they stayed, their descendants would have to deal with bad harvests and rampaging bureaucrats and panzertruppen. Even where it was nice, there was little in the way of jobs or opportunity. So that makes me a bit hesitant about openly celebrating my Continental heritage.

But I do think I've come up with a solution. As a Scot -- well, part Scots anyway -- I too can get into the celebratory spirit. I'll keep celebrating St. Patrick's Day, but I'll also celebrate St. Andrew's Day. St. Andrew's Day is the national day of Scotland, and as such it should be a big deal here in America. Yet practically no one celebrates it, and I don't understand why that's the case.

After all, St. Andrew's Day falls on Nov. 30. If you ask me, that's a perfect day for getting blitzed. I mean, it's Nov. 30. People are done with Thanksgiving, but it really doesn't feel like Christmas yet, and it's the end of November and it's gloomy and cold outside. If that's not enough reason to get out The Glenlivet, then nothing is. Plus, as Scots, there are plenty of ways we can celebrate our national heritage, with celebrations of national sports, cuisine and ...

READERS: Uh, dude, that's during Christmas. We're supposed to spend more money on --

Oh, quit. OK, I'm proclaiming this the first rule of St. Andrew's Day: the Bein' Thrifty with the Celebrations, even though that's a national Scottish pastime, will be restricted from between 7 a.m. until 8 a.m., or whenever one has one's first shot of whisky, whichever comes first.

Besides, many of the festivities on St. Andrew's Day will be free. Why, just think how much free fun a Scot can have during an extended session of Rooting Against the English. Och, the English, with their caste system and arrogance and drunken braggadocio. Damn their soccer players and their unionism and their seizin' of the North Sea oil, which as everyone knows is rightfully Scotland's and Scotland's alone.

So the second integral part of St. Andrew's Day will be the Rooting Against the English, whether that means hoping all their soccer teams lose or actively supporting the Scottish National Party. The Rant would, however, encourage this rooting to be all in good fun, as all the Trident missiles are in England.

There will be plenty of good fun on St. Andrew's Day, especially when the people indulge in the Drinking Before Noontime. While revelers probably ought wait until after noon to commence seriously heavy drinking, folks should break out the good whisky as soon as they feel ready, and continue imbibing. Alternatively, one could drink plenty of India Pale Ale throughout the day, although the Morning Celebratory Whiskey and the Wee Nightcap would almost certainly be mandatory.

I'm sure there are plenty of other things Scots in America and elsewhere could do for St. Andrew's Day, such as playing the bagpipes, golfing, and eating bagels and lox for breakfast. But here in New Hampshire, another ritual of St. Andrew's Day -- and this St. Patrick's Day -- is going out to Clean Off the Car so the Landlord Can Plow the Parking Lot. This post, however, should get everyone thinking ahead for the big day in November.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Basketball Haikus

No. 11 VCU 79, No. 6 Duke 77.

One point eight seconds
made all the difference for
the VCU Rams

How wonderful was
that last jump shot near the paint
which sealed Duke's defeat

For the nation cheered
as ignoble Duke sank down
to obscurity

And through the Southland,
there rose a great, mocking cry:
"Go back to Jersey!"

No. 7 Boston College 84, No. 10 Texas Tech 75

Oh, Boston College
you have done a great service
for basketball fans

Now, you see, we can
ignore Bob Knight's existence
until next time 'round

General principle
demands the wretch suffer for
his silly antics

We're glad you lost, Coach;
now sink back into the muck,
you son of a bitch.

No. 5 Butler 57, No. 12 Old Dominion 46

"Old Dominion" sounds
like a bad aftershave brand
for sale on the cheap

Like bad aftershave,
Old Dominion started strong,
but couldn't hold out

Oh, they seemed so close
to knocking off a five-seed
per long tradition

But the second half
soon showed they were no match for
commonplace Butler.

No. 7 Indiana 70, No. 10 Gonzaga 57

Alas, Gonzaga!
How bright your future once seemed,
how lofty your dreams

They now lie ruined
before proud Indiana
which surged to glory

You were not the same
squad as you were this last year,
when Morrison played;

Do better next time,
for Michigan makes me weep
in the NIT.

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March 11, 2007

Madness in March (or, Go, Gonzaga, Go!)

AS A FOOTBALL FAN above all else, I must admit I don’t share the passion for college basketball which energizes so many of my fellow sports fans. Basketball has always struck me as a second-tier sport, on par with ice hockey and auto racing, and a sport one generally watches because there’s no football or baseball on television.

Furthermore, compared to the order and strategy one finds in football and baseball, basketball is a generally chaotic affair in which all decisions are tactical and style is too often valued more than substance. Every missed dunk, every technical foul, every bit of showboating and every bit of faux controversy stands as testament to that argument.

I mean, really. Think about how many times one has watched a basketball game and seen the following scenario take place:

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Teams A and B are playing in a game in which the score is tied. Team A has the ball and is passing it around in an attempt to find an open shot, when a player for Team B intercepts a poorly-thrown ball. The squad from Team B then rushes down the court only to miss an easy lay-up. Team A then recovers the ball as it rebounds from the basket, and rushes back down the court with it. One player for Team A then drives towards the basket with the ball, and a scrum of players for Team B attempt to stop him.

In so doing, a vague foul of dubious import is called against a player for Team B, while the player for Team A – despite running with the ball in hand for six or seven paces – is not called for traveling. This prompts Team B’s coach to jump up from the bench and start screaming at the officials, which results in a technical foul. Suddenly, Team B finds itself down several points. With little time left, long-established tactics call for Team B’s players to repeatedly foul players on Team A. Anticlimactic denouement follows, along with extensive commentary from Dick Vitale and Kraft Foods Inc.

----------

What’s that? My scenario isn’t realistic? Yes it is, and you know it, baby! Especially regarding the fouling bit. I’m certainly not the only one to have asked: what the hell kind of sport not only encourages fouling, but makes it an accepted tactical maneuver during the final minutes of the game?

Here’s the truth – that’s just wrong, OK? In football, penalties result in scorn and derision all sixty minutes of the game, and that’s pretty much the case in baseball and ice hockey as well, although in the latter sports, there are exceptions (e.g. Ozzie Guillen, Ogie Oglethorpe). But in basketball, hell – go ahead, foul away.

This fouling situation is even more mystifying because no one, not even the referees, knows all the potential foul calls in basketball. Does a player accidentally touch another player while trying to defend a shot? Foul. Does a player spend too much time near the basket? Foul. Does a player cut back one way across the court, then another way, dodges past a guard and drive for the basket? That’s a foul too, even though the player picked up a triple-word score AND used the X and Z tiles.

But all those fouls, again, are OK because as long as one doesn’t have five (or six) of them, they can still play in the game and realistically suffer no consequences. Meanwhile, you can be damn sure that the football player who got an unnecessary roughness penalty is STILL in the doghouse with his coach, the assistant coaches, and most of the offensive line.

Of course, there are plenty of other things with basketball I’m not thrilled about. Let’s look at the collegiate basketball realm for some examples.

One major issue is that many of the schools competing for this month’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament are annoying (e.g. Virginia Tech), utterly lame (e.g. Purdue) or thoroughly deserve to get knocked on their asses (e.g. Duke, USC, Duke, Michigan State, Duke). Sure, this means there are plenty of teams to root against, but the plethora of icky teams will often mean a team one doesn’t like will end up playing another team one doesn’t like. This is not fun.

It’s also not fun when teams from – how does one put this – less-renowned conferences are given guaranteed berths in the tourney, despite no one knowing who the hell they are. For instance, it’s worth noting the Corpus Christi campus of Texas A&M University – the Corpus Christi branch campus, for God’s sake – won something called the Southland Conference and as such, was named a No. 15 seed in this year’s tournament. While I will secretly root for them in their game against Wisconsin – because Wisconsin, as a matter of course, goes easy on their schedules each year – it does feel like Texas A&M (CC) will show up, get beaten about on the court, and have a long, not fun bus ride home.

Now, I don’t really mean to cut down the Texas A&M (CC) squad – well, not directly, anyway – they were just the first example that came to mind. They also have an impressive 26-6 record, which is better than one can say for, oh, Purdue. But it’s no fun watching cannon fodder get cannoned either. So either the NCAA has to do a better job promoting why these teams are important basketball players on the national scale, or add in more at-large berths for other schools. I’m just saying: I’m sure the Mid-Continent Conference is important, but I’m not entirely sure why it should get a guaranteed tournament berth.

That said, it’s also not fun when one’s own alma mater will ONCE AGAIN lean against the wall looking awkward during the Big Dance, because one’s alma mater can’t win a big game even if their evil arch-rivals practically hand them a victory on a plate. Not that I am bitter.

After all, Michigan’s situation is Michigan’s own fault. Getting caught putting nitro in the tank is not exactly a way to make friends or influence people. Still, that was many years ago and it is getting increasingly frustrating to have a basketball team that can’t get the job done when it needs to do so. All Michigan basketball fans want, when you get right down to it, is at least one win over Ohio State per season and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, even if that berth involves playing Fairleigh Dickinson (or a similar school) in the play-in game.

But I digress. Plus, I want to end on a positive note – which is that March Madness starts this Thursday (or Tuesday, if you count the play-in game). This is one of two times during the year in which basketball is enjoyable to watch (the other being when the Clippers are in the NBA playoffs). So, I do hope Rant readers will spend some time watching the college kids play some hoops – because like all sports, this isn’t just about the game of basketball. It’s about school pride, cheering on one’s favorite underdogs, blatant regionalism and indulging in a whole bunch of schadenfreude (e.g., with Duke).

Speaking of favorites, since my alma mater is heading to the Not Invited Tournament ONCE AGAIN, The Rant will again root this year for its coreligionists, the Gonzaga Zags, who are apparently really the Gonzaga Bulldogs but no one calls them that. I haven’t any idea how well they’ll do, but I certainly hope they’ll do well – and knocking off Indiana would be rather a bonus, I would think.

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

March 10, 2007

Hail, Hail to Michigan

EIGHTY YEARS AGO, the University of Michigan dedicated its new football stadium in Ann Arbor. One of the very cool things about that particular Saturday's football game -- aside from our triumph over a certain second-rate university -- was that the day was filmed.

Dig this compilation of pre-game footage, crowd reaction shots, and football action from the fall of 1927, which even includes aerial shots and a pleasing score of school songs:

Yeah. Let's see those scoundrels down at Ohio State top that. Oh, wait. Michigan beat them when their stadium was dedicated; in fact, we shut them out at home, 19-0. Also, it's again worth noting Michigan Stadium holds more people, is much more fun to attend and is generally cooler than Ohio Stadium.

Although it seems inconceivable, Michigan Stadium could be even cooler if this plan for the stadium's renovation was adopted.

(with thanks to my good friend Lee, a fellow Michigan alumnus)

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March 09, 2007

I'm Just Saying, Some Respect Would Be in Order

ONE SUSPECTS THAT if A.O. Scott, the chief movie critic for The New York Times, had been around for the Battle of Thermopylae, he would be the first to welcome Greece’s new Persian overlords. It is the only conclusion one can draw from Mr Scott’s unfriendly review of “300,” the new movie devoted to the battle in question, as most of his ire is aimed at the plot and not the various technical aspects of the film.

The kicker, of course, is that the plot – despite its considerable artistic licenses – is taken from the very fabric of history itself. Back in 480 B.C., a small band of Spartans and their allies held off a vastly superior force of subject conscripts and Persian elite units at Thermopylae, a key mountain pass. Their three-day stand – which was only broken due to treachery – paved the way for the epic Battle of Salamis, in which Persia was badly beaten.

It is no exaggeration to say the Spartans’ stand at Thermopylae pretty much saved all of Western Civilization from Persia’s cruel despotism, which was the standard governance model of the day back in 480 B.C. It is also no exaggeration to say the Spartans’ stand was one of the greatest military accomplishments of the ancient era, given that Persia’s forces outnumbered the Greeks by at least 30 to 1, and perhaps as much as 300 to 1, depending on which commentator one believes.

However, Mr Scott does not seem to care. Nor does he seem to care that certain artistic licenses were taken in making the story into a comic – from which the movie is adapted. Here are some of his observations:

Devotees of the pectoral, deltoid and other fine muscle groups will find much to savor as King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads 300 prime Spartan porterhouses into battle against Persian forces commanded by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a decadent self-proclaimed deity who wants, as all good movie villains do, to rule the world.

The Persians, pioneers in the art of facial piercing, have vastly greater numbers — including ninjas, dervishes, elephants, a charging rhino and an angry bald giant — but the Spartans clearly have superior health clubs and electrolysis facilities. They also hew to a warrior ethic of valor and freedom that makes them, despite their gleeful appetite for killing, the good guys in this tale. (It may be worth pointing out that unlike their mostly black and brown foes, the Spartans and their fellow Greeks are white.) …

… There are a few combat sequences that achieve a grim, brutal grandeur, notably an early engagement in which the Spartans, hunkered behind their shields, push back against a Persian line, forcing enemy soldiers off a cliff into the water. The big idea, spelled out over and over in voice-over and dialogue in case the action is too subtle, is that the free, manly men of Sparta fight harder and more valiantly than the enslaved masses under Xerxes’ command.

I suppose this might be a bad time to mention that Xerxes pretty much did, in fact, want to rule the world. I mean, if you look at history around 500 BC, the Persian Empire is IT in terms of powerful empires at the time. Persia controlled Egypt and a lot of other Near Eastern real estate, plus what is now Iran and other Central Asian territory. So why else would he consider expanding west? Also, as much as I hate to break it to Mr Scott, back in the old days people fought battles and killed each other in hand-to-hand combat, often for reasons that people today don’t really understand.

Now, it may be that “300” just really stinks; not having seen the film, I can’t offer a defense on artistic merits. But my argument with Mr Scott is not over that; it is rather that his review treats the historic import of Thermopylae as barely an afterthought, when the historic import of the battle is fundamental to the work. Basically, Mr Scott ought recognize that some 25 centuries ago, a group of people made a great sacrifice, and its benefits still accrue today.

That said, Mr Scott does in his review somewhat address what he considers fundamental shortcomings with the film itself. Here’s one standard criticism:

Zack Snyder’s first film, a remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” showed wit as well as technical dexterity. While some of that filmmaking acumen is evident here, the script for “300,” which he wrote with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon, is weighed down by the lumbering portentousness of the original book, whose arresting images are themselves undermined by the kind of pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius.

Well, if that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.

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February 27, 2007

Oh, What a Feeling!

FOR THOSE OF YOU who were wondering, here it is: my 2006 Ford Taurus!

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February 23, 2007

Yanqui Turistas Turn Tables on Muggers

WELL, HERE'S AN enlightening story which should once again remind the rest of the world Not to Screw Around with the United States. In Costa Rica recently, a group of muggers tried to hold up a tour group of American retirees. Although the muggers were armed -- and one had a gun -- the senior citizens fought back, killing one mugger in the process and sending the other two fleeing for their lives.

Even better, the Costa Rican authorities were cool with this. So again, to recap the lessons from this story: Americans can get really angry if attacked and will make a point of fighting back.

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February 13, 2007

If You Listen Closely, You Can Hear Lake Havasu Calling

HERE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE, I know we've had a winter which even I would describe as mild and bucolic. We've only had one real month of cold, and the snowfall has been practically nonexistent. However, I would note the weather forecast for this time tomorrow contains the following phrases:

"definite snow"
"areas of blowing snow"
"chance of light ice pellets" (i.e. sleet)
"chance of thunderstorms" (i.e. thundersnow)

These weather phenomena are expected to happen with the air temperature around 20 degrees and sustained winds of about 25 miles per hour, resulting a wind chill of about zero. Given this, the idea of looking into air travel for slightly warmer parts of the country -- Lake Havasu City comes to mind -- seems better and better with each passing moment.

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February 12, 2007

'Tis More Than Any Man Could Bear

SOME YEARS AGO, Digby Anderson -- founder of The Social Affairs Unit think-tank and a food critic for several publications -- wrote one of the most brilliantly nasty essays I have ever read in my life. The subjects of Dr Anderson's considerable ire were vegetarians and their social graces, or what Dr Anderson charged were their lack thereof.

More indulgent souls might not, for instance, share Dr Anderson's tongue-in-cheek contention the only fitting social relationship between vegetarians and non-vegetarians is apartheid. One might also not agree with Dr Anderson's complaints about vegetarians, whom he described as rude, ungrateful scoundrels. But there's no denying the man skewered his targets as thoroughly as any cook lances shish-kebabs before the grill:

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But whether they are vegetarians or other sorts of food cranks, they show the same characteristics of ingratitude, bolshieness, rudeness, and lack of taste. They are ungrateful to the Almighty, spurning all the good things He has showered upon them. They are bolshie in their contempt for all the wonderful recipes tradition has found for the good things. They are rude in their insolent expectation that normal hosts should lay on abnormal food for them while they never lay on normal food for us. And they lack good taste. Fancy putting a boring quiche in the rightful place of a roast goose.

----------

I thought of Dr Anderson's long-ago essay when reading this just-published article in The New York Times, in which the paper describes insufferable young people who are planning to subject their guests to ecotopian weddings. These wedding ceremonies -- one hesitates to call them celebrations -- will involve fun and exciting activities, such as environmental tours around an organic farm.

You know, because dodging piles of horseshit and being eaten alive by mosquitoes is what everyone wants to do when sacrificing vacation time to attend a wedding. Christ. But lest my readers think I am kidding, let us examine the opening paragraphs of the Times' report:

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KATE Harrison’s idea of a fairy tale wedding goes something like this:

Gather more than 150 friends and relatives at an organic farm for a prewedding day of hikes and environmental tours.

Calculate the mileage guests will travel and offset their carbon dioxide emissions by donating to programs that plant trees or preserve rain forests.

Use hydrangeas, berries and other local and seasonal flowers for her bouquet and the decorations, instead of burning up fuel transporting flowers from faraway farms. Design an organic autumnal menu (same reason). Find a vintage dress to avoid the waste of a wedding gown that will never be worn again.

“It’s well worth it to start your life together in a way that’s in line with your values and beliefs,” said Ms. Harrison, 28, a graduate student at Yale, who is to marry in October. “You don’t want this event that is supposed to start your life together to come at the expense of the environment or workers in another country.”

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At this point, it's worth stopping for a moment to reflect on a few things.

The first thing I would note is that, as a man, any ideas I have about how weddings ought be conducted can be considered secondary at best. Women have mastered the art and science of the wedding process, and as such, the idea of a man actively intruding on this process is silly and laughable. If he is consulted, that is fine; if his advice is asked, he can give it; but the idea a man would actively direct the process is ridiculous.

I'd also say I'm not necessarily opposed to the principles the couples in the story follow, and I'd say there is much to be gained from having a smaller wedding. I myself tend to look at things through an economic prism, so I'm naturally sympathetic to any wedding plan which keeps the guest list and festivities reasonable.

What gets me about these ecotopian weddings, though, is that they seem pretty ungracious when it comes to one's guests, for the reasons which Dr Anderson described in his essay. For instance, in the Times article, there is mention made of a "vegan" menu, in which all the dishes are prepared to strict uber-vegetarian standards. The way I see it, it is one thing if the bride and groom eat vegan, but guests should at least have the option of eating dishes which don't require a stop at McDonald's on the way home.

Also, there is talk in the story of having guests, in lieu of gifts, sign up for things such as renewable energy projects. This seems gauche at the least and insulting at worst. After all, if a guest has spent considerable time and money just to make it to one's hippie wedding, and one is not even going to give him a dry breast of chicken during the reception dinner, one ought not hit up the guest for donations to this or that cause. That just seems like good manners -- or at least it's just not rubbing salt in a wound, which is also a good thing.

The Times notes that the ecotopian trend is spreading beyond weddings to private parties, but I would argue this trend is not nearly as worrisome. After all, it is much easier to avoid private parties than a family wedding, and there is far less guilt associated with doing so. Still, it is somewhat disconcerting to think private parties are becoming an exercise in finger-wagging. After all, both private parties and weddings are meant to be fun.

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February 11, 2007

Waking Up is Hard to Do

SO ON FRIDAY I went out with some work friends to celebrate my recent -- God help me -- 31st birthday. On this night, I learned a few things. For instance, I learned I am truly an incompetent pool player even when I am completely sober. I also learned that for some strange reason, my body is impervious to the ravages normally associated with drinking large amounts of tequila. Even though I had about half-a-dozen shots of tequila during the evening, I was entirely sober by the time I left the bar, and woke up the next morning feeling great. It's really all very strange.

Although for some reason, it was incredibly difficult for me to wake up this morning. This may have been because it was Sunday morning (and for me Sunday is a Monday, due to my work schedule). Still, I think that's as good a reason as any to trot out the "Happy Morning!" Folgers commercial again:

You can sleep when you are -- happy morning!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I had a great time on Friday night, and I'm glad my friends were able to join me during the evening. Also, I'd like to thank them for buying me all that tequila, because there are few better ways to celebrate a birthday than with the noble product of the blue agave plant. That goes double if one is actually near tequila's ancestral home on one's birthday.

So if any of my readers should find themselves in such a situation -- he writes completely innocently -- I would encourage them to have a neat shot of the stuff, even if it is served during breakfast. Particularly if it served during breakfast. If I hadn't had to work on my birthday this year, I might have done just that!

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Why the Internet is Great

REASON NO. 6,234,993: Someone, somewhere, actually paid money to secure the domain name for this site, which solely exists as an inside joke for science fiction fans (warning! sound! but the sound is good!)

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And Now, a Television Interlude

STARRING THE TEAM FROM "24" and "Aqua Teen Hunger Force."

(via Steve Silver)

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February 06, 2007

Ye Olde Wasted Saturday

A KEY QUOTE from Patrick "Bad News" Hughes' recent trip to a "Renaissance Faire:"

"I know! We’ll counteract the poisons with a little taste of something good from the mead vendor! And once again experience one of my least favorite aspects of the Faire, the fact that every merchant somehow feels compelled to constantly yell throughout the entire transaction: "MEAD! AH YES, MEAD! THIS GENTLEMAN WOULD LIKE A MEAD! ONE MEAD FOR THIS FINE GENTLEMAN ON THIS SUNNY MORN. ONE MEAD COMING RIGHT UP. YES, A FINE LORD SUCH AS YOURSELF MUST WORK UP A MIGHTY THIRST! NO DOUBT YOU'LL SOON ENJOY QUENCHING YON THIRST WITH MEAD. HERE YOU ARE, SIR! HERE BE YOUR MEAD! GOOD DAY, SIR! GOOD DAY TO YOU, SQUIRE!"

Go read the whole thing. It's alarming yet hysterical at the same time -- and it's even got pictures! Then, after you're done reading it, go read his entry from last year, which is perhaps even funnier.

(via Sheila O'Malley)

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February 03, 2007

Oh, I Almost Forgot

BECAUSE THE FIRST STEP is always a doozy:

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

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February 02, 2007

Oh, I Almost Forgot

BECAUSE THE FIRST STEP is always a doozy:

Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

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January 30, 2007

But Is This Man REALLY From Michigan?

RECENTLY, I WAS PERUSING the on-line edition of the Detroit Free Press, when I stumbled across a rather different story the paper's driving columnist had authored.

