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.
When Some People Just Don't Get It CNN reports that the American Civil Liberties Union is protesting a Florida mayor's decision to ban Lucifer -- yes, him -- from her town. (Rant readers read about this December 3). The ACLU dislikes the decision arguably because it violates America's Cherished Separation of Church and State.
Okaaaaaay. This is Satan we're talking about here. Lucifer. Beezlebub. Prince of Darkness. The type of daemonic fiend from the foulest reachers of the netherworld who doesn't give two red cents about Civil Liberties. Would someone kindly explain to me why the American Civil Liberties Union feels the need to protest a ban on evil incarnate?
My God! They're Using Puppets! Stand Back! I don't know who posted this -- not at all! -- but it is very, very, very funny. It seems the angry kids will be holding a puppet show to protest corporate fascism ...
Global Crossing Update The Washington Times has picked up on Global Crossing with this excellent article detailing the similarities between GX and Enron. Aside from the new information that Congress is now investigating the collapse of the firm, it appears that DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe is going on the defensive. Interestingly, he sounds like a Republican in doing so. To quote the Times:
"I invested in many companies, and I'm happy this one worked," Mr McAuliffe explained to Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith. "This is capitalism. You invest in stock, it goes up, it goes down. You know, if you don't like capitalism, you don't like making money with stock, move to Cuba or China."
Sorry, sir. That's really not going to work -- because that sounds like a great way for the GOP to explain its way out of the Enron mess, if only it could say such things. And wait a minute. I thought China was our "strategic partner!"
They Did WHAT in the Back Seat of the Jag?! Oliver Willis is providing me with an incredible amount of material to comment on today, for which I thank him greatly. It's not often I can find someone with whom I disagree so much and on so many issues. Anyway, the latest issue where we don't see eye-to-eye is on abstinence education. The Houston Chronicle reports that President Bush has asked for a 33 percent increasein funding for such programmes, a move Mr Willis dismisses as "stupid."
Naturally, I think this is an excellent idea. Now, we know that there are a few things which have been found to significantly better a person's chances of doing well in this life. One of those is finishing high school. The second is not having children before one is 20 years of age. As points one and two generally go hand-in-hand, it is in Americans' best interests to have our children do the first and avoid activities which leads to the second. Hence, we should use Everything In Our Power to convince children that fumbling around in the back seat of Dad's car with their boyfriends or girlfriends isn't exactly a good idea.
Critics argue that the programmes haven't been shown to work. But considering the last thirty years have shown our current schemes aren't doing that great of a job, what have we to lose from promoting abstinence? Besides, pretty much everyone can agree that it's better for kids not to have at it than to have kids to "do it responsibly," whatever that means. Not only does not having at it eliminate the chance of anything undesirable happening, it makes for better relationships in the future. Besides, think of the potential side effects. It's possible kids could learn about responsibility, and learn that their actions do in fact have consequences. It's a pity that many adults seem to have built a solid defense against those ideas.
Oh, for the love of Pete. Finally, we have a Chief Executive who realizes that cutting fat actually frees up money for something useful. Just cut and have done with it. And whatever the Bush Administration does, I implore them to cut, cut, CUTthis boondoggle of a program at this boondoggle of a tourist trap. It's not just about saving money. It could save thousands of Ohio school children from having to learn about The Turtles and the Dave Clark Five and Supertramp and all the storied second-rate bands of America's past.
I'd Like to Know What Ken Lay Was Smoking In a rather funny -- well, if these things can be funny -- article, Reuters reports a furious Enron employee demanded to know if former CEO Kenneth Lay was a crack cocaine user. Anyway, I can't speak for what Mr Lay does in his spare time, but I can say this. I'd sure like to know what Mr Lay was smoking, if anything, when the following statements were made. Anything that destroys one's sense of responsibility and short-term memory the way it did his can't be all bad.
First, Mr Lay told his employees that they would get all the money they had lost back. Well, no. It's gone. Done. Finito. Down the tubes. You can almost imagine the conversation. On Monday Mr Lay tells his employees in Houston they'd get all their money back. On Tuesday, Mr Lay is seen near an ATM machine at Harrah's New Orleans, telling anyone he can find that he can make all his money back because red is certain to come up next on the roulette wheel. However, Mr Lay's silliness is apparently contagious. Mr Lay's wife, Linda -- what kind of man are you, sending your wife to defend you?! -- told a national television audience that the Lay family fortune was wiped out.
Uh huh. As it turns out, Mr Lay holds $5 million worth of shares in reputable firms and $10 million in property. This is not destitution. Now, yes, it seems odd that folks could forget they had $15 million -- far more than enough wealth on which to live comfortably. Unless, of course, one has a penchant for things like $10,000 Hermes hand-bags. Again, I don't know what the Lays spent their money on, but I can imagine at least some of it went to feckless purchases.
Meg McArdle, as you will see if you click the above link, had an excellent tongue-in-cheek solution a while back for people who spend money like this. She jokingly said that since such people clearly had no concept of money's value, half of their net worth should be confiscated and given to charity. In time, though, we shall see Miss McArdle's idea at work. For Mr Lay will likely have much, if not all, of his wealth confiscated at the hands of lawyers and judges and Government officials all seeking recompense for those whose don't have such a nest egg to fall back upon.
