Discussions on politics, foreign affairs, religion, and the state of American culture...oh, heck with it. It's an electronic soapbox where I get to spout off about all the idiocy that manifests itself in this day and age.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
Benjamin Kepple is a journalist in New Hampshire. He is a former reporter/writer for Investor's Business Daily,
Heterodoxy, and FrontPage Magazine. He has also been published in the Daily News of Los Angeles,
the Ottawa Citizen, AlbertaViews, and other publications. He was also a contributing editor for the 2nd edition of "Choosing the Right College," published by ISI Books.
Throughout his reporting career, Kepple has thrown questions at everyone from former presidential candidates and
major Washington lobbyists to ex-leftist militants and defenders of domestic terror groups. First as a magazine writer
and then as a hard-news reporter, Kepple has written on education, economics, cultural affairs, and politics --
as well as car accidents, police shootings, and school board meetings.
As a student at the University of Michigan, Kepple was prominently mentioned in a 1998 Detroit Free Press
article on race relations at the school's Ann Arbor campus. Also that year, Kepple briefly appeared as a student
panelist on "NewsHour" with Jim Lehrer. In 1999, he was a guest on The Mike Rosen Show (KOA, 850-AM, Denver)
regarding Boston College's Mary Daly controversy.
PROUDLY SERVING THE BLOGOSPHERE SINCE SEPT. 2001
Patior ut potiar
"It's people like you who I would not hesitate to hit with my car
if I saw crossing the street, thinking I would benefit society."
-- J. Artz, Mar. 11, '98
"Right now, your problems are the last thing on my mind."
-- Dr. Progressive, Mar. 26, '01
"It's like a blog on steroids."
-- Matt Rubush, Nov. '01
"Benjamin Kepple runs a fine Web log. . ."
-- Ken Layne, Dec. 2, '01
"Ben, you remind me of my mother in law."
-- Jason Hirschman, Dec. 26, '01
"Give him five years and we'll be able to find him eating Thai cuisine as he hosts his very
own Tuesday night TBS movie show."
-- Jesse Kepple, Jan. 10, '02
"You're going to be the Steve Jobs of blogs!"
-- Matt Rubush, Jan. 24, '02
"Truth be told, I see very little that's French in Ben, save for the fact that he works 35 hours and smokes 16 packs of cigarettes a week." .
-- Chris Weinkopf, Mar. 22, '02
"Ben Kepple is so witty. Thank God somebody is."
-- Allison Barnes, Mar. 28, '02
"We all know you're witty, Ben. That's why we talk to you."
-- Matthew S. Schwartz, Mar. 30, '02
"The most convincing anti-smoking editorial I've ever read."
-- Clay Waters, June 1, '02
"As usual, Brother Kepple, I disagree with almost every word you type. But damn! I sure am glad you're there."
-- Brian Linse, Jul. 31, '02
"Not as succinct as Phil, but side-splittingly funny."
-- Sasha Castel, Oct. 23, '02
"Actually, you're WRONG!"
-- Oliver Willis, Dec. 5, '02
"Permanently aghast and agog."
-- Oliver Willis, Feb. 25, '03
"Ben Kepple is a festering sore on my buttocks."
-- Dean Esmay, May 15, '03
All work published on this site, excluding external links and citations, as well as some imagery, is (C) 2001, 2002, by Benjamin Kepple.
All rights are reserved. Said work may not be republished in any medium or form without the prior consent of
Mr. Kepple. However, favourable quotes praising my work are welcomed and appreciated, especially if you are
a working journalist.
Yes, we here at The Rant have finally made the crucial decision to switch publishing systems. Thanks to the good, fine people at Dean Esmay’s site – did we mention they’re good, fine people? -- we now use Movable Type 2.6.4, an excellent program which has a lot of noteworthy features. These features include archives that don’t disappear; a type-setting that’s easier to read; disturbingly-high levels of reliability; and a posting system that makes a point of not swallowing our posts into the ether, and then subsequently throwing them up as a foul-smelling, noxious rush of half-digested computer code.
As such, we here at The Rant will be able to post more medium-high to high-quality content than ever before. No longer will we have to subcontract with our veritable army of cheap foreign laborers to have each entry lovingly type-set. No longer will we incur great expense having each entry telexed to our satellite offices in the Caribbean before publishing, just so our professional staff can “give it a once-over” before they “throw it out on the stoop.” Yes, thanks to Movable Type and Dean Esmay, Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant now has state-of-the-art technology—a move which we think means great changes in the weeks and months to come.
But it will also mean changes for you, the loyal Rant reader. They include:
“ON-DEMAND ARCHIVES” – Want to read a back post on The Rant? Now you can -- with just a click of the mouse. That means no searching for lost files; no trying to remember the old site’s weird file-naming system; and no unpleasant hassles when trying to figure out why the old site suddenly swapped The Rant’s archives with those of a blog written by an embittered lumber-yard manager in Vancouver, Wash.
“READABILITY” – Want to read The Rant at any time of the day or night, when it’s convenient and easy for you to do so? Now you can – just type in the address or click from your favorites, and the site loads almost instantaneously. That means no more frustration when the site doesn’t load; no more wondering if Blogspot hit its supposed bandwidth quota for that day; and no more wondering whether the sheer volume of hideous faux- English from teenagers’ text messages has again clogged the Internet.
“COMMENTS” – Want to give instant feedback about an entry at The Rant? Now you can! No more … oh, never mind. Look. We brought ‘em back, they’re working, they’ll let everyone rant back, yada yada. And lo! The Lord saw the Comments Section, and saw that it was Good. Because, the Lord said, it was about damn time that Kepple got them up and running again.