Apparently, changes in Michigan law have boosted the speed limit on several freeways from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour, but the signs on those roads haven't yet been changed to reflect that. As such, it understandably prompted Matt Helms to write about the matter, pointing out to motorists that one could in fact drive 70. But what I didn't understand was Mr Helms' lead, which ran as follows:

You're tooling down the freeway at 70 m.p.h., keeping an eye out for cops because signs say the speed limit is 65. Relax! You're driving perfectly legally. It's one of the state's best-kept road secrets that the signs are wrong, and no cop is going to stop you.

As a Michigan native who has lived in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, and who has traveled extensively throughout the Great Lakes State, this is a lead which forces me to ask: is Mr Helms really from Michigan, or is he doing the driving column from some place a bit more placid, like Sheboygan, Wisc.?

I'm sorry, but I think my fellow Michiganders would agree that were one to actually "tool down the freeway" at a mere "70 miles per hour," one would find oneself crushed between a Mack truck and a Ford Excursion sooner than one could start ranting about the wretched roads. After all, this is Michigan -- home to the American auto industry, and home to the Motor City, the City That Moves the World. The way people Back Home drive, one would think the state's speed limits are just friendly suggestions, suggestions which carry penalties similar to those associated with tearing off the tags on a mattress.

Of course, anyone who has actually received a ticket from the authorities in Michigan knows the authorities don't screw around. Trust me on this -- it sucks. That said, having driven on all the major freeways in Michigan, I also know people just don't drive 70 miles per hour. Nor have they ever worried about getting a ticket while driving 70.

Gad -- I mean, here's just one example. US-23 is a four-lane highway which, in part, runs from between northwest Ohio to Ann Arbor. This stretch of road is practically a straight line. I can assure readers that I have driven on this road at 85 miles per hour, and in doing so, have been frequently passed on the right.

But here's the thing. It's not just that road. When I was driving back to my home town of Kalamazoo last year, I found myself being tailgated on I-94 when I was driving in the upper 70s and lower 80s, even though I was traveling as fast as I could in heavy traffic. Around the Detroit area, the traffic ran at an equally frantic pace, and based on my travels elsewhere in the state, I can't imagine Michiganders driving 70 unless their vehicles were equipped with speed governors. Throughout most of Michigan, there's just too much open space and too little traffic, and everywhere else folks drive as if they're drag racing. I mean, it's so bad it's on par with the 405, and as a former Angeleno that says something.

On a related matter, though, I would note that Mr Helms also advises motorists to stick with driving 55 miles per hour in certain 55 mile per hour zones around Detroit, such as on I-94, I-96, and M-10 (the Lodge). Again, Mr Helms seems to pose this as a matter of law. In reality, anyone who drove faster than 55 mph on these horribly-maintained roads would experience mechanical troubles with their cars, including flat tires, wrenched alignments, and rear axle assemblies being ripped from cars so fast it would impress an eating champion at Ribfest.

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January 29, 2007

An American's Home is His Castle

(Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section
of The Wall Street Journal).

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, I've come to realize that few things in American life excite people as much as the residential real-estate market. As a younger man and a renter, this is not an excitement I particularly share, as for most people my age it is a big step when one simply finds a place with a dishwasher, or a separate washer and dryer. Why, some days even the idea of a carport seems like an unimaginable luxury.

Still, I do find the discussions people have about their real-estate fascinating, particularly when they get to talking about the market itself. People talk about which way prices have moved, and which way they should move; they talk about the insufferable cheapness of buyers or the wretched stubbornness of sellers. People will also sometimes offer friendly advice about the market, and taken together, these myriad opinions are as different as the snowflakes at Mont-Tremblant. Indeed, it is enough to make any renter confused. Should I buy now? Should I wait? Should I buy in the city or an hour north? Should I buy a condo or a house?

The way I see it, though, there's an easier solution than to worry about these questions. Namely, I read the The Distinctive Properties and Estates Section of The Wall Street Journal, along with its affiliated sections like the City Residences listings. This way, I can live vicariously through the experiences of overpaid investment bankers and other buyers who, despite a knack for squeezing the last pennies out of a major equity trade or making money through exchanging cotton futures for contracts on frozen orange juice, will pay ridiculous sums of money for semi-desirable property.

Of course, I am an admitted skeptic when it comes to these types of things, which makes it even more enjoyable. For instance, one recent advertisement referred to a New Jersey home which was allegedly "distinguished by interior and exterior magnificence." Have it all covered, do we? Then, there was the one-bedroom New York apartment notable for its "amazing details" -- at the seven-figure price the owners were asking, the details better have included solid-gold fixtures in the bath.

Also, apparently every other listing proclaimed a buyer would live on one of such-and-such's "most prestigious estates" in a "gated community" -- in short, a "once in a lifetime" experience for any executive, at least until he went to a dinner party at the nicer home of Murray, that sycophantic bastard down on the bond desk. All the superlatives and descriptives and blaring of trumpets are enough to give one a nose bleed.

I did like the advertisement, though, from the unnamed Florida broker who proclaimed his area was full of "SELLERS IN PAIN." I thought it rather inventive and frank, both of which are selling points in my book. And of course, there are plenty of homes listed which are downright spectacular and which I will never be able to afford until I finish the Great American Novel, which has been languishing for years. But there's something to be said for a little vicarious living as opposed to seriously pining away for the unobtainable.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 28, 2007

Tequila Sunrise

SO ON FRIDAY NIGHT, I went out and partied with a bunch of friends from the office. No, really, I did! I can assure everyone I had a great time and I really enjoyed myself, although I started feeling sleepy after midnight. The next morning, I found there was good reason for that, as I was really tired.

Here's a dramatization of how I reacted to waking up on Saturday morning, after a night of actual drinking and about six hours' sleep:

I suspect a key contributor to this was the tequila I had during the evening.

Some readers may be familiar with the country song, "Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo," in which singer Tracy Byrd regales his listeners about quickly imbibing ten shots of the erstwhile spirit during a night at the bar. This action supposedly prompts Mr Byrd to engage in a desultory pattern of behavior, ending with him starting to drink tequila again. However, I can assure readers Mr Byrd's song is a complete and utter fantasy. This is because the tequila would have burned through the man's throat somewhere around Shot No. 7, prompting him to drop to the ground in agonizing pain.

Furthermore, in the event Mr Byrd's central nervous system could have stayed intact to the point of managing a tenth shot in rapid succession, it is dubious anyone would have remained in close proximity to serve him one. After all, at that point it would be feasible that the additional shots of Jose Cuervo might have built up in Mr Byrd's trachea, prompting an conflagration that would go down in local lore, kinda like the unfortunate Denny Pratt tragedy.

So, yeah, the stuff I had was a bit strong and I had four shots of it over a two hour period. Strangely, though, I was completely sober at the end of those two hours, and that somewhat surprised me. I drink very little as a matter of course, so four shots of tequila should have had me stumbling around the bar yodeling and insulting the other customers. I mean, I didn't even have a hangover the next morning.

In fact, I actually felt really good.

Thus, I think we can conclude the night was a success, particularly since I didn't wake up with the horrible shooting pains in my shoulders and back that seem to crop up more and more frequently these days. Who knew that tequila could serve as a balm of Gilead? Also, I learned that if I need something really strong, I'll order a shot of Jagermeister.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 26, 2007

In My Opinion, This Sucks

FOR THE RECORD, it is 1.4 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) here in Manchester this morning, according to the weather station located a short distance down my street. The windchill is down to roughly -18F below and given stronger winds expected for today, that should fall even further. The predicted high for today? Oh, let's call it eight degrees.

In comparison, it's THIRTY DEGREES right now at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Just on general principle grounds, people shouldn't have to live in places colder than Antarctica.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Because Wretchedness is Universally Recognized

WELL, HERE'S A HEADLINE that scares the hell out of me: "Bud's Super Bowl ads take on an international flavor."

The good people at USA Today have the full story. Apparently, the Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. are concerned about the declining U.S. fortunes of their Budweiser product (which in The Rant's opinion tastes like horse piss). According to USA Today, as imports have gained market share at Bud's expense, the company has decided they're going to try and promote Budweiser as a "world beer" during the Super Bowl.

No, I'm not making that up. That's what the paper said:

"The Budweiser brand — which has been losing market share domestically for several years — is being re-billed as a "world" beer. As imported beer sales have climbed, Anheuser-Busch has been buying up import brands in recent years. And its Super Bowl ads seem to be doing less flag-waving and more global hugs.

Two Bud spots will end with a logo of the globe behind the familiar Budweiser symbol.

For A-B, it's a new world — of competition.

"We have lots of equity in our traditional American heritage," says (Bob Lachky, executive vice president of global industry development). "But most people don't know that Budweiser is one of the world's most popular beers." In fact, it's second only to Bud Light as the world's best-selling beer."

A world beer, eh? One wonders what the folks at Budweiser Budvar will think about that. For that matter, one wonders what the rest of the world's going to think about that, or at the very least the Europeans, who mastered the art of brewing. I am confident my European readers are already reading this and snickering, or perhaps more properly gasping in horror, at the very idea of Bud being promoted as a world beer. That's somewhat like promoting some wretched, cheese-drenched Pizza Hut creation as a "world pizza."

Simply put, it's not going to work. It's not going to work precisely because Bud is a mass-produced American beer and, as such, represents everything associated with mass-produced American beer. Meanwhile, these ads will be shown during the one American sporting event which gets broadcast around the world, and everyone abroad is going to either a) laugh at us even harder or b) hate us even more than they already do. I mean, can you imagine it? Here you'll have people in God-knows-where, already having trouble figuring out what a "nickel defense" is and why the Colts quarterback stinks to high heaven, and then they're going to wonder why the Americans insist on drinking thin, watery beer.

Also, for the record, The Rant is astounded that Bud and Bud Light are the world's best-selling beers. Why, even the Canadians are drinking the stuff -- and they always claim to know better!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 20, 2007

The Agony and -- Well, the Agony

Numb me -- drill me --
floss me -- bill me.

-- Weird Al Yankovic, “Cavity Search”

IF GOD HAD WANTED MAN to have perfectly straight, whiter-than-white teeth, He would have put immense amounts of naturally-occurring fluoride into the lakes and streams which feed the world's municipal water systems. Then again, given the events of Genesis, perhaps having wretched dental issues is all simply part of the burden associated with original sin. In fact, given what I went through Friday, I’d say that sounds about right.

On Friday, you see, I went for the second part of a Not Fun Dental Procedure known as root scaling and planing. (The first part had taken place the previous Friday, and it also proved to be Not Fun. In fact, when I submitted a claim form for the work, I put down “Not Fun Dental Work” to describe the procedure). The reason this procedure is not fun is because it is a deep-cleaning of the teeth and gums, which flushes out all the plaque and other unpleasantness in there. Since the work is done around the roots of the teeth, it requires several shots of novocaine to get to the point where work can proceed.

Just for the record, you know the procedure isn’t fun when your dentist fully admits that the shots are going to hurt, and actually somewhat commiserates throughout the process. It’s one thing to get a shot in the back of the mouth, which hurts a little but is fully bearable, and another thing entirely to get a shot in the palate, which hurts to the point where I shouted in discomfort. Fortunately, it was by far the worst part of the procedure, but it was a just wretched few moments there.

That said, the combination of adrenaline and numbness was something else – I got out of the chair an hour later in a cold sweat and feeling as if I’d nearly gotten hit by a train. But the good news is that several hours later, my mouth felt better and I was able to go out and have a nice dinner. Well, that and I don’t have to go back to the dentist until May.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 01:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

Alarming! Very, Very, Very Alarming!

OH NO!
It's Time for Yet Another Installment of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED!

An occasional Rant feature

SOMEHOW I MISSED this glorious news, but recently I learned that Citigroup's wretched ad campaign with the vaguely Eastern European guys got canned several months before it was scheduled to wrap up. I wish I had known this when the news broke before Christmas, for it would have made everyone's holiday at home even better. Gee, we probably would have had a nice bottle of wine just to celebrate that news alone. My God, can you believe those ads were originally scheduled to run through March?

But although news of the campaign's end was wonderful, what remains rather alarming is how the campaign took hold in people's minds, as if the commercials were the advertising variant of phenobarbital. True, many people exposed to them were able to resist the ads, despite suffering symptoms similar to those one has with a bad sinus infection. Others, though, clearly broke down soon after the ads' assault, and quickly had the ads' catch phrase utterly inserted into their psyche.

This is the only explanation of which I can think to explain why A FULL SIX PERCENT of searches to The Rant in January involved some rendition of the phrase, "Rewarding! Very, very, very rewarding!" I mean, I haven't seen anything this bad since that goddam paper clip in Microsoft Word. You remember the paper clip, right? No? Here's a reminder:

Here's another fun version -- albeit shorter, foreign, profane, and violent. But we all felt this way, right?

But I digress. Anyway, to put the figure in proper perspective, it's worth nothing that variations of the "rewarding" theme turned up EVEN MORE in The Rant's search logs than various search strings related to sex and pornography. The latter subjects attract an alarming number of hits despite The Rant's almost complete lack of discussion on such matters. So I really don't know what to think of this, except that it suggests a level of banality in today's life that is very, very, very alarming.

Without further ado, though, here's a look at some of the OTHER search terms from the New Year. This will be a relatively short list but hopefully will turn out all right:

QUERY: dump lloyd carr

ANSWER: Gee, you lose to Ohio State and lose the Rose Bowl and suddenly everyone forgets the 11 games Michigan won beforehand. OK, so I wouldn't mind if the guy retired, but I don't think we can throw the man out. He went 11-2, for Pete's sake, and that's not bad. There's always next year and we'll recover.

QUERY: coca cola thieves

ANSWER: Stealing Coca-Cola is depraved and wretched in all but the most dire of circumstances, such as a large-scale thermonuclear war. I mean, can you imagine if people just stole Coca-Cola at whim what it would be like? Anarchy and bedlam!

QUERY: taurus no heat

ANSWER: A colleague of mine who had this issue recently said the blower motor had shorted out. A service call might prove necessary. Or it could just be a fun Ford Taurus quirk, the type of thing which just happens for no reason. I've noticed these start to happen on my car, although my Taurus will be ten years old this year and has 130,000 miles on it and I still really like it.

QUERY: i hate peyton manning

ANSWER: You know, variations on THIS theme were the third most popular search at The Rant so far this month! I wonder why. Anyway, thanks for visiting, and I hope you'll continue to stop by. Here's a fun video helping to explain why I hate Peyton Manning and hope New England's defense "signs his melon" repeatedly on Sunday:

QUERY: car door latch freeze

ANSWER: You may be able to prevent this in future by spraying the locks with WD-40. A liberal application of the stuff should force out any moisture inside the lock mechanism, which is what freezes. Open the door, spray inside the lock, open and close the door several times to make it stick. This tactic has worked for me several times and I've had no problems as a result.

QUERY: seattle is depressing

ANSWER: You're not going to find me arguing with that complaint.

QUERY: tricks of investing

ANSWER: Buy. Hold.

QUERY: who are the old coaches in the coor beer commercials

ANSWER: Wait, I'm sorry, what? The old coaches? How can ... OK, now I feel old. Geez. I mean, it's not like they dug up old footage of Tom Landry and worked him into the commercials, now is it? Also, although I've generally hated these commercials, I like the one with Jim Mora. That one was clever, although I have to admit I liked it largely because they got the "Playoffs?!" rant into the script.

QUERY: how to say nothing in 500words essay

ANSWER: I'll spot you one of the 500 right now: synergy. Now go on, get to work!

QUERY: is gall bladder pain bad

ANSWER: Until it's removed, yes. There's nothing like getting wracked with random spasms of excruciating pain despite subsisting on a diet that eschews fats and spice.

QUERY: natty up caffeinated beer

ANSWER: Ah, isn't that beside the point? Last time I checked, beer had ... alcohol. Which is a depressant. Which would seem to make the idea of making it caffeinated a bit pointless.

QUERY: how much do arena football players earn?

ANSWER: This can range from $200/game in the af2 league to $80,000 per year in the AFL.

QUERY: cheap bengals shirts

ANSWER: But aren't they all?

QUERY: ridiculous beckham america

ANSWER: I'm glad someone agrees with me!

QUERY: celebrity worship syndrome solution

ANSWER: Beats me. I do think, though, that the reason people tend to closely follow every detail of celebrities' lives is that it lets them live vicariously through the celebrities in question. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with that in moderation but for some it clearly becomes more than simply an interest. This would suggest to me, anyway, that the person is inwardly dissatisfied with things about his or her life and takes interest in the celebrity to focus attention away from that dissatisfaction.

Speaking of dissatisfied, I'm somewhat dissatisfied with how this entry turned out, given that I should have done a better job with it. But it's late and I'm tired, so I'm going to go to bed. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a good weekend and that you enjoy the football on Sunday. Yeah.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2007

*Grumble* *Grumble* *Grumble*

SO THE COLTS WON and the Chiefs lost and the Cowboys won and the Seahawks lost (or not; see above -- eds.) in today's NFL playoff matches. As someone who dislikes Indianapolis and detests Dallas, I found this most annoying. So annoying, in fact, that I'm going to reserve comments on the whole matter until later, when I can think clearly about these events. Until then, though, as a cheer-up enjoy the commercial which has actually caused me to warm up to Dunkin' Donuts. But only slightly.

For the record, "Fratalian" was the language I was conversing in tonight to express my amazement and surprise at how the Colts brought the hammer down on Kansas City. I mean, come on. Stupid Peyton Manning throws three interceptions and suddenly the rest of the team shows up? Crikey. Of course, Kansas City played horribly* the entire game, but boy.

* Is there a more graphic phrase than "horribly" to use at that point in the sentence? Such as, say, "incredibly incompetent football?" I'm sorry, but when one's kicker shanks a 23-yard field goal off the uprights -- after a momentum-changing turnover and drive -- there's something wrong with one's football team.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006

And Now, a Special Holiday Interlude

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

Yet Remarkably, There's No Mention of Jean Chretien

FROM THE TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL: "Man with no pulse considered a medical breakthrough."

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

December 08, 2006

First Snowfall Reported Today

MANCHESTER, N.H. has recorded its first decent snowfall of the winter today. Right now, it's a balmy 18 degrees outside, with a windchill of four degrees and 17 mile-per-hour winds, gusting to 25 mph. We're supposed to receive snow through late afternoon.

I hope the late start this year doesn't mean it will snow in mid-April.

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

December 03, 2006

Gee, I Feel Better Already

DESPITE MY DISAPPOINTMENT with the way the BCS turned out (see the post below), I do have to say that on the whole, it was a pretty damned good football weekend. Wake Forest won the ACC Championship; UCLA beat USC; Rutgers came oh so close to beating West Virginia; and Navy beat Army. Yeah. Even on the pro side, the Steelers actually managed to win. As did the Browns, which was a bit of a surprise.

Weekends like this, I think, are why people love this game.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:43 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 26, 2006

Five Years Ago, I Would Not Have Anticipated This

-----------

Dude! You're 72% from Massachusetts!

Okay, either you come from the western half of the state or from the Boston area. Still, it's not bad, so I'll give you the thumbs up. Cool!

How Massachusetts are you?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

-----------------

MY INITIAL THOUGHTS about this diagnosis are as follows:

1. How YOU doin'?

2. This should make for some interesting conversation back home.

3. And the TORCH has been PASSED to a NEW generation of Americans -- BORN in this century...

4. What kind of quiz about Massachusetts doesn't mention the Red Sox, Dunkin' Donuts or the Blizzard of '78? Isn't that like having a quiz on Christianity without mentioning the Father, Son and Holy Ghost? I mean, boy.

5. Dude, I'm just saying. Yeah, I've only gone to Massachusetts like five times, and three of those trips involved Logan International Airport, but still. Even I, the Midwestern transplant to New England, know this.

6. Back from Ohio. Had wicked good ... er, wonderful Thanksgiving. Hope you did as well.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 10, 2006

Some Things Never Change Dept.

"They say we have among us a regiment of spies -- men and women -- sent here by the wily Seward. Why? Our newspapers tell every word there is to be told, by friend or foe."

-- Mary Boykin Chesnut
Montgomery, Ala.
May, 1861

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, That's a Fair Point

"Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"

-- U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel
15th Congressional District, New York

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

Borat: Make Benefit for Glorious Nation of Lawyers

ACCORDING TO THE GOOD people at TMZ.com, two frat boys who appeared in the hit film "Borat" have sued 20th Century Fox and various film-production companies, charging they were tricked regarding the circumstances of the film's distribution. They claim to have suffered "humiliation, mental anguish, and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community," TMZ.com said.

I think my favorite part here is the poll question: "Are the frat boys lame for suing?" With more than 30,000 votes, it's running 82-18 in the affirmative.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 04, 2006

Nature Communed With

REMEMBER BACK IN September when I took a hiatus from the blog for like three weeks? Well, I was here -- and other places in the American Southwest. This photo was taken soon after I arrived at Grand Canyon National Park. It was the first time I had been to the Grand Canyon, and although it is simply a giant hole in the ground, it ... well, it's an extremely impressive hole in the ground.

I went on a driving tour on my trip. Parts of my journey were the same as mentioned in this article in The Telegraph, although I drove in a Chrysler Sebring sedan with an I4 engine. I think I might have preferred the V12 in the Bentley GTC Continental which the Telegraph's guy got to drive. However, no matter what you drive, a driving tour through Grand Canyon National Park and Kaibab National Forest nearby is definitely a great road trip.

I also drove -- entirely by accident -- through Oak Creek Canyon on Arizona Route 89A when heading from Flagstaff to Sedona. This was entirely worth it, however, and provided some of the most scenic driving of my entire trip. I'd also encourage folks to check out the tiny mountain hamlet of Jerome, Ariz. It's about 5,000 feet up and seems built right into a mountainside; it's really rather stunning. Also, for those who prefer going places that aren't built up and touristy, Jerome might fit the bill. Again, I found this place entirely by accident.

Another cool thing about my trip -- this was earlier in the journey -- was my drive from Los Angeles to Death Valley. Much to my surprise, I apparently took the "back way" to Death Valley -- and I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been that alone ever. When you can drive for twelve miles without seeing another car on the road, and get out of the car and hear nothing but your feet on the ground, that's alone. The drive, again due to the lunar-like scenery, was incredible: but I'm glad I bought extra water before heading out.

Of course, I can't write without mentioning my good friends Chris and Mary Kate, with whom I spent an enjoyable weekend, and my good friend Simon From Jersey, who immediately got the joke when I called him from the desert, viz.:

ME: Hey, guess where I'm calling you from?
SIMON: Uh, would that be the World's Tallest Thermometer in Baker, Calif.?
ME: YES!

Anyway, like I said, it was a great trip -- although this does present a bit of a conundrum. You see, I realized after coming home that I haven't yet visited two great swaths of the country: the Old South and the Northwest. I mean, excluding trips to Florida (which were more eastern than southern), the closest I've gotten to the Old South is Fairfax County, Va., which isn't southern at all. On the other side of things, I've visited Eugene, Ore., and Colorado Springs, Colo., but other than that haven't spent ANY time in the Northwest at all. I've never been to the North Central states either. Hell, I've never even been to Wisconsin. Chicago, plenty of times -- that may explain why I've never been to Wisconsin -- but boy.