Silliness in Frisco I don't understand Mark Morford, the anachronistic columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle's web site. Never have, never will. Anyway, he wrote this long, rambling column -- I think that's what it is -- about Attorney General John Ashcroft. It seems the Senator wants to cover up the partially nude statues outside the Justice Department. Well, actually, no. If you read the correction issued on the Chronicle's pages, it's clear that he had nothing to do with the order. In short, it's not Sen Ashcroft who gave the order, it's the Deputy Assistant Undersecretary for Little-Noticed Departmental Protocol at the Department of Justice (DAULNDPDOJ) or some person like that.
True, this correction makes Morford's column a nullity, as its thesis is blown out of the water before he even gets to the good stuff. Anyway, we soon learn that Mr Morford does not like The War or Enron or People Who Are Not Progressive, Whatever Progressive Means Today. It is silly stuff. But to take one quote from his work, we see that Mr Morford writes:
"You may think Ashcroft's gesture does not necessarily bespeak some sort of larger truth about the current administration, its value system, the direction of the country, the overall misogynistic, monastic, dangerously unprogressive, hypocritical attitude of our leaders as a whole, or how we are enjoying at this very moment what is easily the most conservative, sexually terrified, ill-humored, anti-choice regime in 50 years. ... You would be wrong."
Uhhhhhh huh. Riiiiight. Personally, though, I am enjoying the fact we have the most conservative, ill-humored, monastic, dangerously unprogressive, anti-choice Government in 50 years. It's about Goddamned time the adults were back in charge.
A Bit of Needling Oliver Willis wants Al Gore to run again for President in 2004. Now, were I mean, I could point out that Mr Gore could have President back in 1998 -- if a certain person had done the honourable thing and resigned his post. Did he? Nooooooo.
Getting Warmer . . . Well. Democratic politicians and their friends might not yet have been found in posession of a smoking gun, but dogged investigators are raising troubling questions about Global Crossing and its political connections. The first news comes from -- believe it or not -- the Los Angeles Times, which reports on the firm's accounting practices. The second, and more troubling news, comes from none other than Matt Drudge. Seemed the Bush investigation canned a $400 million contract to the firm last year after things were fishy. But go read Drudge and decide for yourself where the Real Blame for That lies.
State O' The Union 2002 I slept through the State of the Union address tonight, primarily because I am coming down with some particularly nasty cold virus. Since this is the case, I'm going to outsource my comments to other people. First, you should read Patrick Ruffini's comments on how things went; he has a great "real-time" account. For the other side, you can read what Oliver Willis had to say.
I do find it interesting that Rep Gephardt was selected to give the Democratic response, though, instead of Sen Daschle. It would appear that the New Hampshire Primaries are getting closer and closer!
The L.A. Times Blows It Again In his trademark style, Ken Layne takesd ... er, delivers a project beating to yet another bad article from Los Angeles Times media writer David Shaw. The fact the Los Angeles Times ran Shaw's article in the first place only cements my view that it is the Worst Newspaper in America.
There's an interesting side note to that. A couple of years ago, I was at a luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel when I ran into what I think one could call a sub-editor at the Los Angeles Times. I had never met the man before, but we had the following fun conversation:
SUB-EDITOR: "Oh! Well, I write for the Times!"
ME: "Cool! The New York Times?"
SUBEDITOR: "No! The Los Angeles Times! Our Times!"
Needless to say, we said little during the rest of the lunch. Still, I thought it was telling the response of one of my superiors when I returned to the office: "Well, there's only one Times." I just don't know if he meant the one in New York or the one in London.
Note Beforehand: If you're not religious, you will find this post incredibly dull. Go read about Global Crossing. -- BJK
Liberal Protestants Plan to Ruin God's Word In today's latest indication of why My Becoming a Roman Catholic Was a Good Idea, the Washington Post reports that the publishers of the widely-used New International Version of the Bible are going to issue a gender-neutral Bible. The new standard, known as "Today's New International Version," will update the Bible in various ways, changing phrases such as "sons of God" to "children of God," and making a number of other changes in the English text. Fortunately, the TNIV stops at referring to God as He/She/It/Your Higher Power of Choice. Even more fortunately, these changes will not appear in the Roman Catholic and various Orthodox versions of the text.
Now, it's not so much the idea of changing "sons of God" to "children of God" that bothers me. It seems anyone could do that through using the find and replace feature on a word processor. What I find disturbing is that with each little tweak, you're moving farther and farther away from the original intent of the text. The danger I see in that is that if you go too far in that regard, you will corrupt the text's original intent to the point where it no longer has any meaning. That presents the danger of watering down the Bible to the point where it has all the force of tap water. Theoretically, one could also go towards the opposite extreme, but I doubt that we shall be preaching that the Book of Deuteronomy be taken literally anytime soon. The former danger is by far the most present.
As an aside, it also seems to corrupt the literary value of the Bible, by sanitizing the words within it. Perhaps it's just me, but I see that as one reason why the King James Version remains such a powerful document. It's not just offering spiritual guidance, it's beautifully written. So I'll stick with it -- and my old 1963 Revised Standard Version, and the Catholic Bible I finally bought last year. I would rather read words written in one Hand than words put together by a committee.
Not A Bloody Word ... The Telegraph of London reports those poor, tortured, humiliated and mocked al-Qaeda fighters in Camp X-Ray are secreting away rocks to use as weapons. Would the Labour Party kindly take note?
Summer Uniform Time! Sgt. Stryker has changed his site's background from Army Regulation Green to Army Regulation Tan. It does make it easier to read. Personally, however, I would change it so that it was green six months of the year (winter uniform) and khaki the other six (summer uniform).