“BRANDABILITY” – When we here at The Rant first came up with the idea of a “personal Web journal to express our views, meet interesting people and make use of the precious down time we have left in life” (or “blog,” for short), we had no idea that people whom we didn’t even know would begin visiting it. As such, we gave the site a name that meant a lot to us. BJKINNH stood for Benjamin Kepple in New Hampshire. Sadly, we soon found this was about as memory-friendly as a random ham radio call sign. Now that we’ve switched, we have the much easier to remember “benkepple.com” address.
“COMPATIBILITY” – Now that we here at The Rant are “far out” and “with it,” as the kids say today, we can take advantage of all the neat MT “doo-dads” that let us connect with other users. For example, we can automatically let other sites know that we’ve linked to them, for instance. Also, we can get notify folks about updates, and all that jazz.
So – to recap. You’re still here? This site’s over. Go to the new one – at benkepple.com. As the saying goes, we’ll leave the light on for you. Or something.
Benjamin Kepple’s Daily Rant Inc.
Manchester, New Hampshire
“Your Hometown Nostalgia Source”
It's An Offer You Can't Refuse Say, everybody! Blogger-extraordinaire Dean Esmay, a gentleman and a scholar, has offered to help folks whose blogs are subject to the tender mercies of a Certain Unreliable Service move their blogs to Movable Type, the blog-publishing system whose archives don't disappear!
As one of the three bloggers who have greatly appreciated Mr Esmay's free assistance -- the only cost to you is $15/year for a domain name and a mere $5 -- $5! -- per month for a hosting service -- I can vouch that Mr Esmay is not kidding. Not only is Mr Esmay not kidding, he will provide you the Rotarian Ideal of Service as you go about moving your blog to this new setup. How easy is it, you ask? Well, let's just look at this dramatization:
DEAN: OK, it's easy. I have this blue pill and this red pill. If you take the blue pill, you forget all about this and you wake up, believing whatever you want to believe. But if you take the red pill ...
ME: I'll have the blue pill.
ME: I'll have the blue pill. I'm serious. If I switch, I'll be cast adrift into some sort of technological nightmare, and ...
DEAN: No, no, you don't understand. It's easy. Really easy. And look at all the benefits you'll get -- your own domain, a new e-mail address if you want it, the ease of the MT system with its undisappearing archives, quick and fast publishing, cooler layouts, cooler graphics, and ...
ME: Gimme the blue pill.
DEAN: Dammit! Will you let me finish!
ME: Now look, I'm set, really I am, and ...
DEAN: Your archives won't disappear. It's easy to post. The service is really reliable. There really isn't any downside to this.
ME: That's what they told me at college!
DEAN: What has that got to do with it?!
ME: Nothing, but you see where I'm going with this.
DEAN: You don't even know where you're going with this.
ME: No, but I have plans!
DEAN: Wretched little ... !
ME: Bring it on! BRING -- IT -- ON!
DEAN: Yeah?! Well, you just ...
(a scuffle ensues)
ME: All right, all right! Criminy. I'll do it!
DEAN: Honestly, you're the only person I know who would put up such a fuss.
ME: Well, it's not my fault I'm a technofeeb. Now, anyway, let's try this MT thingy ... publishing easy ... fast ... quick ... dear God ... I'm having chest pains ...
DEAN: Oh, God. He's going into cardiac arrest.
Ha, ha! I am actually kidding. Dean will provide you with helpful and friendly and courteous service all through the process, which is actually less painful than having to read the above dramatization. Furthermore, if you're somewhat computer literate, it will probably be really simple for you -- and only take a short amount of time. So I would encourage anyone laboring under the tyranny of ... you know ... to go consult Mr Esmay today. Hey, he freed me, and he can free you too. And in all seriousness, I do say this is probably one of the best choices I have ever made during my 18 months as a blogger.
Proposed U.S. Expansion Horrifies Guardian Man Rod Liddle, writing in today's editions of The Guardian, is concerned that a select group of people in the United States have designs on Mars. Yes, that Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun.
As Mr Liddle tells it, there are hundreds upon hundreds of influential groups in America which want to terraform Mars and make it a human-friendly habitat. Such a proposition horrifies Mr Liddle, who warns that these patriotic Americans want to seize Mars from the microbes which currently inhabit it, and claim the planet for their own. He further argues that we humans ought not focus on space exploration when we have so many problems on Earth with which to deal, but this quasi-conclusion is secondary to his main claim: that the Americans want to conquer Mars, and they're going to ruin the place.
Now, I take great umbrage at this sensational and silly claim, especially considering that it comes from a skinny-toothed, round-shouldered, wretched Englishman.
This is not to say that I do not care for the English; I do very much. In many ways, that great and proud nation has much we as Americans ought to respect, just as Greek civilization rightfully received great respect from the Romans. But let's make no bones about this. When it comes to lording it over foreign territory, the British have few equals in history. As such, to have to suffer through a lecture about colonisation from this embittered scribe is nauseating. Perfectly nauseating.
But this got me to thinking. Why shouldn't we Americans take over Mars? No, really. I mean, Mr Liddle notes that we Yankees "have all the science," and it's not as if any sentient intelligence is doing any good with the place now. If we could ever make it economically feasible, I would say we ought to give it the old college try -- because so many non-economic factors and even some economic factors are in our favour.