So I think I'm going to have to plan some trips for those parts of America, just because I probably should. After all, there are 50 states in this great country of ours -- not 30-something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 02, 2006

The Institutions of Football Must Be Preserved

FOOTBALL IS A SPECIAL GAME. Those words, which legendary announcer John Facenda made famous many years ago, remain true even in this troubled age. It remains a game which has captured the hearts and minds of millions; a game which values pride, loyalty and honor; and a game which demands professionalism and results.

That’s why Paris Hilton’s ten-second appearance introducing “Monday Night Football” was such an abomination, and why events like it must never, ever happen again on any National Football League-licensed telecast. Ugh. It was bad enough we had to watch the Minnesota Vikings get their heads handed to them by the far superior New England Patriots, but that didn’t make me, you know, choke down vomit. But being exposed to the horrid visage of Paris Hilton, something I have diligently avoided until now, was enough to make me nauseous. “I’m ready for some football” indeed.

I don’t know whose bright idea it was to include Miss Hilton on the intro – it was likely some dunderhead at ESPN – but surely that person could have gotten, I don’t know, anyone in The Walt Disney Co.’s television/movie empire to take part instead. But no. We got Miss Hilton, who would undoubtedly be more at ease watching useless sports, such as rowing or badminton. That’s just great.

Now look. Football is a special game, OK? Hundreds of thousands of high school athletes, many of whom have had a rough time of things thus far in life, learn a lot through playing football. They learn about character and teamwork and hard work and grit. Tens of millions of football fans watch the game for its beauty and its glory, even when the players are earning nothing more than pride. Hell, football is such a great sport that if you’re up late watching old game footage and hear the line, “The 1988 Houston Oilers tested the waters of greatness,” it not only works, it seems like genius.

As a result, it is not something with which Paris Hilton – whose antics have tarnished and cheapened her family name – should be involved. As much as I admire Miss Hilton’s ability to spin gold from straw with her tawdry career, I can’t sit idly by when that same tawdriness threatens an institution which I’ve come to cherish deeply. Please, football types, no more Paris Hiltons and Justin Timberlakes. We’ve got a good thing going here. It doesn’t need to get screwed up in misguided attempts to generate “buzz” or get “the young people” more interested.

(via Steve Silver, who jogged my memory)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 01, 2006

A Bull in the China Shop

RECENTLY, A GOOD FRIEND sent along a column which appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune lamenting the demise of the Ford Taurus, the type of car I have driven for the past ... well, 15 years that I've had a driver's license.

Like columnist David Grimes, I'm also sad the Ford Taurus is no longer being produced, considering I've had largely good experiences with my two Taurii and the Mercury Sable before it. That said, while I've also found Ford's decisions a bit strange lately, I don't think I would suggest Ford is "managed by people who were dropped on their heads as infants," as Mr Grimes does. After all, there are successor models to the Taurus, and they should be fine. As long as you can get 200 hp out of the engine -- and with the Ford 500 and Ford Fusion, you can! -- there really seems like little to complain about.

Of course, I'm not really a car person -- I'm more the type who wants to get from Point A to Point B with a minimum amount of fuss, expense and pain in my lower legs. Besides, no matter how much one pays for a car, they all turn to junk in roughly a decade or so.

Which reminds me: sometimes, it may make more financial sense to buy a slightly-used car as opposed to a new vehicle, since buying new means an owner takes on all the initial depreciation expense himself. People who really want a Taurus for their next car -- like me -- will likely find them in abundance at used-car dealers, since the cars have been popular in rental fleets.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 20, 2006

A Nice Thought, But ...


HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere is:
1
person with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

ACCORDING TO this clever Web site, there's only one Benjamin Kepple in all of the United States. This is, in a way, quite flattering. However, I also happen to know it's not true. There is at least one other person named Benjamin Kepple out there, and the one of whom I know happens to be a first cousin (once removed) of mine. However, I have the domain name, and as such, I'll modestly declare myself first among equals until the other Benjamin Kepples also get an Internet presence.

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

October 17, 2006

Consumption No Longer Being Standardized

GOOD NEWS! The Rant's e-mail capabilities are up and running again! However, any e-mail messages sent to The Rant's primary address in the last 36 hours have been lost. Sorry about that. Please resend any letters, communiques, receipts and other correspondence if necessary. Thank you!

Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy, and be happy!

--------------
On a serious note, The Rant would like to thank Dean Esmay for his generosity in again assisting me with these types of technical issues.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 16, 2006

Technical Troubles and the Rites of Fall

HELLO ALL. I'M SORRY for not posting lately, and I'm even sorrier for not keeping up on my e-mail correspondence like I ought. Unfortunately, The Rant has been having what can charitably be described as "e-mail issues," and these -- combined with the continued lack of comments on-site -- have rendered me somewhat mute for the moment. I'm working on fixing these problems and will hopefully have them dealt with soon. However, given the way my technological capabilities are being degraded, I might soon have to start sending audiotapes to television stations.

Of course, aside from all that, things here have been amazingly busy. I had a great visit with my parents this weekend, and have been quite busy with work in the meantime, and spending most of my free time doing things like "eating" and "sleeping." However, things are slowly starting to "cool down" here at The Rant and I do hope to resume a normal posting schedule shortly.

UPDATE: OK, I can apparently write e-mail -- I just can't receive any e-mail. So if you've sent me e-mail in the last, oh, 36 hours or so, I can assure you I haven't received it. This is being worked on.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 05, 2006

A Proposal

KEPPLE'S LAW OF MEXICAN RESTAURANTS: A Mexican restaurant is good when one eats there and has an excellent dinner. A Mexican restaurant is great when one goes back the next morning for breakfast.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2006

A Point of Order Here

AS A GENERAL RULE, I don't get involved in policy arguments here at The Rant. As readers know, I much prefer spending my free time criticizing beer advertisements, insulting search engine users, writing about the Pittsburgh Steelers and examining personal-finance issues.

However, I must say I was disappointed to see Michelle Malkin, the columnist and prominent blogger, dismiss some recent arguments my good friend Dean Esmay put forward as mere "traffic bait." This was not merely sloppy, it was perfectly untrue.

After all, a responding writer does not give "traffic bait" the benefit of a giant post arguing against the points made in the baiter's essay. Besides, it wouldn't surprise me if Mr Esmay gets more traffic than Mrs Malkin. According to Mrs Malkin's "About" page, she averaged four million page views per month as of July 2006; Mr Esmay, according to his publicly-available site statistics, received 5,105,638 page views during that month. In any event, having known Mr Esmay for several years, I can assure my readers that he does not argue for the sake of arguing, or to merely draw traffic to his site.

For those readers who would care to learn more about this issue in depth, one can read a good primer on it at Mr Esmay's site.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 20, 2006

And Now. a YouTube Interlude

OK, SO I SAID I would return on Monday and it's now Wednesday and I've still written nothing of consequence on the blog. But I have a perfectly valid excuse. Namely, I got back from my trip and ran smack into two giant obstacles. First, there were those annoying chores one must do following one's vacation, such as "unpacking" and "getting the dry cleaning done" and "buying groceries." As much as I like blogging, I figured it was important for me to spend the free time I had on, well, stuff. Also things have been crazy-busy at work, with long days and/or weird schedules.

I should warn that in early- to mid-November, a similar break in blogging will take place due to this. But that is a long way off. In the meantime, rest assured that I had a great vacation and it was super fun. Also, enjoy this YouTube clip (via Chris) of Darth Vader ... well, at least Darth's lesser-known, less-accomplished brother Chad.

Episode IV comes out soon! Yeah!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2006

Apocalypse Now

SO RUMOR HAS IT the certifiable president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, may take some sort of action tomorrow aimed at hastening the Apocalypse. I would not normally mention such things here at The Rant, but given today's events in Boston, I would like President Ahmadinejad to know:

Dude. You're too late. It's already here.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Snakes on a Plane! (Part II)

SAMUEL L. JACKSON appears on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to discuss "Snakes on a Plane."

(via Dean Esmay)

SWEET.

(For those of you are at work -- or are minors -- note that this clip contains strong language).

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 11, 2006

I Can Give the Red Sox Tuesdays and Wednesdays

I HAVE A horrible confession to make.

On Thursday, talk at the office revolved around how the Boston Red Sox had dropped four straight against the two of the worst teams in baseball. The prognosis for the team was grim: the Sox were collapsing and we were down three games and the season was over. Then I said something like:

ME: Well, fortunately, it’s football season!

This prompted at least one of my baseball-loving colleagues to look at me as if I was insane. But it really wasn’t my fault! I mean, it’s football season! It’s practically autumn, the season of miracles!

Could I really be blamed for being more interested in that night’s pre-season game between the Indianapolis Colts and the St. Louis Rams? Could I really be blamed for wanting the Rams to knock Peyton Manning flat on his keister, even though he would only play for like three minutes?

I don’t think so! Particularly because Quarterback Candyass got shaky again when the Rams managed to put him under pressure, and yet I still had to listen to the frickin’ announcers go on about how wonderful the Golden Child was. Please. But I digress.

My point is: I’m from the Rust Belt and my family is from the Rust Belt, and in the Rust Belt, football is king. I grew up with football and grew up with my team and football is the sport that binds us all together. I love football – not only pro football, but college football and minor-league football and minor-league minor-league football. Truly it is the greatest sport ever invented.

So I have to ask for understanding and forgiveness from my colleagues and friends here in New England. That goes especially for when the NFL playoffs start in January and I show up to work with my Terrible Towel and root for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the greatest football team in all of history. But it also goes for now, when my interest in the Red Sox starts to wane in favor of pre-season maneuvering and news about the college game and all that jazz. I’m sorry. It’s my Midwestern roots.

That said, for those of my readers who are die-hard baseball fans, I would encourage you to make Basegirl a daily stop on your blog-reading list. She’s an excellent baseball writer and a devoted Red Sox fan, so go give her a read. Start with her essay on the Sox getting swept by the Royals.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

We Built This City on Craptacular TV Specials

THERE WERE MANY THINGS bad about the Seventies: the oil shocks, the stagflation, the 55 mph speed limit. Yet perhaps the worst part about the decade was that even the few good things in it, such as Star Wars, were occasionally tainted with the massive suckitude that infested everything else. When it came to the Star Wars franchise, perhaps the worst such incident involved something called "The Star Wars Holiday Special."

The "Holiday Special" has been broadcast only once: on Nov. 17, 1978, on CBS. According to its Wikipedia entry, it is so horribly bad that George Lucas, who had little to do with the final product, removed his story credit. It is so horribly bad that an actual television critic called it "the worst two hours of television ever." It is so horribly bad that its "special guest stars" include Bea Arthur, Harvey Korman and -- wait for it -- Jefferson frickin' Starship. Yes, that Jefferson Starship.

I'm sorry, but when Jefferson Starship is presented as a Special Musical Guest, you know the show's going to bite. Anyway, after the special aired, the "Holiday Special" wasn't widely available for nearly three decades. That is, until June 3, 2006, when somebody uploaded the thing to YouTube. Here you go!

True, that's only the first nine minutes, but God knows that's about all you should really watch at one sitting.

(Thanks, Chris! THANKS A LOT!)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 05, 2006

The Coaches Poll is Downright Loony

I DON'T KNOW about the rest of you, but I think America's college football coaches -- Joe Paterno excepted -- have collectively gone stark raving loony. It is, after all, the only plausible explanation for them naming the Ohio State Buckeyes the No. 1 football squad in the USA Today pre-season coaches' poll.

I hear my readers muttering, so let me assure you: even though I hate Ohio State and all its works, this is not sour grapes on my part. Really.

Yes, the Buckeyes have Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman and Ted Ginn returning on offense. They do not, however, have A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel, Ashton Youboty and a whole host of other players returning on defense. Maybe it's just me, but Ohio State's great defense last year played a huge part in why they did so well, and without those key players I can't see why they should get a No. 1 ranking.

Ohio State should be No. 3 or No. 4, but not No. 1. Rather, No. 1 should go to Notre Dame, which has whole bunches of its top starters returning and will be an extremely formidable squad. Instead, Notre Dame is ranked No. 3 -- and tied with USC for that! (Texas, last year's national champ, is in the No. 2 spot, and I suspect that's overly generous -- their quarterback last played in high school).

Meanwhile, the coaches ranked Michigan, which went 7-5 last year, No. 15! What the hell were they thinking?

Loyal Rant Readers know I'm a fanatic partisan on behalf of the Michigan Wolverines, the greatest and best college football team in history. That said, I can't believe we deserve to be ranked No. 15. Much of that is because Lloyd Carr remains as coach, and barring a miracle season, that alone should knock us down five or six spots. But also, I'm not convinced Michigan's present players have proven themselves yet. The squad went 7-5 last year. They need to earn a high berth. We should've been somewhere in the twenties.

Meanwhile, Iowa and Penn State were ranked No. 17 and No. 19, respectively. This does not compute. Iowa is a surprisingly good team: for instance, it only lost to Michigan last year in overtime (and OT in college football is notoriously stupid). As for Penn State, it continues to have Joe Paterno as coach, which should automatically boost Penn State several notches. Sure, PSU's defense left too, but No. 19 seems a bit low.

Of course, I do realize that all these rankings will prove moot after the first couple of weeks, particularly when Akron knocks off Penn State in Happy Valley. What's that? You think I'm kidding? Only a little, my friends, only a little. As a Midwesterner, the Mid-American Conference is almost as near-and-dear to me as the Big Ten, and the Akron Zips are a team one underestimates at one's peril.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2006

Good Lord, It's Already August

I'M HORRIFIED AS USUAL -- just had to mention it. Carry on!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 31, 2006

Parker Lewis Can't Really Be 35 This Year, Can He?

WHILST SURFING the Internet and the myriad blogs which contribute so much to this grand life of ours, I stumbled across a rather alarming post regarding nostalgia for the early Nineties. The alarming part didn't have to do with the nostalgia; I rather liked the early Nineties, even though I was stuck in high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., and going to high school was like attending a minimum-security prison.

Rather, the alarming part had to do with the topic addressed. At this point, we'll turn things over to blogger Spinachdip, the New York-based writer who first discussed the matter. Mr Spinachdip writes:

"I was all ready to do an early-90s nostalgia post, but one huge problem - the scarcity of YouTube clips of Parker Lewis Can't Lose. So I figure I could just put a Parker Lewis DVD on my Netflix queue and rip some footage. But guess what? There is no Parker Lewis DVD. How could this be? Do we, as a nation, no longer care about synchronizing our Swatches and eluding Larry Kubiak?"

Mr Spinachdip goes on to write about other disturbing matters, such as an actual Biz Markie doll (wearing -- wait for it -- a Boston Bruins-esque jersey). But never mind that. Do mind the picture of Parker, Mikey and Jerry which Mr Spinachdip posted. Did you click there and then return here? Good.

DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, LOOK HOW YOUNG THEY LOOK.

I mean, my God. What the hell's happened to me? What the hell's happened to all of us? How did the time go so quickly? It feels just like yesterday that I, a youthful innocent, was watching this show on the five-inch black-and-white portable television I had in my room. Now, I'm overweight and anxious and stressed and an ex-smoker* and unhappily single, and it's my own damn fault. My own damn fault!

As if that wasn't enough, the guy who played Parker Lewis is turning 35 this year. Dear God. Also, the guy who played Kubiak got all the work after "Parker Lewis" wrapped up. Like you, I never saw that one coming.

------
* well, that's good, actually.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Almost There...

ON SUNDAY, AUG. 6, the NFL's Hall of Fame Game will be played in Canton, Ohio, kicking off the league's preseason. The game, which will be televised, also officially ends the horrible months-long sports drought through which most professional football fans suffer each year. Remarkable as it may seem, many football fans don't have access to the life-sustaining arena football games or Canadian football TV broadcasts which let lucky folks (like me) get through the long spring and summer months. As such, Sunday's game will be a welcome development for all, but especially for those in football deprived areas like northeast Ohio.

Interestingly enough, this year's Hall of Fame Game is being played between two teams not known for any recent accomplishments: the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles. As a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I hate both of these teams, and would like nothing more than for each to go 1-15 during the regular season*. However, I realize that in the world of football realpolitik, one must govern one's passions accordingly.

As such, here's a little video to celebrate the start of this year's NFL season, and with it my implicit hopes for how the Hall of Fame Game turns out this year. I'm ready for some football!

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* Unfortunately, it's downright impossible for both teams to go 1-15. Furthermore, if they did, that would conflict with my hopes that the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins also go 1-15. Still, one can dream.

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

July 26, 2006

Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

USA TODAY ASKS: "Are you ready for a little more football?"

That's like asking if you're ready for a little more cake. Everyone loves cake! Anyway, a new football minor league will start up in 2007 -- hey, that's next year!

The All American Football League plans to field eight teams based in college towns, feature players from local schools and conferences, and cater to regional audiences. Players will earn about $100,000 per year, according to USA Today. The AAFL won't compete with the NFL -- it plans to draw its players after next year's NFL draft, will play from about mid-April to mid-June, and use college rules.

Sweet. The only way this could get any sweeter is if the University of Michigan's athletic director, Mr William C. Martin, were to announce, "Why, yes, Michigan is a part of this exciting venture. Ann Arbor shall have a team, and it shall be called the Michigan Panthers. And it will rule."

Also, if the AAFL could schedule its games to be televised on Sundays, that'd be nice too. This way, they wouldn't conflict with potential NFL Europe/Arena Football League games, which are generally played on Saturdays and Fridays or Saturdays, respectively.

UPDATE, 7:18 p.m.: Purdue?! Uh, no. Michigan, please.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:36 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

My Bloody Oath

SO ON THURSDAY, I went down to my local blood donation center and gave blood for the first time. I realize the apparent generosity of such an act may prompt surprise among some of my readers, but I can assure you the reward for donating – in this case, a decent barbecue dinner – represented a fair exchange for my pint of A-negative. Besides, a good guy in my trade union organized the drive, so I thought attending would be nice.

The only downside to the whole affair was that my body and mind were not on the same plane about the donation. My mind’s train of thought went something like this: donate blood, help people in need, perform public service. My body’s train of thought went like this: donate blood, get stuck with really large needle, have precious bodily fluids sapped and impurified. Must – resist – Communist – subversion.

I don’t know why my body has this autonomous resistance to needles. Sometimes I wonder if it has something to do with my long hospitalization as a newborn, in which I was stuck with IV needles for something like three months. Whatever the cause, my subconscious resistance is real and documented. I’ve even been told that, as a child, I once ripped out an IV needle placed in my arm and threw it at a doctor. The fact I was on an operating table at the time, and out cold under a general anaesthetic, was apparently not enough to stop my body from resisting.

Now that I’m an adult, and much more used to unpleasantness, I don’t consciously have any issues with needles, or various nasty medical items like surgical tape or that foul-smelling iodine solution they use to prevent infection. Unfortunately, I also don’t have any accessible veins close to the surface of my arms. As a result, whenever I have blood drawn for tests, I have the technician draw it from one of my hands with a smaller “butterfly” needle. This is much simpler and easier for all concerned.

They don’t draw blood with butterfly needles.

Now, the blood donation process is actually very easy. You go in and fill out some forms. Then you go through a survey with a technician in which you are asked a variety of questions, generally dealing with whether you have one or more godawful diseases, many of which you have never heard. Particularly if you’ve traveled.

TECHNICIAN: Do you have Chagas’ disease?
ME: No – uh, do I have what?
TECHNICIAN: It’s from some bugs in Mexico.
ME: Ah. Uh, no.

After this is all done, you go lie on a “bed” (that is to say, a glorified lawn chair), another technician comes to draw your blood, sticks a needle in your arm, and checks back in ten minutes. Unless you’re like me, in which case it takes a while for the technician to actually find a usable vein, and the vein is so deep that the technician has no choice but to jab and shift the needle back and forth to draw blood. Then, instead of just leaving you to bleed quietly, the technician has to spend all her time making sure the blood keeps flowing, because your vein might run dry (for some reason, I’ve had this happen as well).

The good news, though, is that I was able to successfully complete my donation. Now, someone in need will end up with my pint of A-negative. Meanwhile, I got a decent barbecue dinner from this place. I also got a nasty bruise on my arm – but that’s a small price to pay for good North Carolina-style barbecue.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2006

Finally, A Decent Summer Movie

THERE’S NOTHING like a round of plotless action films, insipid remakes, and iffy horror films to make one wish for the halycon days of high school, back when Hollywood made really inspired movies for the summer movie season. This summer’s movies have been so bad that the high point has been waiting for “Snakes on a Plane” to make its debut in August. Yeah. “Snakes on a Plane.”

However, I think we’ve turned a corner. For today, I went out and saw “Clerks II,” the long-awaited sequel to “Clerks,” the iconic 1994 movie which inspired and defined a generation. Well, at least it inspired lots of people my age, who were born in the mid- to- late-Seventies and grew up with Star Wars, and who react to most circumstances in life with a combination of passive-aggressive behavior, ranting aloud and terminal ennui. Yeah. Ennui.

Anyway, even though it’s been ten years since the first “Clerks,” and even though it was impossible for director Kevin Smith to top “Clerks,” the sequel is a damn fine movie and, even better, a damn fine sequel. I laughed hysterically at the very first scene and kept laughing throughout, and the ending was unexpected and even a bit poignant. Perhaps the best – and most amazing thing – was how Smith managed to keep things fresh, all while addressing the fact that ten years have passed since the first movie.

Also, “Clerks” fans can rest assured the main characters remain the same. Dante is still high-strung and dissatisfied with his life, while his partner-in-crime Randal is still sarcastic, bitter and a complete schmuck to others. I mean, more so than usual.

Thus, “Clerks II” is definitely worth seeing if you’re between the ages of 25 and 34, which I guess is kind of the “Clerks” demographic, and you’re not offended when curmudgeonly characters (by which I mean Randal) say truly horrible things just because it sets up a really good argument between Randal, Dante, and anyone else within earshot. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is sacred.

But then, nothing ever was in “Clerks,” and that was partly the joy of it.

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

July 19, 2006

An Open Letter to the Ford Motor Co.

MEMORANDUM

TO: Bill Ford

FR: Benjamin Kepple

RE: Possibilities

Dear Mr Ford,

AS A PROUD Ford Taurus (or similar) driver for roughly 15 years, I have been extremely pleased with my cars’ performance, reliability and safety features. My Ford vehicles, both new and used, have consistently made my drives greatly enjoyable and quite economical. I’m also convinced that, during a bad accident on the highway, my Ford Taurus even saved my life.

That said, if you don’t stop airing that “Possibilities” commercial during Red Sox games, I’m buying a goddam Honda.

Well, OK, maybe I wouldn’t. Still, for the love of God, please make the commercials stop. They are single-handedly ruining my Ford ownership experience. Even worse, they are destroying any smidgen of coolness which may have been associated with Ford ownership. These commericals of yours are so bad they’re tagging the Ford brand with a distinct aura of lameness; an aura which shouts to the world, LOOK UPON MY CAR, YE PEOPLE, AND SNICKER.