Speaking of uniforms, I have to say I find the current uniforms which Our Soldiers have to wear a bit hard on the eyes. Perhaps it's because I have seen too many movies based in the World War II period, but I think our military's uniforms then were really sharp-looking. Now, we don't have NEAR as many neat doodads or easily identifiable characteristics as we had before. As a journalist, this troubles me. One of these days I will refer to a Colonel as a Captain, or a Major as a Warrant Officer, and then I'll be cut down in a hail of small arms fire. And don't get me started on the berets.
However, I will say this about the military. Any outfit that can order its soldiers to talk to reporters and answer their questions just rules.
On Pretty-Yet-Ugly Girls in Pretty Ugly Films As readers of The Rant know, my idea of a good movie is usually found at my local video store. Here, I can find plenty of great films and plenty of bad films. The bad films I then review for you, the reader, so I can work off all those hours of community service the First Estate assigned me a while back. OK, I'm kidding. I write reviews of the bad films simply because I can.
In any event, Allison Barnes of Allison Lives! fame has posted this enjoyable article from Entertainment Weekly on the phenomenon of "Pretty Ugly Girls." These girls, whom I deduce are manufactured in the San Fernando Valley, are beautiful yet are made ugly for movie roles through the "magic" of special effects. They then usually appear in third-rate comedies aimed at teenagers. In said films, they change from being not pretty to being so pretty that flammable items in their proximity will spontaneously combust. And in less than 90 minutes!
Entertainment Weekly does not like this. It uses a film starring Mandy Moore, a pop singer, as an example of everything wrong with teen movies. You see, EW wants to bring back plain or truly ugly girls in such roles. This, they say, would rescue the Teen Movie Concept from its current doldrums.
In terms of sheer intellecual honesty, I have to agree with EW's sentiment. But on the other hand, I don't see why the collapse of the teen-film genre is a bad thing. I have always found them wretched and miserable, so part of me hopes the movie producers go so overboard with putting in PUGs that the entire genre collapses under the weight of its own hubris. Then people can start watching Films That I Like To See, films which never get any box-office play and which always end up drowning in their own red ink.
Mr Kepple? You've Been Sprung An Australian reader writes in to say that I have kangaroos loose in the top paddock regarding my views on Australian Taliban fighter David Hicks. Hicks, a 26-year-old lout who went and fought for the extremist Islamic militia, has been threatening to kill Americans in recent days. Of course, since he is holed up in Camp X-Ray down in Cuba, it seems unlikely he shall be doing any of that soon. In any event, I wrote:
"Military authorities have revealed that David Hicks, a 26-year-old Australian and Taliban militant, was the prisoner at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who threatened to kill Americans. His identity was revealed when the Australian Government asked that he be sent home."
Today, I received the following from an Australian reader who politely asked if I would refer to him as, well, an Australian reader:
G'Day Mr Kepple
It is quite bizarre to read something like this. The Sydney Morning Herald and Mr Hicks' lawyers are quite distinct from the Australian Government. The Australian Government requested access for our intel folks (and got it about three weeks ago) and then we requested consular access when he landed at Gitmo (I don't know if we have gotten that yet).
The Australian Government (and the great mass of the Australian populace that are not members of the chattering classes) have been fully supportive of the War Against Terror. Support was fully bipartisan during our recent Federal election (with only the "minor" parties expressing any reservations).
We were the first ally to offer assistance (our Prime Minister was in Washington during the attacks). The first to physically commit our armed forces (extending tours of duty of ships already on UN duty).
The Australian Government has expressed no position on whether it wants Hicks back eventually to be charged under our "Foreign Adventurers" legislation. It has publicly stated that it has no problems with the way Hicks is being treated and that it is up to the US to decide whether they should try/imprison him at Gitmo or repatriate him eventually.
I'm sorry if the foregoing sounded aggressive, but Australia has come in for some contradictory criticisms from "Blogdom" about Hicks and that tends to irritate me.
Well. I stand corrected, and apologize to everyone Down Under for the error. And happy belated Australia Day.
Top Ten Things I Said Today 10. "Kordell, YOUR teammates are wearing the black-and-gold jerseys!"
9."He did TOO have control of the ball!"
8."You gave Kordell a $37 million bonus, why didn't you buy a special teams coach?"
7."Now we see why they're 29th league-wide in the Red Zone."
5."How can Bledsoe throw a touchdown?! He hasn't thrown the ball since Week Two!"
4."My Steel Curtain looks pretty tattered today."
3."STOP HIM! STOP HIM!"
2."At least the Super Bowl ain't in Foxboro."
1."I HATE The Patriots, and I HATE YOU!"
Party On, Scott! Party On, Ken! In an event that makes me miss Los Angeles, Brian Linse invited seemingly a whole bunch of Los Angeles-based warbloggers over to his place for a party last night. Ken Layne and Scott Rubush* have wrap-ups on this year's Major Social Event; Oliver Willis has shocking photos. OK, so they're not shocking. But all in all, it sounded like a great time.
ADDENDUM: I have to say that Mr Linse may be more right than I care to admit about cameras in the courtroom. While reading The New York Times today at dinner, I noticed that the judge in the Thomas Junta trial seemed to speak to the "audience at home" in his decision. The justice argued that his stiff sentence of Mr Junta, who was imprisoned for at least six years after beating another father to death at a youth hockey match, was not a commentary on society's tendency to take youth sports Way Too Seriously. But if that's the case, why did he bother saying that at all?