For one thing, I don't doubt that we could find plenty of colonists willing to escape the wretched corners of the Earth where they now live, such as Sheffield. For another, if we provided that the American system of Government -- the best form of Government ever designed -- was imported to far-off Mars, we could ensure that the place would not turn into a wretched despotism in space. If we provided the proper tax incentives for people who moved to Mars -- let's start with no federal income tax, for instance -- we could jumpstart investment into the new realm. Finally, such a system would likely have great benefits for the people back home -- after all, it'd paralyze the bureaucrats from doing anything too rash if the common people could hitch a permanent ride off-planet.
Sadly, there are complications to this plan. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 forbids any national polity from laying claim to space itself or any non-Terran celestial bodies therein. As an American citizen and alumnus of the University of Michigan -- the only two institutions whose flags have been placed by Man on lunar soil -- I find this treaty useless and dumb.
After all, just think what we could do if we made the perfectly reasonable claim that the Moon belonged to the United States. Not only could we do something important with the Moon -- such as store lots of really powerful weapons there -- we could easily ignore the carping of other nations and start developing it. I mean, surely there have to be precious metals and minerals someplace on the worthless rock. No one would care about nuclear power plants damaging the environment. The low-gravity environment would have all sorts of neat advantages. It would, for lack of a better term, rule.
Besides, as an American, I think I should note that the world's problems exist largely because most non-American Governments are corrupt and despotic. If the rulers of these said nations would clean up their act and grant their long-suffering inhabitants some measure of freedom, and develop a system of law which respected private property, they'd probably be much better off. So don't blame us, Mr Liddle, for the fact that most Governments on Earth still take great joy in looting the public fisc and sending irregular combat forces into their neighbors' territory to loot and pillage. It's not our fault, pure and simple.
So, I say we press forward with an agressive and far-reaching plan to seize the Moon and other celestial bodies in the Solar System, and claim them for our own. With so many positives on our side, combined with America's long-standing respect for the rule of law and private-property rights, we could make a really good go of things. And it might even have positives for folks like Mr Liddle. After all, if we Yanks are all working on colonizing Mars, we're probably going to care quite a bit less about the problems elsewhere on Earth. For someone of Mr Liddle's views, I suggest that could just be a win-win situation.
Whoops! Because we here at The Rant value honesty and transparency, we present the following letter from our dear friend, Christopher Weinkopf:
"Um, Ben, you do know that Peyton Manning plays and
always has played for the Indianapolis Colts, right --
not the Patriots?
See you in next year's pool!"
-- Chris, the MMPF (Mighty Mighty Pats Fan -- Ed.)
See? I know nothing about football! I meant to say Akili Smith was the Patriots quarterback!
Ha, ha! No, really. The answer is Tim Brady. Or was it Tom Brady? Wait. Is this Brady person even with the Patriots anymore? Anyway, I don't care who the quarterback of the New England Patriots is -- I will find out when they next play the Steelers. So let me rephrase my earlier statement. I want the Pittsburgh Steelers to come crashing down on (insert current Patriots quarterback at the time of next year's AFC playoffs) at least nineteen times in that game, and I do not really care how it happens.
Or, for that matter, who on the defense makes it happen.
New Site Under Construction You know, I wasn't kidding when I said I would have a new site soon. No, really. It's well on its way.
I am far too tired to write much more about the new site just now, but I have to say it's really cool. I also have to thank Dean Esmay for doing the yeoman's work of getting it all set-up. At this point, about all I have to do is the fine-tuning.
Because I am a technofeeb, I have given myself an extended time-frame in which to do this. As one might imagine, I will spend much of this weekend and certain parts of next week doing all these little things, as well as make brave attempts to move portions of my archives, and work on other projects related to it. However, I am pleased to announce that I can tell everyone that the new site will debut on Thursday, June 12. On this date, I will post a really cool entry announcing it and properly thanking Dean. I will also set up links to it, and then get down to other nitty-gritty tasks such as telling everyone I know about the changes. I do hope folks will like them.
I plan to use this site as a backup, as well as for some other things that could come up. I also plan to keep posting to this site in the interim, even as I work on the other -- although blogging may be light sometimes. But I am excited about this new endeavour, and confident that it will mean a better product for all concerned.
In reality, Miss Pressman writes, we men believe that women with such in-depth knowledge somehow encroach on our masculinity. She also writes that despite our claims to the contrary, we men actually do not care for women who are knowledgeable about sports, but rather women who will tolerate our own sports-watching. Furthermore, she argues that when we men realize that the object of our affection can "actually tell the difference between a flea-flicker and a reverse, differentiate between a blitz and a dog, or identify the soft spot in a zone defense," it "scares the crap" out of us.
But she is not finished there. Miss Pressman also writes that men do not take women seriously when they expound on the subject of America's Greatest Sport, by which I mean Football, and that we can get annoyed when they do venture their opinions on subjects unrelated to basic fundamentals. The end result of all this, as Miss Pressman writes, is that she and other women who like sports then make excuses for this knowledge when around prospective dates, because said fellows would otherwise act shocked or blitz them with trivia questions.
That is a long summary of Miss Pressman's excellent column, which I encourage you to read in full. But that was necessary, since her column is also quite long. And after reading it, and doing some serious thinking, I have come to the only reasonable conclusion a man in my position can: that either I or Miss Pressman exist in some sort of strange parallel universe.
Don't get me wrong -- that's not intended as criticism at all. It's just, because of my own particular set of circumstances, that I know no men like that. I mean, none. Zero, zilch, nada. Few of my friends have given me indication that they have any interest about sports. Further, when one includes those friends of mine with serious loyalties to a sporting franchise, I would venture to guess that only one or two of them have such intricate knowledge as Miss Pressman describes; and even then, only one when the issue at hand is American football. And because this last friend is a true gentleman, he would not comment on such things.