I’m sorry, but it’s just depressing. A proud customer of one of America’s two remaining carmakers ought not have to suffer through lame commercials in which some yokel singer spins around like an aging baby boomer overdosing on disco music. I don’t care if the man won “American Idol.” He’s spectacularly uncool and spectacularly annoying and spectacularly miscast. Plus, as I have it on good authority, the song gets stuck in everybody’s heads and drives people crazy. This fills people with an undying hatred of Ford and Ford products.

For that matter, what the hell were your advertising people thinking when they signed the winner of “American Idol” to star in your commericals, commercials with the stated aim of emphasising Ford’s “bold” attributes?

Dude. Having the winner of “American Idol” star in your commercial is not bold. Having the winner of “American Idol” sing a lame-ass paean to baby boomer rebellion is not bold. Having the winner of “American Idol” spin around like a whirling dervish while singing it is roughly as bold as having a high school drama class perform “The Music Man” at its spring concert. In other words, not frickin’ bold.

Now, look at this commercial. This is bold. It’s also rather funny. But in general, it fits the definition of bold:

See! That’s bold! Bold wins! Unfortunately, in this case, it also means that Toyota wins. As such, maybe you should try to develop commercials like Toyota has done. For instance, perhaps you could emphasize how well the Ford Taurus protects its drivers and passengers, even during a massive collision with an eighteen-wheeler on I-94. After all, you’ve pretty much caught up on the quality front, so now it’s just a question of being cool and with it.

In the meantime, be bold. Start by going down to JWT Detroit and breaking things in the account manager’s office, or something. Don’t worry, at Ford, there’s precedent for that sort of thing. Besides, J. Walter Thompson wouldn’t have put up with this crap, and neither should you. After all, last time I checked, Quality is still Job #1.

All best,


Ben Kepple

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2006

Celebrating What Makes America Great

THIS WEEK, Americans have paid much thought to the Fourth of July’s deeper meanings. Our Independence Day reminds us of our freedom from tyranny and our freedom to pursue happiness. It reminds us that our property and capital is protected from the wicked and the strong, and that we are free to worship God in any way we please.

Now that the holiday’s done, though, I don’t suppose it would be entirely blasphemous to cheerfully note Independence Day also means it’s roughly a month until professional football starts again.

Oh, sure, it’s the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, and the game is between the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles, but the important thing is that it’s football. No longer will I have to hope my minor-league arena football team makes the playoffs; no longer will I hunt in vain for Canadian football on television. Real football, professional football – even though it’s the pre-season – will have returned!

As such, it’s a fitting time to look at this year’s prospects for the greatest football franchise ever in the history of sport, the Pittsburgh Steelers. My prediction, which all will agree is bold and daring, is that the Steelers will win the Super Bowl again this year. Furthermore, I think we’ll do so after winning the AFC North division, and knocking out the New England Patriots somewhere along the line.

It will not be an easy task. First and foremost, this is because the Steelers play in the AFC North, the toughest division out of the eight we have in the NFL.

It’s worth noting the Cincinnati Bengals actually won the AFC North last year, with an 11-5 record. Even though Carson Palmer was hurt, he’s apparently recovering well and they remain a strong squad. They’re going to want to win it again more than ever, this year, and they’d like nothing more than to prevent Pittsburgh from reaching the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens also would like nothing more than to prevent the Steelers from reaching the playoffs. Like Cincinnati, these teams hate Pittsburgh and all for which it stands. Their motivations are a little different than the Bengals’ are, but nonetheless, they want to utterly crush the Steelers and run roughshod all over Heinz Field.

The trouble for Pittsburgh is that the Browns will be good this year, perhaps even very good. As the linked article notes, they got rid of their useless quarterback, Trent “Dillweed” Dilfer, and put QB Charlie Frye in the starter’s job. They got some good defensive draft picks. Furthermore, they got WR Joe Jurevicius from the Seattle Seahawks. Jurevicius is a fine wide receiver and quite capable. Perhaps the most ominous thing of all is that the Browns’ organization seems – at least from here -- to actually have its act together. This could prove problematic if the Browns go at least 8-8, as I think they will.

One can also never count out the Ravens. Although the Ravens are an evil franchise worthy only of scorn and ridicule from decent people, they play well enough to potentially trip up the Steelers at a crucial time. They certainly pose no danger this year in terms of winning the division, but could cost Pittsburgh a much-needed win along the way.

Pittsburgh will need every win it can get. The Steelers’ trouble stems from its tough division and correspondingly tough schedule. In certain divisions (*cough* AFC South *cough*), the imbalance between teams can mean an easy four, five or even six wins for a team in a sixteen-game season. Pittsburgh has NO easy wins available to it in divisional play.

But then again, neither do the other AFC North teams. However, due to the vagarities of the scheduling process, the Bengals will have the toughest schedule of all the AFC North this season! That first place finish they were so happy about last year means they’ll play the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, while Pittsburgh gets to play the much weaker Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. Heh.

All the AFC North teams will play the NFC South this year – yawn – but they’ll also play the AFC West, which will be exciting. The AFC West is the second-toughest division in football and there will be plenty of good games with all the AFC West teams.

Anyway, here’s my out-on-a-limb predictions for the AFC North. These will undoubtedly come back to haunt me:

PITTSBURGH: 13-3
CINCINNATI: 11-5
CLEVELAND: 10-6
BALTIMORE: 6-10

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 19, 2006

Thanks, Italy! (and Other Sports Foibles This Weekend)

I MUST SAY I PITY Cristian Zaccardo.

The look on his face after he scored an own goal in the World Cup match between Italy and the USA -- a goal which kept America's tourney hopes alive -- said more than any words could about the gravity of his error. It was a look of both horror and fear, a look that seemed to say, "Oh, dear God, back home the children will laugh at me and the women will mock me and there's a fair chance I'll get garroted in a back alley."

As with all sports, soccer fanatics tend to have memories that are very long, and one can imagine Mr Zaccardo will hear about his blunder until the end of time. So I wish Mr Zaccardo well, and wish Italy the best on Thursday when they take on the Czech Republic -- wait, what? What's that you said? I'm just saying that because we need Italy to beat the Czechs on Thursday to advance ourselves into Stage 2? Dear readers, I can assure you I would never ever sunder my love for Italy due to a tough and hard-fought soccer match, even if Daniele De Rossi is a scoundrel and a cad.

But moving on. Did you notice this weekend was a weird one for sports mishaps? Maybe it's just me, but it seemed like there were plenty of big-time screwups, no matter the sport. Let's review:

GOLF: Phil Mickelson loses the U.S. Open in an 18th hole performance so bad that even he said, "I'm such an idiot." I mean, first the man screws up his drive off the tee so bad he hits the corporate hospitality tent. Then he hits a tree. Then he knocks it into the bunker. Three strokes later, he's handed the entire tournament to Geoff Ogilvy, who was in the clubhouse watching it all on television and, from what I could see, trying mightily to not jump up and down for joy.

BASKETBALL: Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard not only misses two free throws in the clutch, but also calls a time out BETWEEN FOUL SHOTS right at the very end of the game. This meant that Dallas, down by one point with 1.8 seconds left on the clock, had to start with the ball at the far end of the court, instead of being much closer to the basket. As a result, Dallas lost. While this actually wasn't all that bad -- it meant we once again got to see Mark Cuban pitch a fit -- it still is kind of pathetic.

FOOTBALL: The Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos wanted to prove they still "had it" in their first game, despite many changes since they won the Grey Cup last year. Well, they not only lost to Calgary, they had a third quarter in which they scored just one point.

Yes, that's right. ONE point. In the Canadian Football League, it is possible to score just ONE point in regular play. It's hard to describe why, but it's kind of as a consolation prize. Anyway, this was embarrassing.

BASEBALL: On Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox organization allowed Rudy Seanez to travel with the team, enter Turner Field, suit up in a Red Sox uniform, and enter the game as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning. Upon throwing his first pitch, Seanez gave up the Red Sox lead on a three-run homer. The game was only saved due to an improbable eighth-inning comeback which saw the Sox score six runs -- plus the efforts of ace closer Jonathan Papelbon, who rules.

Speaking of Papelbon -- for those of you who were watching the game, did you see Papelbon and Tavarez warming up together in the bullpen? Upon seeing that image, did you -- like me -- think, "Oh, dear God, they're going to put in Tavarez and we'll lose?" That was MY initial thought, anyway.

Fortunately, though, the Red Sox won the game -- and won tonight, as it turned out. Just as nice, the Yankees lost yesterday -- and lost tonight too. I'm really not the type to gloat -- really, I swear it -- but I can't say I mind when the Yankees help out the cause.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2006

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You Dept.

REPORT: After Roethlisberger crash, Tommy Maddox "available" to return to Pittsburgh lineup.

A poll on KDKA-TV's Web site presently shows that 76 percent of respondents are opposed to the idea of Maddox, whose incompetence cost the Steelers at least one game last year, returning to the team. The remaining 24 percent are fans of the Cleveland Browns.

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

June 15, 2006

... And the Agony of Being Thrown Into a Windshield Head First

RECENTLY, A DEAR friend of mine wrote and mentioned he had a good laugh at my recent nasty remark directed at Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback.

As a New England Patriots fan, my friend too has no love for Peyton Manning, whom all can agree is a pathetic crybaby sissy who can't deal with an aggressive defense. Still, as a Patriots fan, my friend could not leave things at that. Oh no. At the close of his letter, my friend politely wrote, "Still waiting to see your post about idiot QBs who ride motorcycles without helmets."

Sadly, it has taken me a while to properly compose my thoughts on this week's incident involving Ben Roethlisberger, the starting quarterback of the five-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. For those unaware, Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw and nose after he ran his motorcycle into a car. As my friend noted, Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet. However, I can assure readers that I went through the same emotions as the rest of Steelers Nation upon hearing the news: namely, fear and nausea.

I first heard the news at work, where due to circumstances beyond my control, I am surrounded by New England Patriots fans. Most were sympathetic to my plight, or at least kind enough not to openly mock my suffering. However, there were those who poked a little fun at Pittsburgh's expense. ("Hey, Ben! What's a nose and jaw between two buns? A Roethlisberger!")

Ha, ha! I thought. Then I realized this particular colleague was not even a Patriots fan, but rather a fan of the Green Bay Packers, who last won a Super Bowl in 1996 and will not win one again until 2048, when their quarterback, Brett Favre, finally decides to retire. Sadly, I could not come up with this witty comeback when the joke was first delivered, but hey. It works now.

But anyway. Certainly, the news of Mr Roethlisberger's injury came as a severe blow to my psyche, and I have to admit it was the first time in a long time I felt really crushed about a sports incident.

You see, Roethlisberger is one of about three professional sports figures in whom I have placed an actual emotional investment -- the others being Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. So to hear that Roethlisberger was hurt was devastating -- particularly as it seemed, at first, to put in jeopardy the chances of winning a sixth Super Bowl victory.

It also came during a particularly bad sports week here at The Rant. In the World Cup, the Czechs kicked America's collective ass on the soccer pitch in a game that can be called embarrassing at best. Then, the Germans -- whom I was rooting against -- went around winning everything. So did the English, which was also annoying. As if that wasn't enough, barring direct intervention from St. Sebastian -- and perhaps even Our Lady of Victory herself -- the Italians are going to crush us like a bug on Saturday.

But things were not only going bad soccer-wise. This week, the Red Sox have been busy dropping the ball over in Minnesota. The trouble, you see, is that the Red Sox have a weak bullpen, aside from Papelbon and Timlin. So here we are in extra innings on Tuesday -- the 12th inning, to be precise -- and the Red Sox are set to win if they can just hold off the Twins. However, it was that point the Red Sox decided to send in Julian Tavarez. I submit that everyone in Red Sox Nation knew the game was irretrievably lost at that point. What we didn't know was that Tavarez would lose it the worst way possible -- with a grand slam.

So all in all, it's been a crappy week sportswise -- the incident with Roethlisberger is just, I don't know, an additional steaming pile of crap on top of everything else. The good news, though, is that Roethlisberger is now out of the hospital and will hopefully have a speedy recovery. In the meantime, we've always Charlie Batch -- who was once a former starter himself -- to rely on. As Pittsburgh fans know all too well, it could be so, so, so very much worse.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 06, 2006

All Football, All the Time

I HAVEN’T been a good blogger lately and for that I am sorry. I’ve been busy with work and home and trying to eat properly and switching dry cleaners, among other things, and all-in-all it’s taken my blogging energy and stomped it into little tiny shreds. That, and I realized I’m suffering from a considerably advanced case of football drought, and also slowly becoming the type of embittered, wretched, hubristic person one frequently encounters in James Clavell novels.

The good news, though, is that I’ve found a fix for the football drought problem.

I realize the idea of a football drought may seem a bit much to some. After all, few seem to talk about a baseball drought, even during the winter. Even fewer talk about a basketball drought, given the length of the NBA’s playoffs. As for a hockey drought, although the true fans suffered mightily, no one else really minded when the NHL cancelled its 2004-2005 season.

But football, at least for me and many others, is different. Both the professional and collegiate seasons only run in earnest from early September through the New Year, and while the January playoffs are exciting, the end of the Super Bowl in early February marks the start of several long football-free months. No Michigander can be expected to suffer this way, especially a Michigander with deep family roots in Western Pennsylvania, and an extended family with strong loyalties to their respective teams in the AFC North (except Baltimore, which can rot in perdition along with Art Modell, the scoundrel).

However, I was fortunate. After doing some research, I found that soon after the Super Bowl ends, I can start watching minor-league football, courtesy of the Arena Football League and the NFL Europe development league. That will keep me going all the way through June, when I can start watching the Canadian Football League, plus see a few live games of the Manchester Wolves squad, which is a team in the arenafootball2 league, the AFL’s minor league. These games will get me through until the NFL and NCAA start up again, thus ensuring all football, all the time.

Yet this solution also presents a dilemma: what teams am I supposed to root for?

Some decisions are easy. For instance, Manchester has its own af2 team, so I clearly have to root for them. The Canadian league also makes it easy. I mean, what Midwesterner couldn’t support the Saskatchewan Roughriders? They’re from Saskatchewan, for God’s sake. That’s reason enough. Besides, think of the Roughriders’ fans out on the wind-blasted steppe! Think about little Johnny out in Flin Flon, who lives and breathes the Roughriders and whose dream is –

READER: Isn’t Flin Flon in Manitoba?

Not now, I’m on a roll. Anyway, think about little Johnny, who yearns to someday earn thousands of (Canadian) dollars per year making crucial third downs and scoring a rouge here or there for the green and white. I mean, you just can’t ignore that cultural impact. Also, Saskatchewan went .500 in the 2005 season, so it’s not like I’m jumping on the coat-tails of an especially good team. In my book, that would be as dishonorable as rooting for the Oakland Raiders or saying nice things about Jerry Jones.

But what do I do regarding NFL Europe, where nearly all the teams are in Germany? My traditional mindset would have me root for the one non-German team in the league, the Amsterdam Admirals. The trouble is, the Admirals are one of the best teams in the league, which means I can’t start supporting them now. As for the German teams, I would normally side with Frankfurt, since that’s closest to the Ancestral Home of the Kepples. But they’re a good team too, so now they’re out as well. About all I have left, when one takes into account geographical and performance factors, are the Cologne Centurions. They may not be the best team in NFL Europe, but they sure have the best name.

As for the Arena Football League – well, that was easier than I thought. It turns out the city of Grand Rapids, an hour north of my old home town, has an Arena Football League team: the Grand Rapids Rampage. They were last in their division this year, with a crummy but not hideous 5-11 record. I don’t know if I’ll get to see them on television much, but then again, I don’t get to see the Steelers all that much either, so I’m used to it. Football, even if it means watching certain teams I don't especially like every week, is still football.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

Line of the Week Dept.

"IN OTHER WORDS, Mills seems to believe that the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl could be the 21st century's Antietam."

-- Dean Barrett
"The Red and the Blue"
The Weekly Standard

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Well, At Least Purgatory is Still Right Out

LOYAL RANT READERS know I find it greatly annoying when well-meaning but foolish parents name their children something strange: so much so, in fact, that I’m apparently becoming an expert on it. I can assure you that, much to my surprise and delight, a 2004 entry from The Rant has been named source material for the Dutch Wikipedia entry on stupid celebrity names. As the entry is in Dutch, I have no idea what it actually says, but considering Holland’s proud mercantile traditions, I can only assume the best.

I was disheartened again, though, to see that another unfortunate trend in naming one’s children has recently emerged in American life. The New York Times has the story in full:

In 1999, there were only eight newborn American girls named Nevaeh. Last year, it was the 70th-most-popular name for baby girls, ahead of Sara, Vanessa and Amanda.

The spectacular rise of Nevaeh (commonly pronounced nah-VAY-uh) has little precedent, name experts say. They watched it break into the top 1,000 of girls' names in 2001 at No. 266, the third-highest debut ever. Four years later it cracked the top 100 with 4,457 newborn Nevaehs, having made the fastest climb among all names in more than a century, the entire period for which the Social Security Administration has such records.

Nevaeh is not in the Bible or any religious text. It is not from a foreign language. It is not the name of a celebrity, real or fictional. Nevaeh is Heaven spelled backward.

It is also, one hesitates to mention, how one commonly pronounces NIVEA, the skin-care product brand from Hamburg-based Beiersdorf AG, which is notable for its smarmy television commercials. Somebody – make that somebodies -- at The New York Times failed to notice this.

That omission aside, the Times still managed to have fun with the story on an institutional level. For instance, somebody at the Times decided the story would be perfect for Jennifer 8. Lee, whose middle name is actually the number eight, to cover. Somebody at the Times also came up with the clever headline: “And if It’s a Boy, Will It Be Lleh?” Ha, ha!

Now, that second item is one of those cutesy little digs which might make a man momentarily question the Nineteenth Amendment. However, it is instead properly repudiated with a polite request for the Times copy desk to go stifle itself. Or, at the very least, a grumbled invocation of Sesuj Tsirhc.

But let’s be serious for a moment.

The name, as you’ve guessed, rings a sour note with me. It’s not merely that it may be confused with a similar-sounding skin-care product, or that it will also likely prove a challenge for many to spell. To me, the name is a walking billboard proclaiming the self-centeredness and indulgence of those who conferred it upon their child. Some might even consider it a warning sign: a placard, if you will, notifying other adults that said child’s parents will undoubtedly and immediately bore them to tears with dull stories about their little tyke. Yes, you may have just met them ten minutes ago, but be ready to reap the whirlwind when the pathetic helicopter parents blast off about the latest indignity the cruel world has heaped upon their little angel.

Such indulgence is particularly unfortunate when it affects children. It’s symptomatic, I think, of the weakening of the traditional family dynamic in American life, and the unspoken covenant that reminds one of how important the shared bonds of one’s last name are. For instance, back in the old days, parents would routinely mete out worse punishment to their child than their child’s teachers would. This was not merely because the kid needed direction, but because he had embarrassed his parents, a far graver sin. Nowadays, parents don’t seem to feel a bit of shame when little Johnny acts up, and instead attack the teachers or coaches or whomever disciplined their brat – even though doing so has connotations which are far more negative. It’s very, very strange, but perhaps understandable in a popular culture which places far more importance on the individual than on family.

“Nevaeh” is also unfortunate for the standard reasons I dislike out-there names. It has no ethnic connotation and no indication of one’s family traditions, meaning that anyone with the name loses out on positives that might be associated with it. Furthermore, there’s a danger the name may pick up negative associations. As Steve Levitt and Steve Dubner pointed out in “Freakonomics,” the original name – Heaven – is generally indicative of low educational status in a family. It would be particularly unfortunate if Nevaeh were to face a similar fate.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 14, 2006

No One Said Anything About Floods

YOU KNOW HOW I said yesterday that we had a considerable bit of rain here in Manchester, and that it had rained all day? Well, the rain never stopped. It's still raining. It's been raining so much that they're apparently cleaning up water damage down in one of the basement apartments, and they've put up plastic tarps near other basement windows to ward away water. Variations on this theme are taking place in roughly eight of New Hampshire's ten counties.

Speaking of eight, that's roughly how many inches of rain we've received here in Manchester over the past two days, according to the National Weather Service -- and that's just as of 7 p.m. tonight. In some places it's even worse. Amazingly, though, it's still not going to stop. On Monday, the forecast calls for a 100 pc chance of rain. Things may clear up on Tuesday, although we're still facing a better than 50 pc chance of rain that day too.

I suppose I just want to note for the record that, when I moved here to New Hampshire, I knew about the winters, and I knew about the cold and ice and snow. But no one said anything about continuous downpours and flooding that could make a visitor think he'd landed in Blade Runner.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 13, 2006

The Perils of Gardening and the City of Brotherly Shove

Oh No!
It's Time for Yet Another Edition of ...
YOUR SEARCH ENGINE QUERIES ANSWERED

An occasional Rant feature

IT IS A STRANGE DAY here in Manchester. Although it is one of the few days so far this year in which my allergies and sinuses are not causing me complete and total agony, it is pouring outside and has been for the past several hours. This means that I'm spending yet another day indoors and away from evil pollen-spreading plants, which for reasons I don't understand trouble me here far worse than they did back home or in California.

Still, the forced time inside has its advantages. For instance, I've done a lot of sleeping, which is always a fine way to spend a weekend. I've also watched some soccer and read a bit, and I'll probably watch a movie later before turning in early. Apparently, New Hampshire may experience floods like we haven't experienced since -- well, last year -- so I'll want to be ready for tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I think it's time for yet another edition of Your Search Engine Queries Answered, the semi-regular feature in which I look at The Rant's search-engine queries. They're all over the board this time, but as disturbing as usual.

QUERY: everyone can be a gardener. perhaps you have a window box or a tub or enjoy relaxing outside in the summer

ANSWER: I'm sorry, but you're incorrect. For instance, I can't be a gardener, because I failed to inherit the gardening gene from my parents. Furthermore, I find the outdoors -- with the exception of certain national parks and remote desert areas -- generally irritating and wretched. If I wanted to be outdoors, I'd go someplace where being outside was actually possible for most of the year.

QUERY: wretched winnipeg band

ANSWER: One can't be all that hard to find.

QUERY: pimped out subaru legacy

ANSWER: Somehow, I just can't imagine a pimped-out subaru legacy attracting the envy and attention of one's peers, even if it did hop. God! Can you imagine it? "Ay, yo! Check out that ... Subaru?!"

QUERY: charter cable disconnect still on

ANSWER: Television may be a vast wasteland, but there's nothing like a FREE vast wasteland, particularly if you're still getting the pay channels.

QUERY: it makes no sense living in the suburbs

ANSWER: I wholeheartedly agree. Of course, I'm also single and have no children. It may be that married couples with children have different outlooks on life.

QUERY: socialist pornography

ANSWER: Oh dear.

QUERY: what huge city is called city of brotherly shove on account of its supposed rudeness?

ANSWER: Wichita.

QUERY: what does it mean that my home equity line of credit is maxed out

ANSWER: It means I'm damned glad not to be in your shoes. Also: get advice from a certified financial planner before it's too late.

QUERY: high school reunions suck

ANSWER: That's why I've studiously avoided even considering attending one of my high school reunions.

QUERY: where to find champale for sale?