SECOND ADDENDUM: To Mr Willis: Yes, S.R. is quite a nice guy! In fact he's incredibly nice, a good friend to me, and a wonderful person all around. As he should be. Besides, you don't think he made Captain in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy's 17th Armored Wit & Charm Division so quickly for nothing, do you? :-D
That's Typical My file storage transfer is apparently screwing up my ultra-cool next post. If for some reason you aren't seeing all the images, keep reloading until you do. (The counter doesn't look at repeat visitors anyway, so don't worry about inflating the score).
The Aussie John Walker Military authorities have revealed that David Hicks, a 26-year-old Australian and Taliban militant, was the prisoner at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base who threatened to kill Americans. His identity was revealed when the Australian Government asked that he be sent home.
This is starting to get annoying. Our so-called allies do not seem to realise that we are through playing games with these people. They are prisoners and they should be treated as such until the War on Terrorism ends. If that takes one year or ten years or one hundred years, then let them continue to rot in Camp X-Ray until we can be reassured they will not try to kill Americans or anyone else in pursuit of their sick agenda. Mr Hicks' conduct thus far is not reassuring on that score.
More Lurid Escapades of the Idle Rich Gosh. It's incredible, when facing a potentially slow news day, how helpful the New York Post is. The Post, you see, has a veritable army of reporters dedicated to covering the vats of sleaze forthcoming from the nicer parts of New Yawk.
First, of course, we have a Major Update on a scandal involving Elizabeth "Lizzie" Grubman. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, here's the dirt. Miss Grubman, whom one could reasonably call a spoiled brat, allegedly ran down 14 less-wealthy citizens with her sport-utility vehicle at a Hamptons nightclub back in July. With the helpful assistance of friends, she then quit the scene of the crime before police arrived. This prevented authorities from doing things like alcohol tests.
Unfortunately for Miss Grubman, it was soon revealed that she had allegedly called one of the bouncers "white trash" before that sad accident occurred. This is what newsmen call "a hell of a story." Because this is America, Miss Grubman is facing a slew of civil suits related to the incident. And yesterday, more alleged bad behaviour was revealed.
The Post reports that Sources Said she also got huffy at a washroom attendant who refused to let her cut in line. It was the usual bit one expects: threats about being fired, screaming and ranting, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and so on. But what was new was that in this convo, Miss Grubman also allegedly fired off a rather rude racial remark in the attendant's direction. If that wasn't bad enough, the Post also said that Miss Grubman's friends did everything they could to sober her up before she met with authorities. This is what newsmen call "being an accessory." However, in the interest of fairness, it should be noted that her lawyer denies everything.
Appalling. Absolutely appalling. One would hope that if Miss Grubman loses the cases against her, that rational people either on a jury or on the bench would throw the proverbial book at her. It is tiring to read about these privileged whelps and their haughty behaviour, and their lives spent in the idle pursuit of nothing important. It is galling to read about their atrocious manners, classless conduct, and imperious attitudes. It is a true pity that for all her money, Miss Grubman was never in her life forced to purchase a clue about how the real world works. One can hope this whole incident has taught her some humility; and if it has not, that a jury or a judge would be her instructors.
The Trade Ken Layne has an excellent post about J-school and -- this is where it gets funny -- Journalism-school graduates. What he writes is so true, it should be required reading for anyone considering journalism as a trade.
I myself am not a journalism school graduate. I haven't taken Important Courses From Tenured Professors (e.g. "Mass Communication 316: How Gannett and Knight Ridder Deal With Race, Gender and Class Issues.") I'm learning how to be a reporter The Hard Way. Namely, I've had editors that would not hesitate to break my arms and legs if I failed to get a story. Looking back, I'm grateful for every time one of my editors chewed me out, or screamed at me over the phone, or otherwise made my life a living hell. It made me a better reporter and it showed me what needed to get done. I'm certainly not the best reporter at my paper, I've made my share of Rookie Mistakes, and I certainly have a lot to learn. That said, I'm glad my bosses have kicked and are kicking my ass to make sure I learn it. So Peter, Brian, Ed, and John, thanks.
Now, I was talking with a friend of mine who works at a small daily in -- we'll call it Zenith -- and he told me a New J-School Graduate was staying late to work on a story at his paper. When I asked why he was staying late, my reporter friend told me the J-school graduate said he was "making waves" with that story. Uh huh, I thought to myself. No, what he's doing is overwriting it and making every little P and Q just perfect. Just write the damned thing and have done with it: there are times these things speak for themselves. And I can bet this guy was big on Formal Relationships and all the other funny stuff that Mr Layne wrote about.
The problem with J-school is that these people sit in a class and they read books and they take notes. That's not how you become a newsman. You become a newsman by DOING it. And if there's one thing that makes a great reporter, it's:
Drive, willpower, dedication, guts, whatevah ya wanna call it. I about howled in laughter at Mr Layne's reaction to the J-schooler who asked if it was "ethical" to ambush a politician for an interview. Not only is it ethical, you'd damn well better ambush him or your editor is going to kill you. You will get the story and you will make the effort and you will do what needs done. Failure is not an option. And as for having a Formal Relationship with a source, my only formality is that I address them by their titles when I call them at 11 pm.
I remember I was covering a police shooting for my paper when I saw a reporter with one of our Evil Competitors. His first question to me: Have you seen the Public Information Officer?
OTHER REPORTER: "Hey! Is Sergeant (so-and-so) supposed to show up?"