Furthermore, I personally have little knowledge about the inner workings of the game. Even though I consider myself a ravenous football fan, and have some idea what a "blitz" is, I haven't any idea what a "dog" is at all. I mean, none. Zero, zilch, nada. Miss Pressman also writes about something called a "4-3 defensive scheme" -- again, I have absolutely no idea what that means. Indeed, I am so unknowledgeable about the intricacies of football that I would not even venture to embark on conversations about the game that went beyond which-team-is-what.
On the other hand, Miss Pressman is extremely knowledgeable about football. I know this not only because she writes on the subject for a major sports television network, but also because she has dealt your humble correspondent some serious ass-kicking in a mutual friend's seasonal football pool.
Because we here at The Rant believe in honesty, I must say that this ass-kicking is on the scale of that opening scene in "The Matrix" when Trinity goes into action against some hapless policeman. You know, the scene where the camera zooms around 360 degrees as Trinity prepares her swift-kick-of-death-'n-destruction, and the cop flies through the flimsy wall of some roach motel. Indeed, the ass-kicking that I received from her and other players in Christopher Weinkopf's football pool was so intense that I was routinely taunted for it (by Mr Weinkopf, usually).
Then, because I work like a dog, I would occasionally miss a week and compound the error. As the cycle continued, I became so anguished and depressed that I gave up entirely. This then caused Mr Weinkopf much distress. But that is another story altogether. The point is that I am not nearly as knowledgeable about football as some other people, and I quite frankly don't care all that much. All I really care about is that the glorious and valiant Pittsburgh Steelers, the greatest football franchise in the history of the game, crush and destroy the New England Patriots in the AFC playoffs. I want the Steel Curtain to come crashing down on Peyton Manning at least nineteen times in such a game, and I do not really care how it happens. I want one for the thumb.
But this brings us to an important question -- if I do not know anything about football's intricacies, and few of my guy friends do, where are these other men who can talk shop about the game? I mean, really, are they people I just don't hang out with? Did I somehow not get the memo issued to men everywhere that I was to study football for at least an hour a day, and watch all that old footage on ESPN Classic? Am I missing out because I don't often go to sports bars?
I don't doubt they're out there -- but really, what am I missing? Gee, I mean, the way Miss Pressman talks, you'd think nobody but me and a couple of other people I know really care about things like the implications of the strong-dollar policy or variations in how the stock market moves during the last hour of trading. And I don't think that's the case, because I have conversations about this all the time.
However, a sneaking suspicion tells me that I may be in the minority here.
UPDATE 12:31 AM: OK. Went and had a glass of milk before bed, came back and re-read this essay. I don't think I wrote it well at all, which annoys me, so I'm appending this point. First, you should go read the whole thing, and second, I think she's right.
Manufactured Beauty There's a fascinating if short post over at Ken Layne's site about how high-definition television sets reveal the physical imperfections of actors and actresses which prior technology had successfully masked. Specifically, Mr Layne links to a post from Jeff Jarvis on the subject, in which Mr Jarvis notes how the actress Cameron Diaz appears on a high-definition set. We learn that Ms Diaz has suffered from the occasional outbreak of acne, the scars of which become visible on the ultra-clear picture which the new format provides viewers.
It's a fascinating story in many respects. First, it shows the entertainment industry's amazing ability to package and promote certain of its actors and actresses in ways that highlight and exaggerate their natural beauty, and to a degree which those who have no connection to the industry would not realize. Second, it says a lot about our own society, which unfortunately prizes physical beauty over intellectual and spiritual matters. Thirdly, such technology could help liberate us from this genetic bondage we have imposed upon ourselves. And last, but not least, it lets me tell my story about how I met Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Yes, really, but let me be clear. As readers of The Rant know, as a younger man I spent three years living in Los Angeles. For the first two of these three years, I worked in a capacity that gave me a peripheral connection to the entertainment industry. By this, I mean I would occasionally see or meet famous if not A-list actors in my professional capacity, had the opportunity to have drinks once in a while with capable if not-yet famous actors, and learn a small bit about an industry which seems glamorous and amazing to many folks unfamiliar with it. Also I began to suspect that pop musicians were manufactured in secret at some hidden warehouse-factory complex in Van Nuys, but that is neither here nor there.
Anyway, I met them. Or to be more precise, I once shared an elevator with them in the building in which I used to work.
You should know that this building, a badly-designed and modest mid-rise structure on W. Pico Blvd., was where I worked for the first two years of my employ in the City of Angels. On the top floor of this structure, there was a management firm which handled the affairs of screen actors and actresses. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before such an incident took place. To fully understand how this came about, you should also know that this building had but four elevators, all notoriously inefficient and slow (I was stuck in one once, with all my coworkers, in another weird story), and this building further had a confusing layout. The end result is that these elevators would become packed, and visitors would have no idea which floor they needed to exit upon to get to the attached parking garage, so on and so forth.
Now sometime during the day I had reason to take the elevator down -- I think I was going to the pharmacy next door -- and I got on to find myself with one anonymous suit, Mr Broderick and Ms Parker. It was an uneventful experience, to say the least. Mr Broderick and Ms Parker -- who are both awfully short people, at least compared to my six-foot-four frame --were not exactly in movie-star form. They seemed like regular, normal folks, except Mr Broderick seemed dressed a bit, um, casual. But you can get away with that when you're a creative type, though.