ANSWER: You'll find it next to the "wines not made from grapes" section at your local liquor store of dubious reputation. Look for the 32 oz. bottles. It may or may not be available in flavors other than the "classic" Champale taste, which I've been told is a cross between flat Mello Yello and horse piss.

QUERY: perks of senior year in high school

ANSWER: Well, you certainly get to enjoy four -- and perhaps even eight -- months of erroneously believing you're on top of the world and you have a bright future ahead of you. Such feelings are better reserved for your early twenties, when you're just out of college.

QUERY: cheap and pleasant places to live in california

ANSWER: Well, which is it?

QUERY: stupid question white people ask

ANSWER: The potential for humor here is so vast I'm going to just let folks think about that for a sec.

QUERY: free make a person suffer hoodoo and voodoo spells

ANSWER: I'm sorry, but if you want to harness evil forces from the world of the dead, you're going to have to pay. That's kind of part and parcel with the whole deal.

QUERY: repercussions from drinking 17 bottles of vodka in 2 weeks

ANSWER: Your liver might not be up for bottle No. 18.

QUERY: kangaroo meat tastes like

ANSWER: Chicken.

QUERY: how many miles is too many taurus

ANSWER: This all depends on how your Taurus is functioning. Many people may think that because a Taurus is old or otherwise has lots of miles on it, the car is no longer useful. This is crap. As long as the car manages to start and actually moves forward, you should drive it until it runs into the ground or becomes too expensive to repair around inspection time. Questions about reliability can be solved through paying $60 or so for a membership with the American Automobile Association.

QUERY: how to pump your own gas

ANSWER: First, insert your debit or credit card into the gas pump. Curse loudly and vow vengeance on the various nogoodniks responsible for gasoline prices approaching $3 per gallon. Remove the pump and insert it into the fuel tank. Pump gas while angrily muttering about the cost of gasoline, the annoying gas pumps which supposedly cut down on gas vapors, and the irrationality seen daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Pump gas until the auto shut-off function kicks in. Top off the tank to the nearest dollar. Curse loudly upon receiving receipt.

QUERY: dating a journalist

ANSWER: NO! DON'T! Oops -- sorry. Reflex action. I mean, good decision! Dating a journalist has lots of important perks and benefits which go along with it. Perhaps the most noteworthy is that dating a journalist provides one with some of the "cool factor" associated with dating musicians, artists, poets, etc., while still secure in the knowledge that said journalist is earning "a steady income." Of course, journalism has its challenges: but rest assured that dating a journalist has plenty of perks, such as knowing or being able to find out quickly where all the good restaurants in town are, and so on.

Anyway, that's it for this edition of "Your Search Engine Queries Answered." Tune in next time when we look at bad cooking, how much to tip at the car wash and why I'm probably going to retire in the southwest. Until then, thanks for visiting.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Less Than One Month to Go ...

THE WORLD CUP, which combines the excitement of good soccer with the passionate fury one often associates with international incidents, starts in less than four weeks. Truly this is a fabulous thing, especially because the Detroit Red Wings got knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round, and the NBA finals will probably be rather boring. As such, the World Cup will help me survive what would otherwise be a typically tough summer sports drought.

I suspect I am like most World Cup fans in that I root for teams based solely on blind nationalism and, to a lesser extent, underdog status. While this World Cup doesn't contain many of the nations I would love to see lose horribly on the football pitch, there's still plenty of teams I'd enjoy watching lose. For instance, I'd love it if Germany were to lose badly this year. I'd also like it if Brazil, Argentina, and Saudi Arabia got blitzed. And if France loses too, that'd be like a bonus. As for the teams I'm actually rooting for, they include the USA -- because the Euros would be apoplectic if we won -- and Mexico, because Mexico and Canada are my traditional "strong second" teams.

In June and July, my blogging will undoubtedly reflect what's happening in the Cup, so to make things easier, I thought would present readers with an extended summary of my hopes for who wins the first 16 games of the 48-game first round. I'll advise regarding the remaining 32 games at a later date:

1. Germany v. Costa Rica: Costa Rica
2. Poland v. Ecuador: Poland
3. England v. Paraguay: Paraguay
4. Trinidad v. Sweden: T&T
5. Argentina v. Ivory Coast: Ivory Coast
6. Serbia v. Netherlands: Netherlands
7. Mexico v. Iran: Mexico
8. Angola v. Portugal: Angola
9. Australia v. Japan: Australia
10. USA v. Czech Republic: USA
11. Italy v. Ghana: Ghana
12. ROK v. Togo: Republic of Korea
13. France v. Switzerland: Switzerland
14. Brazil v. Croatia: Croatia
15. Spain v. Ukraine: Ukraine
16. Tunisia v. Saudi Arabia: Tunisia

I offer my sincere apologies to readers from countries whom I shall soon root against in the Cup. In most cases, I'm simply rooting for the underdog as opposed to rooting against your team. However, if your country's government has recently defaulted on its debts, nationalized industries, not supported America on the foreign stage or otherwise been generally irritating, then I hope your national team places 32nd and gets laughed at by neighboring countries. That said, may the best team win, as long as it's not Brazil.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2006

Gee, I Guess You Can Go Home Again (Kinda Sorta)

KALAMAZOO, Mich., Apr. 12-13 -- WHEN A DRIVER leaves the I-94 at Exit 75 and hangs a right on Oakland Drive, the first sign of commercial activity appears in a couple of miles. When I was growing up in Kalamazoo, the first things I would see taking that route were the Superior Cleaners dry-cleaning service and the D&W supermarket. When I went back to Kalamazoo after nearly a dozen years, those were still the first things I saw upon my arrival.

It is true, as I wrote in my last post about Kalamazoo, that parts of the town have changed. But much to my surprise, I found that Kalamazoo hadn't changed all that much since I left. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that certain parts of town -- like my old neighborhood -- remain practically unchanged. As such, I came to the natural conclusion that my old subdivision was caught in some weird Twilight Zone time warp, and furthermore, that I would soon be in thrall to the sway of a daemonic fortune-telling machine stuck in the back of Theo & Stacy's. But I digress.

Anyway, the old neighborhood was practically the same, and Simon From Jersey's old house was practically the same and Loy Norrix High School was practically the same (as seen from I-94, anyway). Much of the time, it just seemed like folks had thrown a fresh coat of paint on things. Heck, even the Kalamazoo Hilton -- I'm sorry, the Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center -- was largely the same, even if it did have an entirely new exterior design and new shops inside. It was still the grand hotel of Kalamazoo County and its surrounding environs.

Of course, some things did change. Much to my dismay, the old bowling lanes where I hung out were gone, and the pool hall where I used to play was torn down and replaced by a bank, and the old bookstore I liked couldn't hack it against the national chains. However, downtown Kalamazoo actually got a lot nicer. I mean, it was a place where one could go and actually do stuff after the close of business. It certainly wasn't like that back when I was growing up. Oh, and Western Michigan built this huge new campus out on Parkview Avenue, in an area of town that was once entirely farmland. That was a real shocker.

Best of all, though, I got to see Josh Grant on my trip, a Loyal Rant Reader and an old friend from high school. We had dinner downtown at the London Grill, a pub-like place which had the clever idea of serving British food along with Indian food. This was a lot of fun. Aside from the sheer novelty of ordering vindaloo in Kalamazoo -- this was once a town where it was tough finding good Italian -- it was great to catch up with Mr Grant, and find out that he was doing well (and getting married in May!).

I don't know whether the years since I've been gone have been good or bad for Kalamazoo -- based on my trip, they almost seem like a wash. But I was glad to find two things out the morning I left. First, the Michigan News Agency on West Michigan Avenue -- one of the few truly great newsagents out there -- was still in business. Second, so was Theo & Stacy's just a few doors down. I don't care where you are in America, but in my mind, any place where restaurants serve up eggs, bacon, pancakes and a large Diet Coke for $5.83 has the potential to be called home.

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

April 22, 2006

Tag, I'm It!

AH, THERE'S NOTHING like Saturday morning. It would have been a better Saturday morning had our beloved Red Sox not blown it against the Toronto Blue Jays last night, but never mind. This Saturday morning, I'm going to write about several interesting things you previously did not know about me, especially because Allison tagged me to do so and said she would find it fascinating if I did. So here we go!

SIX THINGS YOU PREVIOUSLY DID NOT KNOW ABOUT ME

1. I'm cooler than most people. Literally. The normal human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and one can arguably say that anywhere in the 98s is a reasonable range. As for me, however, my normal body temperature generally runs about 97 degrees even, and sometimes falls into the 96s. I have no idea why this is, although I do wonder if this explains why I tend to dislike very hot temperatures.

2. I have perfect pitch. This makes me useful to my musician friends, as they don't need a tuning fork to tell them whether their guitars are tuned correctly. The upside is that I can tell if things are in tune, I associate noise with musical notes (the dryer buzzer, for instance, has a note) and I can amaze my friends and confound my enemies ("How the hell do you do that?!"). The downside is that I can tell when things are off key or out of tune, and when they are, it's almost painful to listen.

3. I do sums to relax. If I'm trying to concentrate on something, or I am worried about something, or what have you, I do figures in my head to work through those issues. I don't know why I find this relaxing but I do. Plus, it helps me keep my mind sharp for when I need to do math in my head.

4. Occasionally, I maliciously lie about a particular scar. On my neck, I have a rather visible scar, from when I had a tracheotomy as a baby. (If you look at the masthead photo of me, you'll see it right around the K in Kepple) When I was growing up, I was mercilessly teased about this.

You see, kids -- being wretched little bastards -- would not know what the scar was, so they would politely ask me what the hell that thing on my neck was. Most of the time, this would result in a long and drawn out explanation of the tracheotomy process, after which the kids would continue making fun of me. After several years of this, however, something prompted me to tell one particularly stupid questioner that I had, in fact, been shot, and that was in fact a scar from being shot. The reaction -- I had him going for quite some time -- made me put this whole routine in my mental "witty comeback" file.

Now that I'm older, very few people ask me any more about the scar, and those that do are generally acutely familiar with tracheotomies. However, will I use the line again if the chance presents itself? Damn right.

5. Despite my college education, I still can't figure calculus out. This annoys me like you wouldn't believe. I'm great at doing figures and analyzing reports and familiar with statistics and what not, but I couldn't calculate an integral if my life depended on it. Well, maybe if my life depended on it, but still. The only time I ever felt I understood calculus, to be pefectly blunt, was when questions were put to me about marginal cost or something like that.

6. I'm listening to this album right now. This being Kirsty MacColl's "Tropical Brainstorm." Try it, you'll like it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 04, 2006

The Rant is Away ...

... UNTIL TUESDAY, APRIL 18. Until then, enjoy our archives, visit the good, fine people listed on our blogroll, and ... be excellent to each other. Yeah. See? I told you I was hip and with it!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 31, 2006

A Heartwarming Story out of Texas

THE BODY OF a Texas woman has been held on ice for nearly two months in the Dallas County medical examiner's office, after the office and its crematorium disagreed over the per-pound cost of her cremation, WFAA-TV reports.

The station says that 457-pound Charlotte Blue died on Feb. 6, but hasn't yet been cremated because the office was fighting with the crematorium over the per-pound surcharge assessed against people who weigh more than 300 pounds. Eventually, the county paid the money, and Blue is scheduled to be cremated under a program which cremates the indigent. Unfortunately, though, that didn't happen without a bit of emotional trauma:

Blue's son, Sam Roberts, said he believed his mother had been cremated under a county indigent plan until he called to get a death certificate.

"That's when I was informed that for the last two months she's been sitting in the deep freeze at the medical examiner's office because the crematorium that does business for the county says, 'Oh well, she's too big (and) too fat," he told WFAA-TV on Wednesday.

Dallas County Medical Examiner Charles Gaylor said the dispute has been settled and that county officials apologized to Blue's family for the delay. County officials approved the funds this week to cremate Blue's body.

Maybe it's just me, but isn't giving the indigent dead a decent sendoff one of those basic functions of government that our leaders ought just have done, regardless of the decedent's weight? I mean, good Lord.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:52 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 25, 2006

Gee, I Guess You Really Can't Go Home Again

"Youre lucky, Max where I used to live is now a pornographic equipment store."

-- Rob, "Annie Hall"

RECENTLY, WHILE planning my upcoming vacation, I decided that I wanted to travel back to my old hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich. Its been a little more than ten years since I was last back there, so I thought it would be neat to pay it a visit. For those of you unfamilar with the town, you should know that no less than The Wall Street Journal recently declared it a downtrodden industrial city. You should further know that crime figures have shown it to be more dangerous than New York.

All that said, though, Kalamazoo was a good place for me to grow up, and I have many fond memories from that time in my life. That, however, is what troubles me. You see, as part of my vacation preparations, I did some Internet research to see how the place has changed since I last visited back in 1995. As a result, Im worried Ill visit my hometown and I wont recognize it a bit. For what I discovered horrified me, and will undoubtedly shock (or at least bemuse) other expats from the Celery City.

For instance, one of the things I wanted to do while back home was have lunch at Peking Palace, which back in the day was a locally famous Chinese restaurant. Well, as it turns out I cant, because the place closed up a few years ago. Call it a slight disappointment. Unfortunately, though, it turns out that Peking Palace wasnt the only business to have closed its doors since I had left. Apparently, half the bloody town threw in the towel.

The other Chinese restaurant I liked? Gone. The old bowling alley where I used to bowl? Gone. Another bowling alley I liked? History. The Kalamazoo Public Library? Moved. The pedestrian mall downtown? Paved over.

I mean, even Bill Knapps Bill Knapps, for Gods sake shut down. Oh, sure, everyone expected that someday, but not for the reasons listed. Someone even tore down Maple Hill Mall, which I mean, that surprised even me.

I learned all this thanks to Vanished Kalamazoo, a disturbing yet often hilarious look at the way things once were in Kalamazoo. In all seriousness, the site itself is a masterpiece for anyone who is interested in Americana or local history or what not. It has things like old restaurant menus and photos and what not, which I find really interesting; and as someone who grew up in Kalamazoo, they are especially so. At the same time, though, there are also things which are laugh-out-loud funny.

Here are some links to choice exhibits at Vanished Kalamazoo, with selected excerpts taken from the editors' tag lines accompanying the photos. Ive saved the best for last:

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* "IMAGINE, from this 1972 advertisement, the 'psychodelic' 'happenings' that must have happened there, and what 'The Sunshine' must have sounded like."

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* "IN THE '80s, they actually stocked 'First Date' brand soap in their rooms."

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* "JANUARY 1979 saw the opening of one of the most unusual bar/restaurants ever seen in Kalamazoo."

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* "... UPBEAT canned music served as a weird soundtrack for the deserted sidewalks and sleeping drifters."

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* "THOUGH A DISASTER, the event did spark the urban renewal that continues today."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:19 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 18, 2006

First Round Wrap-up

OVER THE last two days, I think we've seen some of the best first-round action which has ever taken place in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tourney. Not only did Northwestern State knock out Iowa, and Bradley knock out Kansas, but games that wouldn't normally be close were downright exciting.

I mean, my God: who would have expected the Great Danes of Albany to put on such an amazing show against mighty Connecticut? Yet, until UConn turned on the nitro at the end, it very much looked as if history was in the making: a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed. It hasn't happened yet, but the Great Danes nearly pulled it off. They looked so good that I, like a lot of other people undoubtedly did, started calling my friends to let them know.

But that wasn't the only close call. Davidson scared the hell out of Ohio State and Murray State nearly put the kibosh on UNC's repeat hopes. Heck, even Winthrop put on a good show. And of course, Montana and Texas A&M did their jobs in upsetting Nevada and Syracuse, respectively. In short, a good three-quarters of the 32 first-round games were exciting, fun to watch, and kept one on the edge of one's seat. Truly, this was one of the best first rounds in one of the best sporting events we have.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:32 AM | TrackBack

A Dirge for Kansas

No. 13 Bradley 77, No. 4 Kansas 73,
OAKLAND REGIONAL

So Kansas blew it
for the second year running--
thats just got to hurt

Its one thing to lose
by one point against Bucknell;
but Bradley schooled yall.

I mean, its Bradley
Good God, thats embarrassing!
Did you study film?

Perhaps its karma
held over from last years round:
smacktalking the 'dogs.

But look who called it:
such wisdom, such perception!
Yes, that would be me.

No. 3 North Carolina 69, No. 14 Murray State 65,
WASHINGTON REGIONAL

Murray State fell short
but not 'til the last minute,
and I must applaud.

How could one not root
for a school named Murray State?
It's just principle

Besides, my friend Drew
teased me about Gonzaga;
So I hoped he'd sweat.

And although his team
won out against the Racers,
he was quite concerned.

No. 14 Northwestern State 64, Iowa 63
ATLANTA REGIONAL

Smooth move, Iowa
you lost to Northwestern State
and you deserved it

You should've won it
You were up 17 points
So there's no excuse.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:18 AM | TrackBack

March 16, 2006

Go, Gonzaga, Go! (Post No. 2)

No. 3 Gonzaga 79, No. 14 Xavier 75
OAKLAND REGIONAL

Gonzaga just won
I just had a heart attack
Please get me a beer

I just can't believe
the Zags were down by like nine
yet won in the end

It could have been worse:
I, who cheered the Zags at work,
could have eaten crow

Thank God I avoid
that agony and torment
Nevada fans face

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:36 PM | TrackBack

An Ode to Winthrop

PART OF The Rant's traditional haiku festival celebrating the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament:

No. 2 Tennessee 63, No. 15 Winthrop 61,
WASHINGTON D.C. REGIONAL

Dang, look at Winthrop!
Where the hell did they come from?
A shame the Vols won

For the Eagles soared
as they played in Greensboro
but time never waits

There's always next year
for Winthrop, another game
for the Big South champs

Still, it's hard to lose
with just three seconds until
an earned overtime.

No. 11 UW-Milwaukee 82, No. 6 Oklahoma 74
MINNEAPOLIS REGIONAL

Oh, Oklahoma!
Yeow! Yipioeeay!
Good Lord, what happened?

Gee, we thought you'd win
against frickin' Milwaukee.
Clearly, we were wrong!

No. 12 Montana 87, NO. 5 Nevada 79
MINNEAPOLIS REGIONAL

Nevada got stopped
It'd been a long time coming
Nevada got stopped

Denied win fifteen
Goodbye, Nevada, goodbye
See you next big dance.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:16 PM | TrackBack

March 14, 2006

Go, Gonzaga, Go!

AS AN ALUMNUS of the University of Michigan, it saddens me to note that yet again, Michigan's men's basketball team has FAILED to reach the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. This is unacceptable.

However, Michigan's latest tourney airball is not entirely bad. This is because it again lets me root for teams I would normally never cheer on, including the Gonzaga Zags. Each year, I predict the Gonzaga Zags will win the tournament, and each year I am wrong. However, hope springs eternal, and I am confident that this year, I'll be right for a change.

Still, even if the Zags somehow manage to lose this year, the 65-team tourney lets me root for a lot of teams. And who couldn't root for the Bucknell Bison? Who couldn't root for the Gaels of Iona, the Colonials of George Washington, or the Golden Flashes of Kent State? So what if that last one sounds like a rare venereal disease? This is about pride, and honor, and shouting at the television in one's own living room, especially if the Villanova squad does well.

Because rooting against teams is also a big part of the fun. Who doesn't want to see those arrogant Kansas scoundrels fall on their faces? Who wouldn't secretly enjoy it if Duke got tossed in the second round? Who doesn't, in their heart of hearts, want to see Ohio State get crushed? I mean, gee, it's weeks of entertainment!

Anyhoo, as in prior years, The Rant will celebrate our teams' victories, plus those of any underdog, with special basketball haikus. Here's some to get the ball rolling:

I'm sorry, Jesse;
the temptation was too great
and the joke too good.

But have hope Friday,
as the Flashes take on Pitt;
for Kent's a 12 seed.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Kids! Its Yet Another Mediocre Quiz Time!

SOMETIMES, people write blog quizzes which make a blogger look deeply into his soul and ponder the very mysteries of life itself. Then, people write quizzes like the one Im taking here. Theyre worth doing, but theyre not anything that makes one get up in the morning and say, Gee, that quiz I took last night really helped me gain perspective on my life. Im going to take up knitting and start drinking soy milk!

Actually, I ought not joke about drinking soy milk, as a glass of coffee-flavored soy milk is a fine dessert and one I enjoy. That said, this quiz is just kind of blah. Its only somewhat inspiring and somewhat interesting. However, Im going to fill it out anyway, just because the only alternative entertainment seems to be watching some horrible Norm MacDonald comedy special.

Also, I should note that due to scheduling issues, I filled out this quiz over two days, which may explain why some answers seem a bit odd. But hey. I take all due care when it comes to my posts.

So, without further ado, here I go:

1. Grab the nearest book to you, turn to page 18 and find line four:

The sentence incorporating the fourth line is: Rulers for centuries have also been fond of stamping their likeness on gold coins, to circulate throughout their kingdoms and abroad.

Thats from Peter L. Bernsteins The Power of Gold: the History of an Obsession. Ah, gold. Gold, gold, gold. Say, this would be a good time to link to that file I found on the Internet of Monty Pythons The Money Programme sketch (via Boston Gal's Open Wallet). Here you go!

See, now wasn't that fun? That's being hosted on something called YouTube. I have no idea what YouTube is, but it seems cool.

2. Stretch your left arm out as far as you can. What do you find?

I should probably visit the gym. I have no muscle tone at all.

3. What is the last thing you watched on TV?

Well, I dont know if this counts, because I had the sound turned off and this was playing in the background, but that would be Poor White Trash, a movie making fun of, well, unsophisticated rural whites, which was playing on the Comedy Central network. I was waiting for later programs to start.

You know how you can tell a movie is bad just from its cinematography? Well, this was one of those movies. It was -- from the look of it -- a mindless film with mindless jokes and mindless characters and it clocked in at a mindless 85 minutes.

Yes, I know I shouldve had CNBC on in the background instead. Im sorry its just I wasnt in the mood to deal with Jim Cramer.

4. With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?

Right now, Im listening to Sarah McLachlans Afterglow, and

What? Well, Im sorry. I think I should be allowed, in the privacy of my own home, to express my sensitive and romantic side. This is one way to do it with the dignity and reserve one expects from me.

5. When did you last step outside? What were you doing?

Earlier today. I was traveling from my car to my apartment, and was exposed to the noxious outdoors for an estimated 30 seconds. Fortunately, I was able to get inside quickly, as any longer would have probably upset my sinuses something fierce.

6. Before you started this survey, what did you look at?

Well, thatd be the computer monitor right in front of me. See, I told you it was a mediocre quiz. What did I look at indeed. Crikey.

7. What are you wearing?

Arent we personal? Well, if you must know, Im wearing gray slacks and a blueish kinda-checkered shirt.

8. Did you dream last night?

Not that I remember. I dont often remember my dreams. When I do remember them, they are usually nightmares. I dont know why this is. However, I suspect my feverish imagination combines with my natural neuroses to concoct wild and outlandish dreams which have little relation to real life.

9. When did you last laugh?

I recently saw the South Park episode where Cartman cooks up a wild and outlandish scheme to humiliate his tormentor, Scott Thyestes Tenorman. Oh my God.