ME: "Sgt. (so-and-so)? I ... uh ... saw him over there."
OTHER REPORTER: "Hey, thanks!"
ME: "So, tell me what happened. You were inside the house when the police came in?"
MAN: "Yeah! I was holding my baby!"
Drive. It's what makes or breaks a reporter. There are times when I have my off-days, and there are times when I sometimes flag in it. And of course, there are times when you can't draw blood from a stone. But at the end of the day, I still like to think I have the hunger and the will and the fight in me to get the story.
Enron's Collapse The mainstream media aren't answering the real questions about Enron's collapse. Namely: How many times was Enron on the cover of Business Week? How many times was Kenneth Lay on the cover of Business Week? This must be investigated and investigated thoroughly. Everyone in the business world and the financial media knows about the Hideous Business Week Curse, in which any person or firm profiled on its cover soon goes down in flames. I think the SEC needs to look into this matter and see if anyone at BW was shorting.
Then again, I doubt it. Back around 1980, those geniuses actually ran a cover story called "The Death of Equities," which happened prior to the greatest bull market in history. My financial advisor on such matters called it "a classic bit of stupidity that is widely mentioned today." As for Enron, My Advisor writes that he felt Enron appeared a bunch of times on their cover. "All the experts, stock analysts, leading consultants, etc. thought they were the best, most innovative company ever. I guess they were innovative, when it came to keeping the books at least!"
Hey! Here's Another One! Here is another excellent site with financial news and commentary. Raghu Ramachandran is a portfolio strategist for a Wall Street investment firm, with an expert's grasp on financial affairs. He has a particularly good post about the collapse of Enron's pension scheme.
Listen Up, Everybody As part of our continuing quest here at The Rant to provide readers with top-notch finance-related commentary, I'm passing along this link to Andrew Hofer's excellent post on derivatives. Derivatives, FYI, is a fancy word which encompasses things like stock options and futures contracts*. As an individual investor, you should probably not even consider trading in futures unless you're one of those few people able to trade oil for cotton for orange juice and still make a mint. Still, it's important to know what they are, why they exist, and why they can be so problematic. So check out the link already.
Buchanan's Brigades The noted anti-Communist Jamie Glazov, over at FrontPage Magazine, has written an epistle defending himself against Patrick Buchanan's fans. You see, Dr Glazov had the audacity to criticize Mr Buchanan's latest book in a recent FrontPage article, and the Buchananites are all in a stir. It's an excellent essay and definitely one worth reading -- and this alone should pique your interest:
"Let’s begin with an illuminating fact: if you read the criticisms of my review in the Go Postal section, you will find that several Buchanan supporters keep accusingly inquiring if I am a Jew. What does this say about them? ... Let me give you a clue:"
Well, if you click on Jamie's essay -- linked in the above hyperlink -- you can read Jamie's work and see him solve the mystery. It's worth noting, though, that what happened to Dr Glazov is not an isolated incident. The same disgusting anti-Semitism reared its ugly head back when Chris Weinkopf and me wrote an article bashing Buchanan too. Chris also had an excellent response.
Thank God Bill Buckley drove people like these letter-writers out of the Conservative movement back in the Fifties. They are beneath contempt.
Somebody Call CENTCOM Maybe it's just me, but perhaps we should be slightly concerned that the Taliban have resurrected their army with a total of 5,000 men, 450 tanks, and a whole bunch of those pick-up truck type-a vehicles we saw in "Mad Max." After all, a national Government in Afghanistan will not do anyone any good if its power wanes exponentially the farther one gets away from Kabul.
More Hiccups and a Cough I noticed that for some reason, the last post on here is getting cut off. So is my Blogger button. Why this is, I don't know, but it's happening. Maybe it will be fixed by the morning. In any event, I am going to get some sleep.
This World's Going to the Dogs FrontPage Magazine columnist Chris Weinkopf defends the Korean practice of eating dog meat. It's a good article, but like all articles on this topic, Mr Weinkopf fails to answer the question at the crux of the matter. Does it taste like chicken?
The Economics of Mariah Carey You see? Some people would condemn this. The way I see it, This Is America. Every person and every company, from the poorest street vendor in Los Angeles to Citigroup itself, has a fundamental, God-given right to waste the money they have made in whatever manner they see fit. Provided they don't cheat their investors, of course.
When Some Americans Don't Get It Perhaps it is because I am a young man, but I still find it amazing how bloody silly some Baby Boomers can be about How Life Works. A rational person, after all, would think they would readjust their world views after the Great Society, the welfare state, Keynesianism and Communism all proved to be miserable failures. Then one realizes these are the same people responsible for the popularity of disco music, the U.S. Department of Education, and the pet rock. But just as all those things deserve to be snickered at, so do some Boomers' views on economics.
A case in point would be William O'Rourke, whom one could call the Paul Krugman of the Chicago Sun-Times. That is not intended as a compliment. Dr O'Rourke, a creative writing professor (!) at the University of Notre Dame, thinks the Enron scandal shall poke holes the size of the Grand Canyon into the American Dream. This is because Enron's greedy corporate overlords "cashed out their winnings" while the rank-and-file were left with little or nothing. Dr O'Rourke also says, "A fitting memorial commemorating the collapse of Enron would be the repeal of President Bush's not-yet-engaged tax cuts for the top tier of American households, set to take effect in 2004."