We'll leave it at that -- I can give you more details in private, if you'd like -- but the point was they acted like regular, normal folks. And no, neither I or the suit said anything out of the ordinary or asked for their autograph or anything like that. Dammit, we were Angelenos -- we didn't do that type of thing, because we were "with it." Besides, what was I supposed to say? "First floor. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?" No! And it wasn't as if I could say, apropos of nothing, "Boy. Godzilla -- did that suck. What in the hell were you thinking?" The only thing I did say was to the suit, after the two had left the elevator:
"Was that who I thought --- ?"
I will note that I was given much grief when I returned to the office from the women therein, who demanded to know why I had not brought Mr Broderick up for a round of introductions.
But it is incredible how Hollywood is able to package up its actors and actresses. I have always found it about as amazing as the medical miracles which have artificially prolonged my own life in these past 27 years. One of the commenters -- that's not a word, but it's late -- over at Ken's site put it very well when he described being at a party with the actress Natalie Portman, and not being impressed (!!!) with her looks: "We all agreed: Wow...is film makeup a wonderful thing, or what? I could look like Tom Cruise with that kind of magical makeup." Now, this commenter must look better than I do, because no amount of makeup could make me look like Tom Cruise. But really, even in the high school plays I attended as a teenager, I was always amazed to see just how much makeup was caked on to the faces of those performing in them.
Still, speaking as a former Angeleno, I think one's constant exposure to the entertainment industry sours one on it. That's because you see it for what it really is -- a service industry like any other. Aye, it's a different and specialized and meaningful service, to be sure. But when you strip all the glitz and glamour away from it, and you see movie stars not at premieres but at the frozen-yogurt place at Olympic and Westwood, it goes from the new and exciting to the mundane. That's not to say that I don't have respect for actors: I do, because I know I couldn't do what they do and it takes a lot of hard work to succeed in that jackal-infested business. But I don't worship them or even really revere them like so many Americans seem to do.
Which brings us to the next point -- why is it that we value physical beauty over intellectual pursuits as a society?
I can't say I have the answer to that. I've often joked about my Patented Inverted Sense of Celebrity (e.g. "Oh my God! It's Laurence Tribe!") that makes me jumpy and act nervous around intellectual heavyweights as opposed to famous people who also happen to be beautiful and appear on the silver screen. Perhaps it is merely the market at work -- everyone, I think, wants to be seen as beautiful or attractive, and beauty is a more sought-after and rarer commodity than intellectual production. There are plenty of smart people out there, and there's a glut of work for them to do, and a glut in terms of their production.
What I do know is that beauty without intelligence does nothing for me, personally. I mean, really -- nothing. Oh, sure, I can appreciate that beauty on an intellectual level, judge whether a woman is beautiful or a man handsome on first glance. But if said beautiful person is not all that bright, the novelty wears off quite quickly, and it usually means I end up politely excusing myself from the conversation three minutes later. I am too old to waste my time frantically racking my brain for trivial bits of information about the latest fads I likely know little about. Conversely, though, I am young enough so that beauty combined with intelligence will do quite a bit for me, and if I happen to meet an extremely smart woman who also happens to be quite pretty or even beautiful, it will generally leave me a bit weak in the knees. On rare occasions, if the stars are right and all the ingredients combine together, I can be a wreck for a good week -- or until reason reasserts itself.
But I digress. Even though Mr Layne sounds a discouraging note about the effects of high-definition television (to wit: "Nobody needs to see anybody that goddamned close up in such perfect detail."), I actually think this could be a great boon for our society. It could prove to be a great equalizer which we could really use: one that brings the self-appointed yet horribly vapid beautiful people down a good peg, and which subsequently scraps or diminishes the foolish and irrational value system which certain elements in our society have trumpeted for so long. As that diminishes, we can hope that it will mean more opportunity for others engaged in creative professions, as well as for those involved in the intellectual pursuits at which so many in our society labor.
Deo Gratias! The Vatican has published a modern-day Latin dictionary with NEW Latin words for the modern age -- and it is only $115! Sadly, the translations only go from Latin to Italian, which does me absolutely no good. But we can hope that an English translation will soon be on its way.
Oregon Now Less Weird, Albeit Only Slightly Mental-health officials in Multnomah County, Ore., have decided against hiring a Klingon-speaking interpreter, commentator Michael Nevin reports. It seems the county, in which the city of Portland is located, has now declared the move to hire such a person was not only a mistake, but an "overzealous attempt to ensure that our safety net systems can respond to all customers and clients."
Despite the obvious crack we could make about the inmates running the asylum, we will refrain from doing so. For one thing, the county made the right decision in the end, and for another, it is likely that the person who thought up this dim idea has been properly chastened. As such, we at The Rant now declare Oregon to be less weird a state than it was previously. However, in doing so, it must be noted that among the fifty states, we still believe Oregon ranks second only to Vermont in terms of its inherent weirdness.
"But wait," some readers will say with a concerned look on their faces. "I've never thought of Oregon as weird. How can you say that?"
Well, that's a reasonable question, even if I would venture to guess that many of these same readers would privately admit they have never thought of Oregon period. However, we here at The Rant were forced to once travel to Eugene, Ore., on business during one long lonely weekend back in 2000, and the experiences we had therein scarred us for life cemented our view of that state in perpetuity. We're sorry, but they did.
For one thing, you can't pump your own gasoline in Oregon. Now that's just weird. New Jersey is the same way, we might add, but at least in New Jersey we can chalk it up to protectionism and graft. We would note that there is absolutely no reason why a man should not be allowed to pump his own gasoline in this day and age; but such a rule is even stranger when one considers how rural Oregon is. Gad. And it's not like you get the old Fifties-style treatment at Oregon gas stations either, when some friendly clean-cut gent offered to change your oil. No! With the service I got while I was in Eugene, I'd say I was lucky the gas cap got correctly replaced.