10. What is on the walls of the room you are in?

There are three things on the walls of my kitchen/living room. The first is a giant poster of a tropical island, which commands those viewing it to relax. The second is a print hanging next to my desk. Its an unremarkable nature scene which I bought because it fit the blank spot on the wall. The third is a wooden crucifix over my desk.

11. Seen anything weird lately?

I live in Manchester, New Hampshire. I havent seen anything weird since well, since I lived in Venice, Calif. That was frickin Grand Weird Station.

12. What do you think of this quiz?

Ive taken better.

13. What is the last film you saw?

In the theatre, it was Aeon Flux. The wretchedness of Aeon Flux helps explain why I dont go out to the theatre much.

14. If you turned into a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy?

Peace of mind. Which is to say, a balanced portfolio of income-producing equities and Treasury bonds. Yeah.

15. Tell me something about you that I dont know.

Sorry, too vague, you lose.

16. Do you like to dance?

We can dance if we want to! We can leave your friends behind! Cause your friends dont dance, and if they dont dance, then theyre no friends of mine!

17. Imagine your first child is a girl, what would you call her?

Now heres a good question! Ive always found this tougher to answer than the name for a boy. To my mind, a girls name has to be feminine, but not cutesy; it has to be well-regarded, but not pretentious; it has to be chosen with all due care and respect for her future.

While Im a firm believer in having each spouse wield veto power when it comes to naming children, I must say I would be inclined to follow my (eventual, God willing) wifes lead in a case like this. I am certain she would give these types of considerations all due thought, and decide accordingly. That said, I am partial to names like Rachel, Elizabeth, and so on.

18. Imagine your first child is a boy, what would you call him?

John or James, both of which are names which run in the family. Hed need a good middle name too. It couldnt be Benjamin, because he would already have a family name as his first name. Thus, his middle name would have to be slightly different, and by slightly different, I mean so traditional, it wouldnt raise an eyebrow, even if I went back in time to 1953.

19. Would you ever consider living abroad?

Absolutely! But only if it was a cool country like Mexico, Italy, or another country which I liked. Plus, Id only want to live there part of the year. I like living here in America, so Id probably stick around.

20. What would you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?

Youre forgiven.

WELL, that was easy. Took me a little while, but worth it, I guess. I got the quiz from Sheila, who was also only somewhat impressed with it.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:08 PM | TrackBack

March 08, 2006

The Mouse That ... Well, Asphyxiated Horribly in the Dead of Night

SO I WAS OUT having the oil in my car changed when the mechanics made an unpleasant and gruesome discovery. One moment, they were changing my car's air filter, and the next they were digging around in the casing, muttering about "something nesting in here." Then, they pulled out the mouse.

For a moment, I felt a twinge of pity as one of the mechanics showed me the dead field mouse. It was a tiny thing, and had undoubtedly crawled into the air filter looking for warmth during the cold New Hampshire winter. The mechanics surmised that it became trapped and suffocated shortly thereafter, and it seemed like a bad way to go.

Then I recovered my senses, and realized that Industrial Civilization had won yet another great victory over these disease-carrying, crop-stealing, air filter-chewing four-legged menaces. Thank goodness the satanic little rodent hadn't had the time or the inclination to start building a nest in the air filter, or start chewing its way through my car's wiring. Because clearly those would have been his next steps! Yes, it could have cost me hundreds -- perhaps even thousands -- of dollars to deal with his wanton course of destruction.

God -- I hate mice! I hate them! Foul, disgusting, dangerous creatures!

Ah. Sorry.

Anyway. I am hopeful the mouse did not suffer all that much, and I'm relieved that I was able to get it out of my car before it caused any damage. What gets me, though, is this: I just can't figure out how the mouse got in there. I guess through the air intake, but ...

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:46 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 07, 2006

Finding America, in the Recesses of My Freezer

I HAVE A CONFESSION to make: the freezer in my apartment is in desperate need of a good thawing out. However, to do this without feeling guilty, I first have to empty the freezer of all the frozen dinners, sandwiches, odd highly-processed snack foods and similar goods that I keep in it. This is a week in which the microwave shall get a workout.

But tonight, I found America in the recesses of my freezer: the America that's optimistic and productive, the America that's hard-working and forward-looking, the America that produces vast quantities of affordable consumer staples for the city on the hill. Yes, surely I found America within that package of South Beach Diet (TM) All American Breakfast Wraps, the package which the good people at Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods Inc. prepared with such obvious love and care. At least, I think that's why they put so many warning notices on the thing.

For instance, consider this gem on the back panel, down on the lower right:

CAUTION: PRODUCT WILL BE HOT.

Now, I can understand why the good people at Kraft Foods Inc. put that warning label on the package. After all, decades of civil case law have shown that Americans can't be expected to infer that, after one microwaves an All-American Breakfast Wrap at HIGH for 105 seconds, said burrito will be tongue-burning hot. That said, noting in addition that STEAM FROM POUCH WILL BE HOT seems a bit much. You know, because steam itself is hot. And because not-hot steam is actually water.

I mean, maybe it's just me, but looking over this package, I'm starting to wonder if the Kraft Foods people designed their All-American Breakfast Wraps packaging for All-American Morons. I mean, come on. DO NOT EAT PRODUCT WITHOUT COOKING? It's hard enough to eat it when it's cooked, much less frozen solid. Oh, and I love Item 4 on the Microwave Cooking Instructions: "Remove wrap from pouch before eating."

You don't say.

Actually, the All-American Breakfast Wraps I just ate -- I had two, which account for two (2) servings, said serving size being one (1) wrap -- were pretty darn good. This was somewhat of a surprise, given that they consisted of Scrambled Egg Whites, Reduced Fat Mozzarella & Non-Fat Cheddar Cheeses, Tomatoes, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon & A Cheese Sauce In A Wheat Tortilla. There's little in life that scares me more than a processed cheese sauce.

But they were good, even though the ingredients were excessive. For instance, the applewood smoked bacon. What's up with that?

I mean, everywhere one turns these days, one finds "applewood smoked bacon" on the menu as if it's some sort of goddamned luxury. People. It's bacon. It's pork belly. It's traded via the Chicago Board of Trade along with butter and dry milk. It's not something to get all worked up about. Smoked meat, yes; smoked salmon, yes; smoked bacon, ehhhhh, no. And it's especially not something to get worked up about when one paid ... oh, whatever I paid for the All-American Breakfast Wraps.

While we're on the topic of inappropriately-venerated food items, can someone tell me why people think having more than one cheese in a dish makes that dish better? I mean, maybe it's just a successful marketing trick, but it's starting to get out of hand: there are frozen pizza brands which proudly advertise they have a full five cheeses on board. I'm sorry, but what the hell? The idea behind a good cheese is that you can actually taste it. If you have too many cheeses, the flavors run into each other and you end up with this wretched industrial amalgam of cheese.

Speaking of wretched, I've just noticed that on the top flap of the All-American Breakfast Wraps box, there's an exhortation for the consumer to "Try all delicious offerings!" Since that's where I opened the box, I can't read what's left of the tiny advertising script, but I do see the myriad flavors of Kraft's All-American Breakfast Wraps are prominently mentioned.

Oh wait. Now that I look closely at it, only my particular box had All-American Breakfast Wraps in it. Well, I'm glad to see we've clearly demarcated the lines between Real Americans' Breakfast Foods and those favored by our cowardly enemies. Yeah. Hey, you with the Denver-Style Breakfast Wrap -- you think you're pretty hip and far out, don't you, son?

Still, though, this box is a triumph of American marketing.

You see, on the front cover, there's this giant picture of an All-American Breakfast Wrap lazing about on something that looks like a towel. Clearly, this represents the typical breakfast wrap consumer in the Northeast, who wishes he was in someplace tropical, like Puerto Rico. Also, the box proudly notes that each All-American Breakfast Wrap has just 200 calories, yet 19 grams of protein. Also, each has 20 pc of my daily saturated fat allowance, and -- well, OK, so that's only noticed if one looks for it. But hey. Saturated fat allowance, current account deficit, what's the big deal?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:12 PM | TrackBack

March 06, 2006

Well, Thank God That's Over With

AS SOMEONE WHO takes little interest in the Academy Awards, I have to admit I was pleased with how things turned out last night. Apparently, no one actually said anything that was particularly controversial, irresponsible, outlandish or mind-numbingly stupid. As such, I'm not going to have to hear about it ad nauseum for the next week or so, and as a result, I'll avoid the near-terminal case of ennui that I typically get in such cases. To the Academy, I say thank you.

Not that I watched the telecast in the first place. Oh, no. Instead, I relied on trusted blogs for my Academy Awards coverage. As I understand it, this had the pleasing effect of insulating me from some truly wretched program music, plus it kept me from falling asleep during the program itself. I don't know about you, but I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would spend several hours at a clip watching this thing. Reading blogs instead was a much more enjoyable -- and quicker -- way of finding out what happened.

What? What do you mean, you feel the same way about football? Geez.

Anyway, moving on. I have to admit I was surprised that the movie about how everyone in Los Angeles is racist beat out the movie about the effeminate shepherds. I haven't seen either, so I can't express a qualitative judgment on whether the one ought have beat out the other. Still, it surprised me based on what I had read leading up the ceremony.

Of course, if I haven't seen those, readers may wonder what movies I have actually seen in the past year. The answer to that is "damn few." There's no point in going to the movies when the tickets and concessions are overpriced, the other people in the theatre are rude and inconsiderate, and the movies playing usually disappoint.

But hope springs eternal, I guess.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:57 AM | TrackBack

March 05, 2006

Nationwide is On Your Side

DAMN. MC HAMMER has a blog.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 06:13 PM | TrackBack

March 04, 2006

The Perils of Traffic Engineering

WELL, THIS SHOULD PUT the damper on any well-intentioned but ill-advised ideas to again lower the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour.

It seems that several Georgia college students, finding the 55 mph speed limit on that city's beltway arbitrary and capricious, made a video in which they drove 55 mph in concert on the road. As a result, mayhem and disorder broke out along I-285 as frustrated motorists proved the students' point: that the 55 mph speed limit is too slow for the road in question.

Shockingly, no one -- not even any of the students -- was hurt. Of course, there are questions about whether the college students' actions were legal, but still, the film makes its point. It also makes the point that slow drivers, as a matter of course, ought only drive in the right lane.

As a driver who likes driving reasonably fast when conditions warrant, I do wish speed limits would be upgraded to accurately reflect road conditions. For instance, I've been on several roads -- for instance, I-15 between Barstow, Calif. and the Nevada line, and US-23 from northwest Ohio to Ann Arbor, Mich. -- that could handle higher maximum speeds than their respective 70 and 75 mph limits. I know they could handle them because other motorists routinely passed me on those roads, even though I was driving 80 or 85 mph to keep up with traffic.

On the other hand, as I've become older, I've come to value the engineers' judgment when it comes to lower speed limits on certain roadways. For instance, on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, there are areas where a 55 mph speed limit is reasonable and judicious, particularly if the roadway is a bit worn. That said, though, it seems we could use an upgrade to old-style, blanket speed limits, now that cars are safer, and roads are capable of handling more and faster traffic.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:27 PM | TrackBack

February 23, 2006

An Extraordinarily Busy Week

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- I have to apologize for going AWOL the past week, especially after getting kudos from readers for resuming a more regular posting schedule. But your correspondent has been quite busy, and so much so that he has earned himself a dateline.

This past weekend, I went on a trip to the nation's capital, where I was attending a conference in the Maryland suburbs. It was a great time and I had a lot of fun, especially because I was able to see my old friend Lee and his wife Giulietta, and their four-month-old son. That was really nice, since I hadn't seen them in more than a year.

Since I've returned, things have been busy with work, life and everything else. That's made it difficult to keep on a regular posting schedule, but I should post more frequently as things get back to normal. In the meantime, though, thanks as always for reading!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of High School

AS IT TURNED OUT, I didnt really enjoy any lazy hazy crazy days in life until I went out to Los Angeles in my early twenties. Still, high school was a memorable and fun time for me: so memorable and fun, in fact, that Ive only mentioned my high school once by name here on The Rant. Furthermore, I only mentioned it while comparing it to the Detroit Lions, thus underscoring the fondness with which I remember it.

Heh. I'm going to have fun with this one.

With that, Ill kick off my version of the High School Meme Post which has started making its way around the Internet. I first saw the meme at Sheila's site. In my version, though, I did invert the order of the final two questions because I thought it worked better with my post.

Anyway, here goes.

1. Where did you graduate from and what year?

I graduated from this school, which I shall not name, in 1994. Im not mentioning the name of the school for one reason: I want all my readers to go visit its Web site. Go on, take a minute, and look at it. Look how badly it sucks.

I mean, come on. Its straight out of 96. Furthermore, I dont think the Web site is a good introduction to a school which says its working to ensure that each student graduates with the academic and social skills necessary to participate fully and responsibly as a life-long learner in a global and changing society.

Then again, maybe it is a good introduction. According to the staff directory posted at the Web site, my high school now has something called a Student Responsibility Center. I have no idea what that is, but I suspect it was formerly known as the Internal Suspension Classroom. In any event, it might be a good idea to have the troublemaking kids Do Something Productive like updating the school Web site, because Complete Economic Obsolesence would suck something fierce.

2. Did you have school pride?

Who wrote this survey? Mary Lou Retton?

3. Was your prom a night to remember?

I didnt attend my high school prom. I had no interest in attending. I mean, think about it: Im supposed to spend all night at a school-sponsored event, with the people I didnt like in high school, listening to bad music and drinking fruit punch? Come on. Besides, I was a nerd in high school. I didnt do anything wild until later.

4. Do you own all four yearbooks?

I own the yearbook from my senior year, provided that storing the yearbook at my folks house in suburban Cleveland is equivalent to ownership.

5. What was the worst trouble you ever got into?

You read the answer to question number three, right? I wouldnt have known how to get into trouble if I tried. Of course, there was that one time when I was racing Simon From Jersey (who was then Not From Jersey) down Westnedge Avenue, and I got pulled over by the police, but was released with a verbal warning. (If the kids tried a stunt like that today, theyd be taking the bus until they were 24).

6. What kind of people did you hang out with?

It was an eclectic and cool group of people. I liked them.

7. What was your number one choice of college in high school?

I wanted to go to Michigan. As it turned out, thats where I went.

8. What radio station did you rock out to?

The only radio station I remember from back in the day was WKFR-FM. For the most part, I think I listened to tapes or CDs I wasnt much of a radio listener. Looking at WKFR-FMs Web site, which also blows chunks, I still wouldnt be much of a radio listener.

9. Were you involved in any organizations or clubs?

For a short while like three weeks I was involved with the intramural bowling squad. Hey, you laugh, but in Kalamazoo, Mich., bowling was serious business.

10. What were your favorite classes in high school?

History and English. As such, it made perfect sense for me to spend half my day at a magnet school specializing in math and science.

11. Who was your big crush in high school?

As readers of The Rant know, I make a point of not discussing my love life on the Internet. I mean, my parents read this. My friends read this. My coworkers read this. Most importantly, Ive found that potential dates may read this, and the last thing I need is to get in trouble with 150 million American women, all of whom share notes.

However, I did have a big crush on this one girl all throughout high school. This came to an end when I asked her out to dinner and a movie, and she laughed at me. Then she asked me whether I was joking. Then, she asked if a friend of mine, whom she had broken up with prior to my asking, had put me up to the stunt. Then, she ripped out my heart with her bare hands and flung it about like a volleyball before stomping on it repeatedly and roasting it on a spit.

No, wait. That last bit was just part of the dramatization. Still, the experience was most certainly not fun.

12. Would you say you've changed a lot since high school?

Yes. In high school, I was only a pale half-formed shadow of who I am today. ("He's more machine now than man, twisted and evil.")

13. What do you miss the most about it?

I miss most that feeling of having graduated. You know, the feeling of having one door close and another door open, of having one chapter come to an end and having another one begin. The feeling of unlimited possibility with absolutely no responsibilities ---

Oh wait. That was college. Never mind.

14. Your worst memory of high school?

Scroll back up to Item 11.

15. Did you have a car?

Yes I did. My first car, which I received when I was 17 and a half years old, was a 1987 Mercury Sable. This car taught me the value of patience, especially when I drove it home from college for Thanksgiving with a broken radiator fan, a broken heating system, and a broken defrost system.

16. What were your school colors?

Blue and white. Yes, our school colors were lame-o.

17. Who were your favorite teachers?

Actually, my favorite teacher was probably Mr Burch. Primarily because we spent an entire semester during his senior year English class studying Don Quixote and with good reason, because Cervantes rules (and is better than Shakespeare by a long shot). Also, Mr Burch told me to write every day, which I started doing and enjoyed.

18. Did you own a cell phone in high school?

When I was in high school, we didnt have cell phones at all, much less cell phones with fancy-schmancy ring tones and digital cameras and anytime minutes. Oh no. Only responsible well-paid adults had cell phones.

The best people my age could do was to have something called a beeper. People would call this beeper and enter their telephone numbers, and the beeper would beep. This gave the wearer a certain cachet, and made him seem important.

I don't know who wrote this quiz, but given that question, I have a feeling they'd be surprised to learn that people once wore actual wall clocks -- yes, on their persons -- as a fashion statement. No, really. It's true. Stop laughing.

19. Did you leave campus for lunch?

Yes! One of the little perks of attending the magnet school in town for a half-day. Another little perk: no gym class.

20. If so, where was your favorite place to go eat?

Taco Bell. I remember that you could order lunch for under $4. Actually, now that I think about it, you can still order lunch for under $4.

21. Were you always late to class?

No. This was because my high school, in one of its periodic fits of discipline, mandated that students who were late to class would be caught up in a dragnet and detained for the period in an unpleasant study hall type of thing.

Also, I was always lucky when it came to class scheduling. This could pose a challenge at my high school, which may be one of the worst surviving examples of post-war architecture in the United States. For one thing, the two school buildings seemed entirely made out of glass, cinder blocks and uremic-colored bricks. For another, it was a spread-out campus, with lots of separate wings and pathways. So, conceivably, someone could have a class in the B wing and then, in five minutes, have to somehow make it all the way to the J wing.

Making matters worse, there was no order to the wings at all new students could easily get lost looking for the D wing, which if I recall right was under the K wing, or end up exiled in the M wing, which was creepy.

22. Did you ever have to stay for Saturday School?

No. Also, I dont like this quiz. It makes me feel old.

23. Did you ever ditch?

Yes. Actually, during my senior year, Im amazed that the attendance people at my high school didnt send home a nastygram, since I made a regular habit of skipping my morning classes. I mean, I didnt see any need to go to typing class when I was already typing fifty-some words per minute. I also didnt see any need to attend Spanish class, which wasnt the best-taught course I had.

24. What kind of job did you have?

I was a grill cook at a McDonalds restaurant. I could write a book about this experience, but now that Im older, I find that this job makes me very sympathetic (in most cases) to present-day fast-food workers. However, I have been annoyed when Ive had special requests denied that I know, or believe I know, can actually be fulfilled.

25. Do you wish you were still in high school?

Thats like asking a dog if hed still like to be in his cage.

26. When it comes time for the reunion, will you be there?

If by there, you mean relaxing on St. Kitts, then yes.

Although, I do wonder: maybe I should someday go back for one of my high school reunions. I mean, it'd be interesting to see how everyone turned out, and I'm sure there are acquaintances I had that would be neat to catch up with again. (I already keep in touch well with my best friend from high school, Simon From Jersey).

Besides, remember that Enterprise Rent-a-Car commercial that had the chubsy guy from the Capital One commercials in it? You know, the one where he looks in the mirror and says hesitantly, "Class of '94, here I come," but all turns out well when he arrives in a Cadillac? And he picks up not one but two hot girls, who applaud him for his style and clear financial acumen?

Well, we'll see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Where Have Harvey Danger Gone?

I WAS listening to Harvey Danger's album ("Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?") as I blogged this morning and the question popped into my mind. As it turned out, they're right over here. Who knew?

Harvey Danger's big 1998 hit, "Flagpole Sitta," has some of the best sarcastic ranty lyrics ever written in the late Nineties, at least I think so. I mean, dig these:

Been around the world and found
that only stupid people are breeding;
the cretins cloning and feeding;
and I don't even own a TV!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:00 AM | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Cringing at Senescence

BACK IN THE DAY, Matt Groening drew a clever cartoon in which a young boy grew older and older with each panel. The young boy kept waiting for something to happen, only to suddenly reach adulthood with the thought, What happened?

Well, now that Ive turned 30 years old God help me Im thinking along much the same lines. What the hell happened?

Im not just saying that because I had a fun time at the surprise gathering my friends arranged at the Strange Brew Tavern, either. I mean, here it is Im 30, and for the first time in my life I feel as if the open door which existed for certain things might be starting to inch shut.

For instance: at the Strange Brew earlier this week, my friends, being clever and knowledgeable about matters of love, advised me that telling women it was my birthday would be an amazingly successful pick up line. I demurred at this suggestion. Why, you ask? Well, whats the attribute associated with ones birthday? Ones age.

I dont know about you, but having to mention the big three-oh seemed about as sexy as giving ones beloved an electric mixer for Valentines Day. I mean, really. It seems to me that change on the odometer has suddenly deducted key viability points from my profile. Prospective fathers-in-law will prove even more skeptical; prospective girlfriends will face more questions from their friends about that old guy they met.

But then again, maybe not.

After all, now that Im 30, Im older but also wiser, giving my traditional outlook on life a memorable and refined touch. This should work wonders for me on the dating scene, especially when my competitors in the market keep mentioning their new pickup trucks. Plus, I have all sorts of great paper attributes (good job! good degree! saving for retirement!) that will now mean even more to offset the slight negatives (unhealthy interest in economic history, occasional instances of maddening doltishness, love handles) that I admittedly possess. Also, Im smart and funny, and like traveling and long walks.

Did I mention Im 64? No, really!

But anyhoo. Any lingering doubts Ive had about turning 30 are tempered with the knowledge that at the age of 30, I have it materially better than any of my ancestors did. For instance, when my father was my age, he had to deal with recession and stagflation and wondering whether he could buy gasoline. When my fathers father was my age, America was still dealing with the Great Depression, and the Nazis had invaded western Europe. And when my fathers grandfather was my age well, it was 1913, which meant all sorts of future bad things were about ready to happen: income taxes and World War I and Spanish flu and Prohibition. Thats a truly grim turn of events, if one thinks about it. Not only would my great-grandfather have had all that weighing on his mind while working for the coal company, his only legal remedy at hand for dealing with it was a strawberry milkshake.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 06, 2006

A Notice to People Who Advise of "Must Read" Material

THIS EVENING, I was surprised but pleased to find that a commenter had quickly left a comment on my post lauding the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory in the Super Bowl. My happiness turned to dismay, however, upon finding that said commenter had merely advised about a "must read" story about terror suspect Zacarias Moussasoui.