These are just two of the silly conclusions Dr O'Rourke reaches in his column, which can be read here. I don't know what's worse, the fact that the Sun-Times sees fit to publish this guy, or the fact a lot of people like Dr O'Rourke are nodding their heads in agreement with him. Didn't you guys learn anything over the past forty years? Anything at all? Apparently not. Just look at the title of Dr O'Rourke's article: "The Rich Get Richer? That's OK With Us."
Well, actually, yes it is OK with us. In fact, three economists prove that -- unlike Europe -- Americans really don't mind income inequality all that much. He even notes this in his article. Unfortunately, using a bit of that creative writing skill he theoretically has, Dr O'Rourke proclaims this is proof that Americans actually like income inequality. I don't think it's that at all. It's just that we're all too busy concerning ourselves with things that obviously matter. Of course, academics are not busy people like the rest of us. That may explain why our economists found only "rich leftists" worried about inequality in America.
Of course, one usually finds that the only people opposed to tax cuts are those who can afford high taxes. I'm willing to bet, based on his Web site's photo of himself, that Dr O'Rourke can afford said taxes. So, Dr O'Rourke, if you really feel guilty about the fact your taxes are too high, go give some of your money to the Bureau of the Public Debt or the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Don't come whinging to me about income inequality. You're contributing to it, just like me and all the other people who have the audacity to try and succeed in this life.
But let's get back to his economic arguments. He writes:
"A fitting memorial commemorating the collapse of Enron would be the repeal of President Bush's not-yet-engaged tax cuts for the top tier of American households, set to take effect in 2004. But don't count on it happening. Bush has been warning the public of nefarious tax-raisers lurking about, but, as a few Democratic politicians (Sen. Ted Kennedy foremost among them) have begun to say, suspending tax cuts not yet implemented isn't ''raising taxes.'' "
He writes later:
"And, if even Kennedy only wants to ''postpone'' the tax cuts for the super-rich instead of repealing them altogether, why should anyone be surprised by the conduct of Enron's upper echelon?"
But wait. Aren't people who share Dr O'Rourke's views the same people who think not increasing spending on a social-welfare program actually constitutes a cut to its budget? Oddly, the answer is yes. Besides, we all know what would happen if the Government kept the cash. It would use it to Help People, something it usually does by hiring lettuce breeders and building highways to nowhere and restoring the childhood homes of second-rate celebrities. (All of those programs are documented, by the way). Why not give it to the people? They could spend it, or invest it, or actually do something with it. Instead, Dr O'Rourke would have the Government waste it on things which benefit no one.
The way I see it, Dr O'Rourke wants to keep my taxes high. Because he was sloppy, he leaves himself open to a charge he wants to keep the 28% "regular people" bracket as high as it is now. Still, we'll deal with what he probably meant to say. He favours the plan of Sen. Edward "Chappaquiddick" Kennedy (D-Mass.), which would "postpone" the tax cuts scheduled in 2004 and 2006 for what were the 31 percent, 36 percent and 39.6 percent tax brackets.
Whether these people can afford it or not is beside the point. The point is that unless these people take their tax savings and stuff it underneath the mattress, the money goes into the economy. It is either spent, invested, or saved with a financial institution. This creates what must be radical concepts to Dr O'Rourke: "capital" and "jobs. True, that probably doesn't matter to Dr O'Rourke, whose irrationality undoubtedly manifests itself in a seething hatred for owners of sport-utility vehicles. Meanwhile, people whose feet are on the ground realize that every person who goes out and buys a light truck creates jobs and prosperity for a lot of people and places: auto workers, gas stations, repair firms, car dealerships. Trickle-down economics works. The Fifties and the Eighties proved that, no matter how many David Stockmans crawl out of the woodwork.
Nor is every laid-off Enron worker wailing and gnashing his teeth at his sorry fate. At least one has thought up a way to make money on the collapse, The Guardian reports today. Yes, 38-year-old John Allario has created a Web site called Laydoff.com. It's not just a way for Mr Allario to gain the attention of Brian Linse and Oliver Willis. It's a way for him to get back on his feet.
Of course, many ex-Enron types are looking to blame somebody for what's wrong. That blame is somewhat justified, of course -- don't get me wrong. I'd like to see Ken Lay and Company forced into penury and breaking rocks for their mismanagement, incompetence and acquiescence in Enron-gate. But listen to this tale of a former administrator which The Guardian relates. She retired last year, when her Enron shares were worth $700,000. She got out at $20,000. Now, because of all the shady business going on at Enron, one can't but help feel sorry for her. But not too sorry -- have we all forgotten that this is a natural risk when an investor doesn't diversify his portfolio?. Come on.
"Enron executives let us down, the auditors let us down, Wall Street analysts let us down and the companies lending the money to Enron let us down. But at the end of the day, when the dust settles, who has the greatest pain and greatest losses? We do."
Item one, she's damned right they did. Item two, she's damned right they did. Item three ... well, not really. You can't blame analysts for screwing up if you don't take responsibility to research your own investments. That's why you're supposed to read the prospectus. And you can't blame the banks who lent Enron money given that they lost their shirts too.
For when it all comes down to it, Enron's collapse might have hurt a lot less of these rank-and-file had they kept a closer eye on their money. If they read Enron's financial statements, if they read the 10-Ks and the 10-Qs, if they saw that a lot of folks were saying beforehand Everything Wasn't Adding Up, they might have been able to get out before everything went to hell.