For another, everything in Oregon -- or at least Eugene -- seems to have a forest-green/bright-yellow colour scheme, right down to the municipal airport. This is weird. The colour-scheme exists because green and yellow are the (weird) colors of the University of Oregon. The University, we might add, has a correspondingly weird name for its sports teams: the Ducks. (Good gravy, what were these people smoking when they came up with "Ducks" as a sports-team nickname? I mean, not only is it not so weird as to be pretty cool -- e.g. The University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs -- no respectable athletic squad would be stricken with fear or desperation when they learned they were playing the Ducks next week).
Please realize that we could go on for hours, discussing everything from Oregon's Government to the state's fanatical dislike for Californians, as reasons for why the place is just weird. But this would be time-consuming and psychologically ill-advised. So, instead, we would also say we believe Oregon to be caught in a strange time warp.
You see, when we visited Eugene, we didn't think anyone had bothered to do any redecorating since the Seventies. Certainly our motel, with its faux wood paneling and hideous decor, was Straight Out of Seventy-Eight. The one Chinese restaurant we saw? If we recall right, the one that was painted bright yellow? That screamed Seventies. Other parts of the city were similarly faded and worn-down. And we won't even mention the University itself, where most folks probably wished we were all still back in the Seventies. But that is neither here nor there. Just take my word for it -- the place is weird.
This'll Put a Grimace on Your Face The Italian operation of the McDonald's Corporation has sued food writer Edoardo Raspelli for $25 million after a scathing review of its cuisine supposedly hurt business, The Washington Times reported in Friday's editions. While the firm's U.S. headquarters has disavowed any knowledge of the affair, the issue has caused a torrent of controversy in the Italian press.
We here at The Rant present the Times' summary of Mr Raspelli's criticism as a public service to our readers, and leave it up to them to draw their own conclusions:
"It takes a big effort to imagine this food as healthy," wrote Edoardo Raspelli in the Italian newspaper La Stampa in December. "The ambience was mechanical, the potatoes were obscene and tasting of cardboard, and the bread poor. I found it alienating and vulgar," he continued, adding that McDonald's signature Big Mac hamburger is nothing more than "fodder" and that the restaurant "symbolized oppression of the palate" ...
The 230 McDonald's restaurants in Italy, which employ 10,000 people, are perhaps a bit fancier than those on the turnpike. Their dishes include a local fiordiriso salad with rice and tuna, and a McMusic outlet in Naples features a Dolby surround-sound system, a music-video screen and sculptures. But Mr Raspelli says he was doing his job.
"I wrote what I thought about the fast-food kitchen. I find it repellent. But I have insulted nobody," he countered, comparing his McDonald's dining experience to filling up at a gas station. "I cite my right to make food criticism."
To be fair, the Times reports that the company says it only uses the finest ingredients, and will make a point-by-point presentation on the matter.
Someone -- Anyone -- Please Call Nelson Mandela,
And See if He'll Work on the Zimbabwe Matter Why should we do that? It's because Thabo Mbeki, Mr Mandela's successor as President of South Africa, will do absolutely nothing to fix things even though his nation would likely have the most influence on Zimbabwe's Government, that's why.
You should know that Mr Mbeki has written an op-ed in The Guardian, in which he blames Zimbabwe's past colonial overlords for its recent troubles. Now, I'm not arguing that the United Kingdom could not have done more to assist Zimbabwe when it made its transition to (its then-) democracy in 1980. Nor have I ever felt sympathetic to the plight of the whites that have remained in the country. Old Rhodesia's racial-caste system was so oppressive -- even worse than South Africa under apartheid -- that it would appall any decent person. But to write about Zimbabwe now, without mentioning the name of Robert Mugabe once, is to write nothing.
Our experience in the African National Congress tells us unequivocally that no lasting solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe will be found unless that solution comes from the people of Zimbabwe themselves. It tells us that no self-respecting Zimbabwean with any pride in his country will accept that another should determine his destiny.
That's very nicely put. Therefore, I soon expect Mr Mbeki to demand Zimbabwe's Government hold free and fair elections -- untainted from intimidation tactics, ballot-box stuffing, sporadic violence, and general oppression of the people. I also expect that Mr Mbeki will demand that the Movement for Democratic Change and its courageous leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, be allowed to operate as a legitimate political force. Oh. Wait. He's not going to do that, as we see later on.
In the heated atmosphere that surrounds the issue of Zimbabwe, the tendency to pose as high priests at the inquisition, hungry for the blood of the accused, has taken root - as though to demonise and punish is the way to solve the most difficult problems. In this situation, as in war, the truth soon becomes a casualty.
Yes, we can see the truth has already become a casualty, and you're only in your second paragraph. Sir, might I suggest that Zimbabwe's Government are the ones who are acting like high priests at the Inquisition? They certainly seem to do a lot of demonising and punishing.
From its very beginning as an independent country, Zimbabwe understood that it had to address the domination of the socio-economic sphere by the white minority - a legacy of colonialism. However, because of agreements reached during the independence negotiations in London, which counterbalanced the principle of black liberation with the protection of white property, the issue of land distribution was virtually quarantined. London inserted into the political settlement the racist notions of black majority rule and white minority rights.
Well, despite the understandable feeling to exact rather a lot of payback which Mr Mbeki addresses, one can't exactly just take the land from the people managing it and expect everything to run smoothly. You can't do much in this world smoothly unless you have a reasonable transition scheme and time frame in place, much less create a new Government and legal system. Sadly, as we have seen, no decent transition plan -- for land distribution or anything else -- was agreed upon.