Much to my annoyance, I found the Moussasoui story had no mention of football at all. Instead, Moussasoui was causing trouble in court again, similar to how he has caused trouble in the past. As such, this certainly does not qualify for inclusion in a post about the Super Bowl and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In future, The Rant would ask that "must read" stories be sent via e-mail to the address listed in the left-hand column. The Rant would further ask that readers refrain from bogarting the comment threads.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

Let the Gloating Begin

So who's sad now, Mr Stevens? Hmmmmm?

IT'S TOUGH being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in New England. For one thing, being here during football season usually means a weekly diet of watching the New England Patriots beat up some hapless opponent. For another, when Pittsburgh games are actually broadcast here, they usually involve the New England Patriots beating the Steelers.

But the real reason it's tough is because, when the Steelers finally do win a Super Bowl after 25 years, everyone in New England is pleasant and gracious. It's "the Steelers deserved it" this, and "I was thinking of you during the game" that, plus a hearty congratulations from all concerned. I mean, it's been a constant wishing of good will and cheer.

What's that? Yes, I know it was nice and considerate. That's the problem! How can I gloat over the Steelers' grand and glorious victory when everyone I know is so happy for me and well-adjusted about it?

That's why I'm turning to the Internet. You see, on the Internet, there are plenty of sports fans out there furious about the Steelers' victory.

I know this because sports-talk radio stations make vast sums of money each year. You see, I figure that if sports-talk radio listeners will spend hours listening to angry middle-aged couch potatoes scream about the New York Yankees, there must be at least a few sports fans who a) are similarly fixated on the Steelers' victory and b) have Internet access. So to you, my fanatic Steeler-hating sports-talk radio listening audience, I say: "Ooooooooooooooh. If you listen closely, you can hear the world's smallest violin playing for you right now!"

Of course, I should note that the Seattle Seahawks played pretty well in comparison to the Steelers in the Super Bowl, even if the Seahawks struggled with concepts like "basic time management," "kicking the ball through the uprights" and "catching the ball on key plays." Speaking of which, I have a call for Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens. A call for Mr Stevens -- ah, there you are. It's your Mom on the phone. She says you suck!

Notice how I cleverly waited until after the game to talk smack about the Super Bowl, and not before! This prevents me, unlike Mr Stevens, from having to go through any embarrassing backpedaling after the game -- the game in which the winning quarterback was Ben Roethlisberger, and not Matt Hasselbeck or Peyton Manning.

Heh. Peyton Manning. I hate Peyton Manning.

I have hated Peyton Manning ever since I was in college and the controversy over the Heisman Trophy in 1997. (Michigan's Charles Woodson, one of the best defensive players ever in college football, won the award; Mr Manning was second, and his backers hated that).

Now that Mr Manning plays for the Colts, I've taken great joy in watching him get in trouble, such as when Steelers OLB Joey Porter "signed Peyton's melon" on two consecutive plays during the AFC Divisional Championship. Yeah. God, that ruled.

Of course, after that game, Mr Manning had the gall to essentially say that his offensive linesmen hadn't done their jobs, which was classless and gauche and prima facie evidence that he can't win when it counts. Quite frankly, Peyton, it's not your offensive line's fault that you run around panicking whenever a pass rusher gets within three yards. And it's not your offensive line's fault that the Colts lost and you went home and didn't make it again to the Super Bowl, which this year the Steelers won. Also, you only won 13 games in a row because you're in a division with Houston and Tennessee, so there.

*phew*

God, that felt good. For weeks upon weeks I've been keeping all that pent-up energy inside. I didn't want to gloat about beating the Colts and then have the Steelers get crushed in the following week of the playoffs, and I especially didn't want to gloat in the event we lost to Seattle. As I know full well, it's no fun to eat crow.

But putting the gloating aside -- it was all meant with good cheer and humor, I assure you -- I have to say just how proud I am to be a Steelers fan. Watching my team win the Super Bowl was an amazing experience.

It was a great feeling to see Pittsburgh's reputation restored: not simply as a first-class football team, but a team which other squads must conquer to bridge the gap between being good and being great. For this, I must thank the Steelers' hard-working players, and Coach Cowher, and especially the owner, Mr Rooney, who hoisted the trophy on Sunday night. Thank you for a season to remember.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:32 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 01, 2006

America is the Greatest Nation Ever

WHY, YOU ASK? Well, one could mention the Constitution and the whole "rule of law" and "personal freedom" stuff, but there's also the fact that in America, people can go into a restaurant and order a 100-patty hamburger -- with cheese! And not only will the restaurant staff be happy to make up the order, they'll help celebrate when a party of eight somehow manages to finishes the behemoth.

It should be noted the burger in question is an In-n-Out Burger 100x100, which is essentially a "double-double with cheese," except with 98 extra meat patties and 98 extra slices of cheese.

I have no idea how these eight people managed to eat the thing.

I mean, come on -- just one double-double makes a meal, and two will be filling for anyone except a professional football player. Yet some in the party of eight ate the equivalent of TEN double-doubles. They ate the undercooked patties at the very end. Hell, they apparently even got fries, according to the photos.

And how did the store handle this, you might ask? They went to work making that $97.66 burger, set about creating a storage mechanism for the three-foot high construct, and in short, made it happen. It's that type of dedication to capitalism and the free market which makes America great, competitive, and prosperous.

(via Capitalist Lion)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 04:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

Extreme Disparity

QUICK LANGUAGE QUESTION for all of you out there: do people still use the word "extreme" in a non-sarcastic sense any more? I ask this because I was under the impression that no one used the word since "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" came out on DVD, but apparently this isn't the case.

First, some background for everyone. One of the running jokes in "Harold and Kumar" is the repeated appearance of a group of punks, who run around wreaking havoc and declaring said havoc "extreme," in the sense that dangerous ski antics are "extreme." As a result of this, I find it impossible to use the word "extreme" without snickering.

Apparently, however, I didn't get the memo that said it's still OK for people to use the word.

A while back on television, I saw a show which portrayed boat-building as "extreme." Mountain biking is still apparently extreme, but so are things like DSL service. My personal favorite, however, is Elvis -- who is so extreme that the Federal Government will apparently launch interagency investigations into alleged Elvis-related copyright infringement. Who knew?

So, now I'm in a quandary. I mean, it's a great slang term, and very "with it" if used properly, but I don't want to risk people think I'm using it in the "dude, that's cool you're skiing backwards" sense of the term. Not that people would think I'd actually go skiing, but you know.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:20 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2006

"Can You Believe What You Just Saw?"

HOLY TOLEDO, I'm still higher than a kite after the Colts-Steelers game on Sunday. I mean, I'm still coming to terms with the fact we beat Indianapolis in the RCA Dome, and now we're going to Denver for the AFC Championship. Oh my good God.

I'll blog about football in a while; but not at length until all is said and done. Still, my God! What a game Sunday! What a victory!

Also, everyone up here in Patriots Country has been absolutely pleasant and gracious about how the weekend's games turned out. Thank you, everyone, for your support (and willingness to overlook my annoying enthusiasm) during this exciting time.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:13 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2006

Should've Gone for the Stupidity Defense

THE TAX EVASION trial of Richard Hatch, the first million-dollar prize winner on the TV game show "Survivor," continues this coming week in a Providence courtroom. Yet one wonders whether Mr Hatch's attorney may have already made a crucial mistake.

You see, Mr Hatch's defense counsel has asserted to a jury that his client is not, in fact, an idiot. As an impartial observer, and someone who has done his own taxes for quite some time, I feel Mr Hatch's attorney should have come out and said his client was as dumb as a bag of rocks. That would be the most believable explanation for Hatch innocently failing to pay the taxes which prosecutors say he owed on his $1 million prize, $327,000 in related income and $28,000 in rental income. Prosecutors have charged Hatch with tax evasion, filing a false tax return, wire fraud, bank fraud and mail fraud.

The Associated Press reports:

(Hatch's) attorney, Michael Minns, argued Thursday that Hatch was struggling with his newfound fame after winning the contest, was overwhelmed by false child abuse charges and was relying on the advice of a self-employed accountant who was "in over her head."

"Richard Hatch is not a stupid man," Minns said. "He is the world's worst bookkeeper, bar none."

Federal prosecutors say Hatch filed false tax returns for 2000 and 2001 that omitted his income from the reality show, as well as $327,000 he earned as a co-host on a Boston radio show and $28,000 in rent on a property he owns in Newport.

(Prosecutor Andrew) Reich told jurors Hatch also altered checks made out to his charitable foundation, Horizon Bound, so he could use the money to renovate his Newport property.

One accountant Hatch hired estimated he owed about $230,000 in taxes for 2000, Reich said. The television star asked for a second return showing his estimated tax bill had he not won the million-dollar prize.

Despite warnings that the second analysis was for comparison only, prosecutors said, Hatch filed the return with the IRS.

Now, it may be possible for the "so my client's a little disorganized" defense to work. According to the Associated Press, Hatch has said that he thought CBS had paid the taxes on his winnings, although CBS has said Hatch knew all along that he was responsible for any tax. Still, based on reports from the second day of trial, I think the stupidity defense would have been the way to go.

The proceeding continues.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:53 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

My Lost Weekend

I DON'T KNOW about you, but I'm having a perfectly enjoyable weekend up here in Manchester. It's not simply that it was 50 degrees in January yesterday, either. Tonight, we have two out of four NFL playoff games; today, we have James Bond movies all day on AMC; and I have a variety of beers from the makers of Sam Adams in my fridge.

Oh yes.

Hope everybody out there is having a good weekend as well.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:33 AM | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Reliability, For Less Than I Thought

GAD, WHAT A WEEK. In a stunning reversal of my fortunes, though, the past several days have turned out amazingly well. Key among my triumphs were getting my car fixed and my computer rejuvenated, tasks which had previously filled me with dread and anxiety, respectively.

When we last discussed the car, your correspondent had just spent an hour fussing around with the battery in his Ford Taurus, which was being uncooperative. The plan was to go out next morning and start it up, with the hope I could get it repaired sometime in future. It did not start up. As the following dramatization shows, this left me in quite a spot.

ME: Dammit! (click click click click) Start, you --- God! Wretched, cheap, stupid battery! Start! (click click click) Jesus Christ! I don't believe this. OK. I've got 18 minutes to get into the office -- but at this point, that'd be like recovering an onside kick!
JEROME BETTIS: Excuse me, but I think you're being a bit liberal with the football terminology!
ME: Yeah? Well, you start the car!

Fortunately, I was able to get the car started -- with the help of the building maintenance guy, who jump-started the battery with a generator.

Upon arriving at the shop, I recalled that my battery was not two years old, as I had previously thought, but four -- and when you get right down to it, four years is a lot for a battery, especially considering the winters we have up here. The shop went about its work, and as it turned out, my DieHard battery had, well, died hard. Fortunately, though, there was a solution, as this dramatization shows:

MECHANIC: You can see here, this is the "health meter" for your battery.
ME: Oooh. I guess I need a new battery.
MECHANIC: Yep.
ME: OK, well, what batteries do you have?
MECHANIC: For your car, we have one battery in stock.
ME: One battery.
MECHANIC: Yep.
ME: Well, that makes it easy, doesn't it?

Actually, though, it seems like a decent battery. It's supposed to last six years, and if it lasts until 2012, it will undoubtedly outlast everything else on the car, including minor parts such as the "steering column." Even better, it only cost about $100 for the whole repair, which gladdened even my cold heart. Plus, I get to go out to a car that always starts up in the morning, and the relief from no longer worrying about the car should last a good week.

But that was just one nifty repair.

This weekend, I hired a computer expert to install some RAM I got as a Christmas gift. When all was said and done, I not only had my new RAM working, I also had a clean and quiet computer, plus a reinvigorated monitor. It was like having a new machine and it only cost $90. Plus, since it was a house call, I didn't have any lost time in terms of computer availability. So here's a swell personal-finance tip: always find someone you know to do computer stuff, because they're cheaper than the brand-name services.

Not that I just sat back and watched the football game, of course. For one thing, New England was kicking the Jaguars back to Carolina. For another, my machine had suffered greatly due to my former habit of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. Cigarette dust, as my expert pointed out, didn't just blow away -- it's tar. So I spent a bit of the time cleaning, as well as keeping track of tools and such.

It's sobering when you see what the tar does to machinery. I mean, my God: to think the same stuff was coating my lungs (and teeth, and throat)! It's not merely that it's filthy -- it's that it's devilish to remove. Then, dust gets kicked up along with it, and there's much coughing and hacking, and then a headache -- it was just foul. Just foul.

But the computer has run SMASHING ever since. It's truly unbelievable how much it has improved, and for that I'm quite pleased. I was also pleased I refrained from panicking when my expert went to town on my computer. We hear enough bad football cliches as is on television.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 31, 2005

Well, Look Who's En Fuego Today

OK, SO I FINALLY updated the blogroll: fixed broken or dead links, replaced several now-defunct blogs, and so on. This will hopefully prove helpful to you, the Loyal Rant Readership.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:57 PM | TrackBack

Why I Don't Order Coffee Out

I FULLY ADMIT that I'm not much of a coffee drinker, preferring instead the sweet artificial goodness of Diet Cherry Coke. However, that's not because I dislike the taste of coffee. I actually rather like it. It's just that Diet Cherry Coke is cold (a plus) and easier to procure (just open the fridge), leaving coffee as an occasional drink.

As such, I only rarely have coffee at home, and almost never have it out. In fact, the last time I remember buying coffee for the sake of buying coffee -- or, more accurately, a sweetened coffee-flavored hot beverage -- was in 2003. Then, I had something called a caramel macchiato, something which I had enjoyed when I had been in Washington the year earlier. (In both cases, I had to pay more than $3 for it, which I did not enjoy).

However, it turns out my shock and amazement at being asked to pay $3 for coffee was well-founded. Dig what former coffee-shop owner Michael Idov wrote regarding the markup on coffee:

Thanks to the trail blazed by Starbucks, the world of coffee retail is now a rogue's playground of jaw-dropping markups. An espresso that required about 18 cents worth of beans (and we used very good beans) was sold for $2.50 with nary an eyebrow raised on either side of the counter. A dab of milk froth or a splash of hot water transformed the drink into a macchiato or an Americano, respectively, and raised the price to $3. The house brew too cold to be sold for $1 a cup was chilled further and reborn at $2.50 a cup as iced coffee, a drink whose appeal I do not even pretend to grasp.

I know that when life hands you a lemon, you're supposed to make lemonade. But that's just wrong.

In any event, I can see paying $1 per cup for coffee, based on the following:

We know, thanks to clever people on the Internet, that one pound of coffee beans will produce roughly 240 liquid ounces of coffee. We also know that Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, considered among the best coffee in the world, runs about $40 per pound. Thus, it's nearly impossible to spend more than $1 per cup of coffee if one prepares it at home.

From that, we can deduce that $1 is a fair price to pay for decent coffee while out, because of overhead, labor, those plastic stirrer thingies, and liability insurance. Furthermore, we can deduce that any price above $1 for decent coffee is tantamount to highway robbery and price gouging after a natural disaster.

OK, well, maybe not. But it still pains me to fork over more than $1 per cup of coffee, and I can't ever see myself paying $3 or $4 unless I'm in a social situation and I must buy the stuff. I mean, it's not as if the poor coffee growers are getting any of the markup, and the guys behind the counter probably aren't doing all that great either. Actually, in Mr Idov's case, his own little coffee shop ended up destroying his life. But that's another story.

(via Sheila O'Malley)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:35 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

2005: The Year in Review

GEE, I'M GLAD this is the last day of 2005. I mean, I'm downright excited about bidding adieu to this wretched and miserable year, in which far more bad things seemed to happen than good.

Sure, there were bright spots, like me quitting smoking (9 mos. and counting) and getting to spend lots of quality time with my family, something which I have greatly appreciated. But then, there were not-bright spots, like me going through weeks of serious discomfort before having my gall bladder vacuumed out. Other not-bright spots have included various car repair hassles; mood changes which have caused me to experience more ups-and-downs than a swingset at some municipal park; and frustrating dealings with the medical profession, particularly its back office, insurance, pharmaceutical and equipment-supply sectors. That's only a partial list of not-good things which have happened.

I'm also not pleased that I haven't kept in touch with my friends as well as I ought have this past year. This, of course, is entirely my fault and I feel badly about it, and I will do better in future. In a similar vein, I feel I've let the blog go to hell ever since I had my gall bladder operation, and this aggravates me to no end. So I will do better in future here too.

Also, I'm not pleased that my frickin' sinuses keep acting up. Come on, it's winter. Surely I should get some respite in winter, for Pete's sake.

But hey. It is the last day of 2005, and soon it will be over, and I'll be cheery and optimistic yet again as I bask in the righteous knowledge that 2006 is right around the corner, and that good times lie ahead. I hope, anyway.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:09 AM | TrackBack

December 29, 2005

Wanted: New Football Coach

NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. Position needs filled ASAP. Job entails hiring new slate of assistant coaches, recruiting and retaining talent, and devising offensive plays which could reasonably fool a competent defense. Capability to beat evil archrivals and win bowl games in national spotlight a must, particularly in games with historic import.

Applicants with track record of three-loss seasons or better preferred. Salary negotiable, but will offer at least one honeymoon season in contract. Please send CV and references to: University of Michigan Athletic Department, Schembechler Hall, 1000 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:36 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

Detroit's Orange Revolution

WHEN THE PEOPLE of Ukraine defied that nation's Government in 2004, they used the color orange as their standard. Now, long-suffering fans of the hapless Detroit Lions football team have started their own Orange Revolution.

Yes, that's right. An outfit called The Lions Fanatics has declared an "orange-out" for Sunday's upcoming game at Ford Field against the Cincinnati Bengals, which as it happens have orange as their team color. The group argues that Matt Millen, the Lions' president whom fans despise, has failed miserably at his job and deserved to be cashiered.

When one sees how badly the Lions play -- this past week, they somehow managed to lose at Green Bay despite having the game pretty much won -- one finds it difficult to disagree with that idea. The team that Millen built has had an abysmal past five years, and there's very little hope their next five years will be better with him in charge. This has annoyed fans greatly.

In addition to the "orange-out," WDFN-AM -- Detroit's version of "The Fan" radio format -- is staging an "Angry Fan March" before the game on Sunday. If you're in the Detroit area, here's all the information you'll need. We'll see how well Detroit's Orange Revolution turns out, but at the very least, it's good to see fans are taking action and refusing to give up in such dire circumstances.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 15, 2005

My Side. It Hurts.

I ABOUT FELL out of my chair laughing at this look at Dungeons & Dragons.

What's really disconcerting is that, back during my tormented years as a junior high school student, I took part in a few after-school role-playing sessions which were just as glamorous and exciting. Gee, just think, when I could have spent my time trying to secure invites to the "in crowd's" parties, I was instead -- well, never mind!

(via Meg McArdle)

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:06 PM | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

It's Always Coldest After the Sun Rises

I BLINKED, and winter arrived. As of this writing, it's a balmy 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15.8 Celsius) here in Manchester, according to the weather station located a mile or so away.

The temperature will drop a bit before long. The sun hasn't risen yet, but that doesn't much matter: it is always coldest after the sun rises. It's due to temperature inversion or something like that; one of those neat weather facts one learns in New Hampshire.

It's days like this when I fully appreciate the fact America has stayed on the God-fearing Fahrenheit system for measuring temperature, as opposed to the cold, scientific Celsius scale. The advantage to the Celsius scale is that it's practical for indoor use: one knows how far one is from the freezing, melting or boiling point of water. The advantage to the Fahrenheit scale, on the other hand, is that it's practical for outdoor use: one knows whether the weather outside has a chance of killing you. That's not a small concern in some parts of the United States, including here. This morning, I must go up to Concord, where the air temperature is presently -11 F.

Yes, that's right. -11. And technically, it's still fall.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 05:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

How to Live Within Your Means: A Tutorial

MEG McARDLE HAS POSTED a downright fantastic series of personal-finance essays on her blog looking at living below one's means, why one ought sacrifice today to benefit tomorrow, and related topics. For readers interested in personal-finance matters, these essays are must-reads: they boil down a lot of the wisdom out there, leave room for enjoying one's priorities in life, and so on.

One thing I would add is that living below one's means doesn't merely let one save money for the future; it also means one has freedom of action. It's a lot easier to take opportunities or deal with tough shakes in life if you have ready cash on hand.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 07:09 PM | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

Aw Yeah, Go Pittsburgh

AH! THE GLORIOUS Pittsburgh Steelers have triumphed over the fearsome but ultimately overhyped Chicago Bears, a sweet and needed victory for the Steelers crew. Plus, all of our competition for the AFC's wild card lost, so we're sitting better than we were last week.

I hope the Steelers won't let down their guard against the Minnesota Vikings this week. Even though the Vikings play in a dome, an unnatural contrivance which takes away key elements of the game, they're still a really good football team. As such, we're going to have to power ahead and fight, and leave any smack-talking until after the game.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 09, 2005

So Cold. So Very, Very Cold

IT'S BEEN A WHILE since I've seen snow this heavy. Perhaps that's simply my own sense of perspective playing tricks on me, but it's just noontime and we already have four or so inches of snow. Here's Manchester's weather conditions right now: look down near Boston, where they have that hurricane-eye like thingy on the radar.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:04 PM | TrackBack

A Fitting Day for Narnia, All Things Considered

DO YOU REMEMBER what the Pevensie children -- Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy -- discovered when they first went through the magical wardrobe in the Professor's mansion? They found a land which was very cold and very windy and where, due to some sort of evil enchantment, it was always winter.

No, I'm not talking about Narnia. I'm talking about Manchester, New Hampshire, where it's 22 degrees outside and we're in the middle of a nor'easter, and there's not only heavy snow but something called "freezing fog." We're expected to get a foot of snow today -- the expected totals keep rising -- and God knows when we'll ever see spring or warm weather again.

Also, due to an evil enchantment which the Evil Nabobs of Television Programming have cast, the daytime television stinks to high heaven. I mean, I've pretty much got one of four choices: the cable news channels, which will undoubtedly talk about the weather; CNBC, which doesn't seem to have anything new; reruns of "MacGyver" on that man-oriented channel; or "The View," which -- oy vey. "The View." God help us all.

Still, all things considered, it's a fitting day for "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to open in theatres, even if no one in snowbound New England will get to see it. From what I understand, it's quite a good film, and I do plan to see it -- when the snow stops.

I'm sure the snow will stop some time. It must. Surely, it must.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:38 AM | TrackBack

December 04, 2005

I Guess Brent Musburger Was Reason 53

FOOTBALL BLOG Every Day Should Be Saturday has, like most God-fearing American sports fans, had it up to here with the ESPN/ABC sports-broadcasting machine. Accordingly, one of the blogs writers, who goes by the clever name of Orson Swindle, has produced a clever list of 52 reasons why he hates the franchise.

Amazingly, this list does not include sportscaster Brent Musburger, although this is perhaps understandable. Musburger is now nearing age 70, and as such, his often-annoying play calling now seems like a quaint throwback to an earlier, simpler time, when all people had to worry about was stagflation. Well, that and oil shocks. And Communist aggression. And getting a decidedly not-groovy case of the cl

Well, anyway, lets fast forward a bit. Consider what the conspicuous omission of Musburger from the list means. It now means that, in the world of football broadcasting, there are at least 52 things worse than Musburgers playcalling during key matchups even when Brent is pontificating upon the college game. Clearly, football broadcasting as we once knew it is in big trouble, and it certainly seems as if the ESPN/ABC folks have a lot to do with ruining the experience for everyone.