Now, since the employees' losses in their 401(k)s were compounded due to lockout periods (a standard industry practice) and restrictions surrounding the sale of matching stock, they might also be the victims of bad timing. Still, it seems to me that many of the ruined workers we're hearing about were ruined because they were playing roulette with their retirement funds. When red kept coming up again and again, they let it ride. They just forgot that in roulette, the ball will sooner or later land on zero.
Britain's All Right. Sort Of. Well. Some good news out of Britain today. David Carr over on Dynamo Samizdata reports that a telephone poll on a British television programme revealed 92% of callers felt America was treating its al-Qaeda prisoners down in Cuba fairly. Meanwhile, Carr notes that 99% of the nomenklatura in the Kingdom feel the opposite way. He also wonders if we Yanks have been disappointed at Britain's very public squawking.
Well, quite frankly, yes. We expected better from Britain. It is -- or was -- the only country in the world, aside from Canada, which America can truly count on in a time of need. It is also worth noting We Americans have spent countless billions and thousands of lives over the years defending Britain from its enemies. And this is the thanks we get?
Who's Watching the Watchers, Mr Linse? In a follow-up post to my Justice, In Camera article, Brian Linse says I didn't address his legal arguments over whether television cameras should be allowed in the nation's courts. Well, gosh, Brian, when ya put it that way ...
Anyway, Mr Linse writes as follows:
"Nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it say that freedom of the press is more important than the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a fair trial. In cases where competing Bill of Rights issues are involved, a case by case process of determining the effects of the decision should be taken. Is there already enough openess in courtrooms for the public to be assured that nothing evil is going on in our system of justice? Yes. Is there evidence that cameras may adversely impact the judicial process? Yes."
Well, I don't see what competing Bill of Rights issues has to do with it. With that logic, I could argue that the Constitution never says freedom of the press, a First Amendment right, is less important than the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a fair trial. But let's look at the Sixth Amendment:
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."
Now, Mr Linse brought up the O.J. Simpson case, the case with the most public interest ever. That in itself, I would argue, is proof television cameras can operate in a courtroom and jurors will still act the same way they would were cameras not present. After all, Mr Simpson had a public trial. He had an impartial jury in Los Angeles. He confronted his witnesses, notably Detective Fuhrmann. He had oodles of scientific witnesses in his favour. And he had some damned good attorneys. There's your prima facie evidence that, despite an army of media on hand, from all sectors of the industry, a man can have a fair trial in this day and age.
It may be that the Government has a compelling national security reason to prevent the telecast of the alleged Twentieth Terrorist's trial. Even still, that doesn't mean it can or should be closed to the public. The accused in this case, first of all, is not a citizen. That means the military authorities could mete out justice if they wished, except this is still a criminal trial. Secondly, there is no reason why the counsel for our defendant, or his prosecutors, cannot conduct some proceedings in camera -- that is, in chambers. Surely a reasonable judge, in this post-Sept. 11 environment, would agree that certain questions involving national security must be dealt with privately.
That doesn't mean entirely closing that or any other trial from the public's eye, however, whether that public is in a courtroom or in a living room. Far from it. For when trials are closed, the potential for injustice grows great. Indeed, that potential has become reality. Such limiting of the audience to a criminal proceeding means we shall not simply face the question, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?"* The question will be: do we have enough people doing the watching?
Gripe, Gripe, Gripe I received a rather tongue-in-cheek letter from Chris Weinkopf today regarding my recent post about the New England Patriots. It seems the columnist for FrontPage Magazine and the Daily News of Los Angeles was a bit piqued about my recent description of him as "erstwhile." Yes, Grammar Maven here told me that "erstwhile" is actually a synonym for "former."
(your author turns eight shades of red)
So. Ahem. He is not erstwhile. He is earnest. There, Chris. Are you happy? I should hope so. Now stop whinging on about the Patriots. It is futile. You will lose at Three Rivers on Sunday -- I don't care what they call it now -- and you will lose heavily.
Corporate Madness, Continued Megan McArdle has a nice post in which she comments on Enron's penchant for making commercials. She rightfully points out that since Enron sold nothing to consumers, and instead traded energy, it had no business making commercials.
However! Just because An Idea Is Dumb has never prevented top-level corporate officers from finding it quite clever. After all, look how many firms embraced diversity trainers, Casual Fridays, team-based management, and various other silly ideas. Hundreds of America's major firms paid vast sums of cash to instruct their employees on how to work and how to think, even though that training did absolutely no good. So with those companies lapping up bad ideas right and left, it was only natural that, given enough time, somebody came up with the bright idea to create brands where no brands were needed.
Besides, it probably meant they could hire consultants! And everyone knows how much incompetent corporate types love hiring consultants! After all, they take all the hard work out of making Important Business Decisions. They also come in handy if upper management decides it wants to strike fear into the lower ranks, or induce employees to leave on their own without paying severance. That's because "consultant" means "layoff" and "my bosses are insane" to anyone with half a brain in their head.
So given all that tongue-in-cheek speculation, based on my limited experience with the business world, it's no surprise lots of firms decided that Making Commercials Where None Were Needed was a good idea. The ABB Group made commercials, for Pete's sake. Why, I don't know, but I remember them: had that little electric guitar riff at the end. The AXA Group -- "You Know Us As The Equitable" -- also made some incomprehensible commercials a while back. Again, I don't know why. Hell's bells, even the NASDAQ made commercials back when It Was The Stock Market For The Next Hundred Years. It's a stock exchange for God's sake. It doesn't need to advertise. We all know what it is because so many investors lost a lot of money on it this past couple of years.