Beyond this, the new democratic state worked to advance the socio-economic interests of the liberated majority. It focused on meeting the needs of the people, changing the state machinery to reflect the new political reality, and encouraging black participation in the economy and society in general, so that the majority joined their white compatriots as actors for development, rather than mere consumers and employees.
Well, now that the democratic state has turned into a one-party authoritarian state, it apparently stopped working at that a long time ago.
To advance these objectives, the government ploughed considerable resources into education, with dramatic success. Significant state expenditure went into health too, resulting in an increase in life expectancy from 55 to 59 years. Spending on rural development resulted in the small farmers' share of marketed maize rising from zero in 1980 to 70% in 1989.
There's a "Yes, but ..." coming.
By 1991, the civil service wage bill accounted for 16.5% of GDP, a burden on the economy caused by the rapid expansion of state services and the drive to achieve equal pay for black civil servants. Spending on the social sectors during the same year amounted to 13% of GDP. To alleviate poverty, the state decided to adopt measures that would keep the cost of living low. This was done through a system of subsidies, which has been maintained for two decades. By 1990, such subsidies absorbed a staggering 3.7% of GDP.
It's one thing to have subsidies for certain necessary staples, and another thing entirely to put 35 percent of a nation's gross domestic product under Government control. Ten percent would have worked nicely; twenty percent, what we have here in the United States, would have still been reasonable. But I have a feeling that the whole "rapid expansion of state services" had a bit more to do with the economic problems than the "achieve equal pay" aspect.
Now, I'm sure that there will be a few hackles raised among the libertarians in my audience for my argument that in impoverished nations, certain subsidies for basic staples are necessary. But it reflects the facts of life. Some people will not be able to afford even these goods at free-market rates. When people go hungry, they tend to get angry, and when they get angry, they go out to foment civil discord. And even subsidies running at 3.7 percent of GDP would not have caused problems if other spending was controlled.
These extraordinary expenditures could only be sustained by running a large budget deficit and through foreign borrowing. In other words, live now, pay later. By the end of the first decade of independence, public sector debt stood at 90% of GDP. The capital needed to finance economic growth began to dry up. Contrary to the false assertions about the socialist Mugabe government, Zimbabwe remains an overwhelmingly capitalist economy; but by 1987 private investment had dropped to less than 8% of GDP, compared to an already low 12% in 1985.
One cannot correlate public-sector debt with the availability of private investment capital in this case. In this case, they have very little to do with each other. Consider that many industrialized nations have debt-to-GDP ratios of over 100 percent, and even here in the United States it is about 60 percent. The trouble comes when debt is denominated in the form of dollars, and one's currency has a tendency to float downwards against the dollar because the conditions are not good for investment. When investment dries up or even leaves, economic health is correspondingly affected. Hence the troubles the nation faces.
As early as 1984, when the government had to appeal to the IMF for assistance, it was clear that the path it had chosen was unsustainable. But, contrary to what some now claim, the economic crisis currently affecting Zimbabwe did not originate from the desperate actions of a reckless political leadership, or from corruption. It arose from a genuine concern to meet the needs of the black poor, without taking into account the harsh economic reality that we must pay for what we consume.
Well, one would be a fool to say that reckless political leadership and corruption have little to do with the problems now facing the nation. I imagine that Executive President Robert Mugabe has personal means at his disposal that are far more than he could legitimately place a claim, but we shall never known until we find out about the hidden bank accounts and lines of credit to which he likely has access. I would also imagine that this lack of ethical concern at the top has not gone unnoticed by Mr Mugabe's subordinates in Government.
The longer the problems of Zimbabwe remain unresolved, the more entrenched poverty will become. The longer this persists, the greater will be the degree of social instability, as the poor respond to the pains of hunger. The more protracted this instability, the greater will be the degree of polarisation and social and political conflict.
So we'll have free and fair elections, then, and a system of Government based upon the rule of law? A system that would invite investment from abroad and economic help from the outside world? Oh. No, I suppose not.
To respond to this, the state will have to emphasise law and order. As it responds in this way, the less will it be able to address anything else other than law and order. The more it does this, the greater the absence of order and stability. None of this will happen because there are demonic people in Harare. The internal logic of society compels all of us to be carried along by events, to destinations we may not have sought. As has happened with us at various times, Zimbabweans too will have to break the vicious cycle.
It's all happening because there are demonic people in Harare; they're in charge. Although, I agree this vicious cycle can be broken, perhaps if Mr Mugabe were to conveniently die. However, since that appears unlikely despite his advanced age, we would suggest that he quietly resign and go live abroad in exile. France has never minded before when other despots moved to its shores, so I'm sure they would be amenable to this.
As neighbours, we will encourage Zanu-PF and the MDC to sit down together to agree on a common response to the challenges their country faces. As patriots who occupied the same trench of struggle with Zimbabwe when we, together, battled to end white minority rule in our region, we will do what we can to enable Zimbabweans to enjoy the fruits of their hard-won liberation. Righteous and self-serving indignation will achieve nothing.
Feng Shui Doesn't Sway Me Allison Barnes has a nice post up in reference to her home-office space, and how it notably does not conform to the principles of feng shui.