Here is, perhaps, the best reason of them all (a slightly-edited No. 18):

For a long time college football existed as a fiefdom apart from the Sportstainmenttastic! world of ESPNpleasantly stodgy, frills-free coverage of a sport that allowed you to soak in the atmosphere of each game through the screen. Now we have Nick Lachey interviewing people and Big and Rich suggesting that we need more Ying with our Ying Yang. Two old pieces of redneck jerkyincluding one who one of our readers pointed out, bears a striking resemblance to Phyllis Dillerwho were pulled out of a hat at random by marketing schmucks in New York who were like, Okay, people. Red state sportwe need us some edgy country! Total, horrid, absolute fecality soiling the last show we watch on the network.

As of this writing, the list has generated a mere 518 comments, the last of which is from some whiny Nebraska Cornhusker fan who apparently thinks his third-rate school deserved to share the 1997 national college football title with the much better Michigan Wolverines. Even though everyone knows that Nebraska had an easy schedule that year, and that the split was due to sympathy votes for the retiring Nebraska coach, this fan refuses to accept the obvious. And like ESPN/ABCs many infractions against the sport of football, thats just wrong.

In happier college football news, though, Id like to offer my sincere congratulations to the Akron Zips, which won the MAC championship game on a last-second touchdown play against the vaunted Northern Illinois Huskies. It was a hell of a game and I wish the Zips well in the Motor City Bowl.

(via Steve Silver)

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November 29, 2005

We Need Some Immaculate Perception

ON NIGHTS LIKE THIS, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan can be really, really tough.

Perhaps one of the greatest maladies with which Steelers fans must deal is the constant urge to scream at the television, because the Steelers playcalling is both transparent and stupidly repetitive. Im sorry, but if even I can predict when Pittsburghs going to run, its time to mix things up a bit. And when the running game isnt working, its time to start passing. If John Madden* can figure this out, Bill Cowher should as well. It also might have been a good idea to do more long passing earlier in the game.

That said, Im not going to deny that if Pittsburgh had recovered their surprise onside kick at the start of the second half, I would be writing that Coach Cowher was a genius and a wonder. Unfortunately, the evil Indianapolis Colts recovered it and went on to run roughshod over Pittsburgh for the entire second half, eventually winning 26-7.

Not. Extreme.

However, I must admit the Colts really put on a fine show during the game, and if they keep that up through the playoffs the team will earn Super Bowl rings. They pretty much stopped Pittsburghs offense (except for that one touchdown) and, except for Troy Polamalu's interception, ran holes through Pittsburghs defense too. Pittsburgh was outplayed and outmanned and outrun, and it hurt to watch.

So Id like to congratulate Colts coach Tony Dungy and wide receiver Marvin Harrison and linebacker Cato June on their victory. Even though the Colts play in a weather-proof dome, which to any real football fan is abomination and heresy, and indicative of the Dolts' eternal lameness. Still, it was a victory -- and heck, Id even like to congratulate that annoying squeaky-clean do-gooder quarterback of theirs.

Whatever his name is.

D-caf. I need to switch to D-caf.

---------------
* For non-football fans: John Coach Obvious Madden, one-time coach of the evil Oakland Raiders, is now an announcer. Hes kind of like footballs Yogi Berra, generally because football doesnt have a Yogi Berra. At least not one whom I know about.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 12:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 23, 2005

The Rant is Away --

-- AND WILL RETURN following the Pittsburgh Steelers' victory -- one would most certainly hope -- on Monday Night Football this Nov. 28. Colts delenda est, or something.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:50 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 18, 2005

We Who Are About to Win Salute You

IT WILL BE forty-odd degrees in Ann Arbor at game time tomorrow, not cold enough to cause frostbite but cold enough to make three hours on the football field a test of strength and endurance. It is in this weather that the evil Ohio State Buckeyes, presently ranked No. 9 in the nation, will attempt to defeat the glorious Michigan Wolverines. They will fail.

At least, they should fail, if only on general principle grounds. After all, this is what Michigan does when other teams have championship hopes and aspirations to play in nationally-televised bowl games: we beat them. It doesnt matter how we do that. We may beat them with a last-second play, or we may beat them through trickery and deception, or we may beat them like a steel drum right from the first kickoff. What matters is that we beat them. For ruining other peoples seasons is what we Michiganders do, especially if our own season is shot. And when it comes to the Buckeyes of the Ohio State University, we are especially good at ruining their football seasons. Indeed, Michigan Stadium is where Ohio States dreams go to die.

Tomorrow, the teams will meet for the 102nd time since 1897, and Michigan will surely earn its 58th win in the series, which it presently leads 57-38-6. This despite the fact that Ohio State has probably had a better football squad most of those years, and certainly does this year. In fact, were Ohio State to win tomorrow as wretched and awful as the idea is they would probably be eligible for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl or something. However, Im confident Michigans longstanding tradition of ruining Ohio States hopes for a national title or a big bowl game will once again hold this year.

True, its going to be a tough match, and no Michigan fan underestimates the menace which the Ohio State Buckeyes present, particularly since coach Jim Tressel came aboard. Thats something which Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski explains particularly well in his essay on the game, with the ingenious and excellent title of Oh, How We Hate Ohio State:

You might recall Ohio State once had a fine coach by the name of John Cooper who won lots and lots of games. But astute Buckeyes fans noticed he was 2-10-1 against the Wolverines and demanded he be fired.

Cooper was replaced by Jim Tressel, who somehow is 3-1 against Michigan's Lloyd Carr despite wearing the geekiest sweater vest you've ever seen. We're never sure if Tressel is coaching football or teaching fifth-grade math. Put a sweatshirt on, man.

Almost immediately, Tressel swiped some of Michigan's trademark arrogance without even asking. When he arrived, he began counting down the days to Ohio State's first visit to Ann Arbor. Then he had the audacity to win that game. Later, he hired, er, signed a running back by the name of Maurice Clarett and won a national title.

Now, I realize its somewhat tough for non-Midwesterners to grasp just how important this annual contest is, but Ill do my best to explain. First, one must understand the history behind the teams mutual hatred, and second, one must understand the places from which both teams hail.

(It seems that many people, particularly on the East and West Coasts, have a tendency to lump Midwestern states into the same basket. It is astounding ignorance, to be sure, and many Midwesterners take great offense when outsiders make the mistake of confusing, say, Michigan with Wisconsin, or Indiana with Iowa. They wont say anything about it, of course, because theyre too polite to do so; but back home it really gets on peoples nerves. But anyway).

Michigan and Ohio have long hated each other. How much so, you ask? Well, back in 1835-1836, the two states fought a war.

A war over Toledo.

In retrospect, this probably wasnt a good idea. Fortunately, though, it wasnt much of a war: both states militias got lost in a giant primordial swamp, and the only combat took place during a bar fight (an Ohioan stabbed a Michigander). Still, they actually had a war, and it was in wrapping up the war that Michigan scored its first victory against Ohio. Namely, we tricked them into keeping Toledo.

You see, when Michigan entered the Union in 1837, we had to give up our claim to the Toledo area as a condition of our signing up. In exchange, we got most of the Upper Peninsula, which has mining and timber resources. Plus, its great for vacationing too. Ohio, meanwhile, got stuck with Toledo. So it was only natural this long-standing bitterness would transfer over to a football rivalry between the two states flagship educational institutions.

What a rivalry its been, too. Its exacerbated because of the stark gaps in educational quality and general coolness which exist between Michigan and Ohio State. Youll see that this weekend when the two schools run their promotional commercials.

Ohio State will almost certainly run some lame-o, cheaply produced, politically correct snoozefest about how some liberal arts major is making big strides on some mediocre research project. Michigan, on the other hand, will almost certainly point out our key involvement in the Apollo 15 space mission, in which all of the astronauts on board were Michigan alumni. Yeah. They put Michigans flag on the Moon too, which rules.

Oh, and what kind of a school has a frickin acorn for its mascot? Jesus Christ.

But anyway. Its sure to be a hard-fought, tough battle at Michigan Stadium this Saturday, and I must salute the Buckeyes in advance for the excellent and powerful athleticism which theyll undoubtedly show during the game. It wont be enough, of course, and well break the Buckeyes like Octavian broke Antony, but I will say they always put forward a great effort.

Besides, it could be worse. They could be from East Lansing.

Hail to the victors valiant!
Hail to the conquering heroes!
Hail, hail, to Michigan, the leaders and the best!
Hail to the victors valiant!
Hail to the conquering heroes!
Hail, hail, to Michigan, the champions of the West!

Go Blue!

UPDATE, 4:26 PM, 11/19/05: Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

HOW did that happen? We had them where we wanted them and SOMEHOW, evil Ohio State won! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH. Clearly Coach Carr must be held responsible.

It's time for him to retire.

I mean, what does it say when Coach Carr's supporters are ... Notre Dame fans?!

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

If Maddox Starts, That's an Emergency

OH MY GOD, I can't believe that Charlie Batch, the Pittsburgh Steelers' backup quarterback, broke his passing hand in tonight's game against the Cleveland Browns. Quite frankly, if a plague of locusts had descended upon Heinz Field tonight, it would not have been worse.

In part, that's because the locusts might have plagued Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback, to the point where he couldn't throw the football. As such, this would prevent Maddox from throwing any interceptions. Prior to the game tonight, he threw 3 interceptions on 28 attempts, and during tonight's game the interception he threw was nullified due to a defensive penalty.

I mean, Maddox's performance was so bad tonight that even the ESPN Sunday Night Football announcers were rooting for him to throw a complete pass. One of 'em -- I think it was Theismann -- even said, "Come on, Tommy." It's pretty pathetic when the ESPN Sunday Night idiots stop insulting Maddox and start openly sympathizing with him.

The worst thing about Maddox is that, because he is so awful, his very presence in a game strikes fear and nausea into Pittsburgh Steelers fans everywhere. Consider the conversation I had with my brother, a Cleveland Browns fan, when it was announced Maddox was starting the second half in tonight's game:

*RING* *RING* *RING*
(Jesse picks up).
JESSE: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
ME: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Of course, it was a minute or so later that Maddox managed to hand the ball off, in a reverse-kinda-play, to none other than wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who then threw the ball 51 yards to fellow wide receiver Hines Ward for a touchdown, prompting the following call:

*RING* *RING* *RING*
(Jesse picks up).
ME: Who's laughing now?! WHO'S -- LAUGHING -- NOW?!
JESSE: I can't believe that actually happened.

Now that the game is over -- and Cleveland got their heads handed to them, 34-21 -- let's look at the statistics for the game:

PASSING:

Maddox, T.: 4/7 for 22 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT* (* 0 due to penalty)
Randle El, A.: 1/1 for 51 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT

RUSHING:

Randle El, A.: 2 attempts for 10 yards; long, 12.

RECEIVING:

Randle El, A.: 2 receptions for 19 yards; long, 15.

PUNT RETURNS:

Randle El, A.: 3 returns for an average of 5.3 yards; long, 8.

Also, once upon a time, Randle El was starting quarterback for the University of Indiana football team.

Clearly, Antwaan Randle El should take over as backup quarterback until Charlie Batch is healed. Presently, wide receiver Randle El is the "emergency quarterback," and plays that position only in the event none of the QBs can do the job. To my mind, the possibility that Tommy Maddox might start for the Pittsburgh Steelers qualifies as a Grade A, bona fide, four alarm damn-the-torpedoes emergency, and as such, Randle El needs to get the nod if Roethlisberger or Batch can't start next week.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

Your Guide to Understanding the Midwest, Part II

DOES ANYONE KNOW where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

Your Guide to Understanding the Midwest, Part I

SIMON FROM JERSEY has, on his blog, reprinted a rather nice essay about how college students from the Great State of Michigan would change a light bulb. This easy comparison sheet, which is being forwarded around the Internet, will prove helpful to anyone hoping to learn more about the Rust Belt, particularly in regards to its internal jealousies and rivalries:

At MICHIGAN, it takes three students to change a light bulb: one to change it, and the other two to talk about how they did it every bit as good as an Ivy Leaguer.

At MICHIGAN STATE, it takes 2,000 students: one to change the bulb, and the other 1,999 to riot and set it on fire.

For the rest, visit Simon's excellent blog.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:47 AM | TrackBack

November 06, 2005

It is Autumn: the Season of Miracles

THAT LINE MAY have come from a General Motors commercial, but somehow, that makes it all the more fitting to describe this weekend's football. How did the Northwestern Wildcats manage that amazing comeback against the University of Iowa, and from whence came the wind that helped put the Cleveland Browns over the Tennessee Titans? How did the Kansas City Chiefs manage to score that game-winning touchdown as time ran out, a minute after the Oakland Raiders had scored a touchdown to take the lead?

And behold the miracle of all miracles -- the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Yes, even though Pittsburgh had Charlie Batch in as quarterback, Charlie Batch threw but one interception, and as such it was good enough. Besides, who would've thought Troy Polamalu would have run that Brett Favre fumble back 77 yards for a touchdown, oh my good God.

Oh, sure, the weekend wasn't perfect. The Detroit Lions, who are inept but lovable, lost again. It's not something one really feels bad about, of course, as the Lions haven't been playing up to par since 1957. Still, losing to the Minnesota Vikings isn't cool no matter what team you are, the Lions or the Hamilton TigerCats or the Loy Norrix High School Knights.

And no football weekend is complete without watching the iffy NFL coverage on ESPN. Perhaps it's the network's format, but they seem to have this obsession with individual players over teams that has always annoyed me. I was pleased to learn tonight that I was not the only one with this conviction.

As Dad back home put it, ESPN has been treating the Philadelphia Eagles' suspension of wide receiver Terrell Owens like it was the assassination of Lincoln. And this was before ESPN's Sunday night game even started (the game, in which the Eagles play the Washington Redskins, will go live in a few minutes). Dad and I agreed that "TO's" actions didn't seem to make sense: after all, Dad asked, what teams would sign him after all these shenanigans? (My response, that the Cowboys and Raiders would sign him, drew a grudging assent. Still, Dad argued -- and I agreed -- that all this silliness wouldn't help TO).

All this silliness does not help the Eagles out either, but after much thought, I do hope the Eagles win tonight against the evil Washington Redskins. I do not generally care for the Eagles, finding in them less of that grand American spirit which the Pittsburgh Steelers exemplify. But I can root for them tonight, if only because they seem to deserve a win after all they've been through. As General Motors said, it is autumn -- the season of miracles. And we shall see.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 08:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

Uh oh, KO

DISTURBING NEWS from The Coca-Cola Co. today. While Diet Cherry Coke will be unaffected -- thank God -- TheStreet.com reports the company is getting rid of its vanilla-flavored soft drinks. Coca-Cola's replacing them with some weird upstart beverages:

The Atlanta-based beverage giant said the simultaneous launch of Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and Black Cherry Vanilla Coke is a first for Coca-Cola North America. "Cherry-flavored beverages are experiencing significant growth, as are no-calorie soft drinks," said Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Trademark, Coca-Cola North America. "Our innovative fusion of real cola, luscious black cherry, and smooth vanilla flavors creates a taste that is complex and delicious."

I hear they taste a bit like Dr. Pepper.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 02:48 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 03, 2005

Charlie Batch to the Rescue!

OH CRIKEY. Charlie Batch will be Pittsburgh's starting quarterback on Sunday. The Charlie Batch who's thrown eight passes in four seasons, the Charlie Batch whose last quarterback rating was 68, the Charlie Batch who once played for the Lions. He's going to start the game in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger. Clearly, the Pittsburgh Steelers are ...

Well, maybe we're not doomed after all.

After all, Charlie Batch has lots of things going for him, such as the fact he's not Tommy Maddox. Plus, with practically no playing history in recent years, this fresh start will give him a chance to really impress folks. Also, the Green Bay Packers aren't exactly playing like Lombardi would have hoped.

All in all, that should mean victory this weekend at Lambeau Field. At least, I hope it will mean victory this weekend at Lambeau Field.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:05 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 01, 2005

Trampling Out the Vintage

SO TONIGHT I was going through The Rant's referral files and found, to my great annoyance, that Communist bandwidth thieves were siphoning off The Rant's precious bandwidth reserves. I couldn't believe it -- here I am, providing a free service to the general public and my loyal readership, and scoundrels are taking undue advantage of it.

Well, they're not taking advantage of it anymore. Heh. Dig how clever I was: I found the file to which the bandwidth thief had linked, and for just a few minutes, I pulled the "switcheroo" trick. For five minutes or so, this image was visible on the thief's site instead:

Yes, I do rule. I took the image down after a few minutes, just because I didn't want to make it too embarrassing, but I was greatly pleased with how it turned out. And should similar stunts happen in future, I'll be prepared.

The image, by the way, is Photoshopped -- the original is from that site with all the bad album covers. The photo is of the Rev. Robert White, from his album, "The Reverend in Rhythm." I don't think anyone knows what happened to Father Bob -- at least not on the Internet -- but there will at least be one kinda-cool mention for the guy.

Oh, and one last thing: please don't hotlink the anti-hotlinking image. That would be wrong.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:30 PM | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

An Extra Hour for Complaining

I WAS IN a rare good mood today. The sun was out when I woke up, and it was a nice, crisp, clear day -- perfect for football, outdoor activities, and what have you. Plus, I got an extra hour of sleep because last night, we switched from Daylight Saving Time back to Standard Time, and that kicked ass.

Unfortunately, the sun set at 4:40 p.m. today, and that gave me plenty of time to stew. In this first evening back on Standard Time, in the wretched darkness that serves as a harbinger of winter's hideous polar gloom, I realized I had no reason to be happy. After all, I hadn't gained anything over the interceding six months except two weeks of headaches, misery and anguish stemming from the first time change. Now, I'm supposed to be happy because I got an hour -- an hour stolen from me in the first place -- back?

Sure, maybe I'm getting too worked up about this, but I've hated Daylight Saving Time for a long while. It increases traffic accidents, reduces productivity, and contributes to fatigue, nausea, indigestion, gum disease and ennui. At least that's what generally what happens to me. In rare cases, I'm sure Daylight Saving Time also causes gout, rheumatic fever and typhus, just due to the stress of having one's sleep patterns disrupted. If you don't believe that DST causes big trouble, just look at the University of Indiana's football team, which is 1-4 in Big Ten play.

In my own case, my hate for DST stems from my childhood in Kalamazoo, Mich., when the sky would routinely stay light until 9, 9:30 or even 10 p.m. around the start of summer. This screwed up my sleep patterns, and as a boy I recall going to bed when it was light out quite a lot. Admittedly, this happened because we were on the far western end of the Eastern time zone. But that also meant a lot of long dark mornings, particularly at the start of DST in the early spring.

Now that we're back on standard time, and I'm here in New Hampshire, I have the opposite problem. I pretty much wake up with the sun every day, but the sun sets before 5 p.m. By the time winter rolls around, it will practically set about 4 p.m. This results in reduced productivity and contributes to fatigue, nausea, indigestion, gum disease and ennui.

I don't think it's too much to ask that I only go through just one misery-inducing seasonal experience each year. I'm just saying.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Happy Halloween!

FOR EVERYONE ELSE out there with a morbid sense of humor, I've found a link to Edward Gorey's "The Gashlycrumb Tinies," the children's alphabet guaranteed to amuse and delight youngsters everywhere! Or, alternatively, encourage them to have an unhealthy fascination with trench coats, weird music and the occult. But hey, that's the chance one takes these days.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:16 AM | TrackBack

Point Reluctantly Accepted

A PITTSBURGH AREA man was recently fined $300 after claiming to be Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Associated Press has reported:

Brian Jackson of Brentwood pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct charges yesterday. Authorities say Jackson pretended to be quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Brian St. Pierre to two women so he could date them. Jackson gave one of the women a signed football and signed Roethlisberger's name on a Steelers jersey owned by the woman's neighbor.

The best comment thus far about Jackson's Big Ben impersonation has come from Stephen Silver, who said, "And yet, he still did a better job of it than Tommy Maddox did."

Now, if you ask me, a Minnesota Vikings fan has no right to talk smack about ANY competing football franchise, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, I must reluctantly accept his point. At least until Dec. 18, when the Steelers shall undoubtedly crush the Vikings in Minnesota.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 11:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

A Good Football Weekend

SURE, MICHIGAN defeated the Nittany Lions of Penn State, but I still want U-M football coach Lloyd Carr to get cashiered. Now, thanks to this nifty Web site, you can help in the quest. It's worth a visit just for the picture alone.

WHY DO the Pittsburgh Steelers have such crappy backup quarterbacks? I mean, I'm sorry, but when Ben Roethlisberger got hurt last week I had two reactions: "NOOOOOOOOO!" when Roethlisberger's knee got hit, and "NOOOOOOOO!" when Charlie Batch got put in the game. Don't get me wrong, I like Charlie Batch, but he played for the Lions. And even though all he did was give the ball to Jerome Bettis, those few plays with our third-string QB were really scary.

But it's not Batch that worries me -- it's Tommy Maddox. Gad. Dig that 1 TD/3 INT stat, that 39.3 completion percentage, that 30.1 QB rating. We need a better performer in that second slot, and quickly.

ALSO -- a congratulations to the Northwestern Wildcats, who won two games in a row with their defeat of Purdue last week. Yeah.

I would further like to thank the television programmers who made this week's football telecast MUCH BETTER in terms of game selection.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at 09:25 PM | TrackBack

A Grand Theological Discovery

AS A PERSON OF FAITH, I have always felt it important to treat the views of religious believers with respect, particularly if I myself don't agree with them. I have always had confidence in my own outlook on life, and I realize that in most cases, such believers are just well-meaning folks who "walk the walk."

However, there's got to be a special exemption for Madonna, if only because she thinks she's all that and a bag of chips, and even worse, apparently thinks the rest of the world believes she's all that and a bag of chips. Dig this item from the Drudge Report, which has quotes from her upcoming -- God help us -- documentary:

-------
"The material world. The physical world. The world of illusion, that we think is real. We live for it, we're enslaved by it. And it will ultimately be our undoing," Madonna explains in her new documentary film, I'M GOING TO TELL YOU A SECRET.

In the movie, which will premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City on Tuesday, Madonna warns how people "are going to go to hell, if they don't turn from their wicked behavior."

"I refer to an entity called 'The Beast'. I feel I am describing the world that we live in right now. To me 'The Beast' is the modern world that we live in."
-------

Oooooooooooooooh.

You know, it boggles the mind just to think of it. How amazing is it that -- a mere nineteen centuries since The Revelation to John was written -- Madonna would come up with such a grand theological discovery? Gee, just imagine what other spiritual truths the Material Girl might reveal. Maybe she'll rediscover the events in Exodus 15:25 next. I can imagine that:

... and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. And behold! the LORD said, "Dude, if you bottle this stuff, you can sell it to people for an amazing price, because it contains some ... ah ... you know, some mystical healing properties, or something. Yeah. Mystical healing properties." And the man said, "Dude, let us bottle this stuff, so we can sell it to people for an amazing price, because it contains some mystical healing properties. Besides, He is a jealous God, and this is the Old Testament, so