Feng shui, as most probably know, is the ancient Chinese art of arranging one's furniture in such a way so that it maximizes harmony and productivity, while minimizing disruption, bad luck, natural disasters, and so forth. Since this protocol requires that one believe in weird spiritual phenomena that I don't happen to believe in, I find it useless. On the other hand, lest I be seen as insensitive, I must give the Chinese credit for thinking this up. From a capitalist point of view, it is pure genius. Consultant A is able to make a handsome profit dispensing advice all while gaining the psychological satisfaction of watching people frantically redecorate. Customer B, meanwhile, feels better about his or her life. Customer B also reaps the benefits of not having to worry about other people who really buy into what Consultant A is selling, and as such wouldn't come over to his place of residence for dinner if Customer B's chi, or energy, was inadvertently being sucked into the heat vents.
Anyway, after a cursory examination, I realized that my office completely fails to conform to the principles of feng shui. Let's examine some of the principles set forth therein, which I take from those masters of feng shui, the good people at Better Homes & Gardens Magazine:
Do position the work surface so that you are facing the door of the room—positioning your desk this way is the number one rule of thumb to follow when applying principles of feng shui to a home office. Experts say that if you place a desk so that your back is to the door, you'll always feel jumpy, as if you are vulnerable to being "stabbed in the back."
Yeah, whatever. I live in a four-room apartment. There is absolutely no way I can arrange the work surface without it violating the ancient art of "not making one's home look like a cesspit." The work surface also happens to be attached to a very large faux-wooden desk/office set-up which it takes two people to lift. Furthermore, since my father helped me move the damn thing into my current abode, moving the desk would violate the most important of Confucius' Six Relationships. Not only are these far more important than feng shui, we both knew this was the best place for the desk, and as such, that's where the thing will stay.
And I don't feel jumpy because I have my back to the door. That door has a dead bolt, and the door itself is thick enough so that anyone attempting to enter without my permission would break his bloody foot. So there.
Do unclutter your office so that chi, or energy, can naturally flow through the space.
If I uncluttered the office, I couldn't find anything. My current pattern works fine, if I do say so myself. Besides, right now my energy flows naturally from the keyboard to the computer screen, and I want no changes to a system that works so well. And if I changed it, we all know the computer would start acting up, and the blue screen of death would start showing up with alarming frequency, and I'd have to take the thing down to Mike at the computer store, and he charges $35 an hour. Thirty-five freaking-dollars. Gad.
Do cover up your computer and workspace every night if it is located in your bedroom or else you'll feel the constant need to work.
I already feel the constant need to work. Working prevents idleness. Idleness is the devil's workshop. Q.E.D.
Do place a red object in the wealth corner of your desk (top left corner) or office (left corner) to stimulate good luck.
What! Look, I'm not wasting my good luck on things like having my Blogger archives all show up at once. I need my good luck for the next time -- and there will be one, knowing me -- that I end up in hospital for emergency surgery. If luck is a finite resource, then God knows I've used up a significant portion of my luck reserve in my 27 years on His Green Earth. And that's not good. I fully intend to live for at least another half-century more, and some medical experts have told me that I will live to 110, just out of pure spite. Hence, I need to carefully hoard what luck I have left, lest I end up in a tight spot down the line.
So away with this feng shui stuff. I have more important things to worry about, such as what I'm going to have for lunch. Although I must say that at this point, I've got quite a yen for Chinese.
UPDATE: OK, so I post this, and the page gets all bolluxed up. Well, I'm still not using up my good luck reserve. For - get - it!
Oh, Dear God, I Need Sunlight The sun came out for three minutes today. These three freaking minutes were the only time we have seen the sun here in Manchester in ... God. I don't know. I swear it's been at least a week, that's for sure. Perhaps this damp, dreary, wet, cold, miserable weather has lasted for more than that, but to be honest, I'm starting to lose track. This is not good for a sickly fellow like your humble correspondent, especially considering your humble correspondent used to live in Los Angeles.
There, you see, he was treated to endless sunny days with clear skies. The cool, crisp nights would take away the heat, making the weather perfect for a nice walk after dinner along the ocean. Before the walk, of course, he would sit outside of Mercedes' Grill in Venice after a fine meal of Caribbean/Cuban cuisine, listen to the Pacific surf just yards distant and smoke cigars with Rubush. Other nights, he could traverse the three blocks down to James' Beach on Venice Blvd. and do much the same.
Oh, sure, he suffered when things went bad. Sometimes, in January or February, the city would go two or even three days without seeing the sun. And the people DID wail and gnash their teeth, and GRIMLY faced the death and destruction that awaited them on the concrete freeways, and were most BUMMED OUT when the life-sustaining sun failed to appear on schedule. But did he have horrible sinus headaches? Did he suffer from colds and the flu? Did he grow pale and withdrawn, cursing the dreary existence that was visited upon his city day after day? NO! For these things were UNKNOWN to him there!
OK, I'm whining. I admit it. But you would too if your weather forecast called for rain today and rain tomorrow and rain on the day after that, and -- it could happen -- rain on the day after that too. I mean, this just isn't right. It's as if we're stuck on Ray Bradbury's Venus, where it constantly rains and men go mad due to the constant downpour. Oh, if only we had Sun Domes here -- those wonderful places where folks could sit for a while, have some coffee, and get out of the muck and the rain and the ever-present, soul-deadening gloom.
Sadly, we don't. So I'm forced to do the next best thing.
I'm going to turn on every light in this apartment -- the kitchen light and the bathroom lights and the floor lamp and the two lamps I have on this computer desk for reasons I can't explain, and even that lamp on top of the bookshelf in the room I never use. Even though it's just after midnight, even though it will waste electricity, even though the neighbors whose names I don't even know will secretly chalk up another reason to avoid that guy at the end of the hall. And then, I'm going to get a Diet Coke, and stare at the overly-bright kitchen lamp for a good hour or so.
And I'm going to count down the minutes until fall.