Then again, I think I have a reason why corporations did this. It's about cachet. Think about it.
Let's hypothesize for a minute. Let's say you are the purchasing manager for QXZZYZX Corp., an alphabet soup company with no discernible business plan, which produces widgets in Indianapolis. Your life is a living, absolute, awful nightmare. But with a commercial, you can go home and face your children and say, "I work for QXZZYZX, the nation's leading solutions provider for all of its widget needs." Yes, by God, you're doing something important! There's a reason why you've sweated day in and day out to watch your IRA disappear in DrPenury.com and Spam Importers of Alberta (those great investments that nice financial planner told you about). It's because America needs widgets! And America needs QXZZYZX Corp.!
So buck up, all you downtrodden corporate workers! Never mind the layoffs, the options under water, the mortgage you're sixty days behind on! Hold your heads high! YOU work for the leading strategic mission-critical best-of-breed B2B or B2C firm in your field! Whatever that field happens to be. You know this in your hearts, for your company has a commercial of its very own.
Last One Out, Turn Off the Blue Light The Drudge Reportis telling us, in one of Mr Drudge's maddening "Headline With No Story" posts, that the K-Mart Corporation (NYSE: KM) may declare bankruptcy tomorrow morning. This would not be much of a surprise, since the company has been ailing for a long time. K-Mart's stock is trading near a 30-year-low ($1.74 at last night's close), its suppliers are withholding their shipments, and it has a patently miserable bond rating. So in short, the chiefs over at K-Mart need to buy a new Blue Light and fast to keep their company afloat!
It doesn't surprise me a bit that K-Mart is in such trouble. As a boy in the Eighties, I recall shopping there for odds and ends or when Mother needed to pick up some minor household goods. The K-Marts I was dragged along to were all seemingly disorganized, unpleasant, understaffed warehouses, only notable for their sparse decoration, general lack of variety, and cheaply-made merchandise. It was not an enjoyable experience, nor is it one I have ever missed. Far better that its competitors, such as Wal-MART, have succeeded where it has failed. If K-Mart is to recover, it needs to learn how Wal-MART did what it did. Then they should copy it or try to find a way to beat them at their own game.
Still, despite my personal dislike for K-Mart's products and services, that doesn't mean I want it to go under. After all, the firm employs 252,000 -- yes, that's thousand -- employees across the U.S. and Canada. However, it seems inevitable that any restructing plan the ailing retailer comes up with will mean a significant number of its 2,100+ stores would be shuttered. That is obviously not a good thing. It will mean more pain for the economy, and make the light at the end of our national economic tunnel that much harder to reach.
I Just Don't Get It Why do photographs like this keep appearing? My personal feeling is that years of inside jokes among photographers and news editors have led to a massive demand for these things. Now, while I know readers of The Rant will be appalled at me saying this, I hope you will permit me this one observation:
This Too Shall Pass Erstwhile columnist and New England Patriots fan Chris Weinkopf ruminates on The Call that saved the Patriots' post-season. The game was true Old Time Football. The call was, well, somewhat iffy. The discussion over whether the Oakland Raiders wuz robbed is meaningless. The Patriots will fall to the unstoppable might of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So it has been written, so let it be done.
Justice, In Camera If fifty years of history have taught us anything, it is that people have a tendency to act differently when they are on television. This, Brian Linse says, is why television cameras should not be allowed in courtrooms. Cases which attract a great deal of public scrutiny, Mr Linse argues, inevitably warp the conduct of prosecutors, defenders, judges and witnesses involved with them if a TV camera is following their every move. He writes:
"If I were on trial for my life, I'd want to be sure that the prosecutor wasn't campaigning for DA on my time. I'd want to be certain that the judge wasn't auditioning for a syndicated series. And I'd want to be damn sure that the lawyers weren't trying to get booked on Larry King. If there is even the slightest chance that a citizen might be deprived of their life, or even their freedom, then the possible impact of cameras must be seen as a threat to the Sixth Amendment. The impact on the press and the public of keeping cameras out of courtrooms is insignificant by comparison."
If I was on trial for my life, I'd want cameras in court -- and not just because I'm vain. It's because I would want to have public opinion on my side if I needed to file an appeal! Well, actually, there is a real reason. I'd want people to see the evidence, see how the attorneys acted, see how the judge made his rulings. Far better to have that done than to have my good name dragged through the police blotters of my local paper and my reputation ruined, only to be exonerated without comment four months down the line. Go ahead. Televise it. Bring it on. If I'm fighting for my life, I'm going to go at it with every rhetorical and legal weapon in my arsenal - and if that includes What the Public Thinks, that's fine with me.
As for the Trial of the Millennium, which Mr Linse uses as an object lesson, it's worth noting that the jury in the Simpson case found him not guilty. Despite the fact popular opinion held the opposite view, they made their decision in accordance with the principles of the law. At the end of the day, that's the only one that mattered. This is how we can say Mr Simpson is not a murderer, but was civilly liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
But Mr Linse makes one fatal flaw in his reasoning. He writes:
"Anyone that is interested enough can go down to the courthouse and have a seat. No room on a big case like OJ? Ok. Read the frickin' newspapers then."
Now, as a newsman, that warms my heart. I want people to purchase newspapers, and to do so en masse. The trouble is that it's obvious to any defendant, any judge, any defense counselor and any prosecutor in a courtroom that The Guy in Row Two with the Steno Book is a reporter. Even if they don't know, they can assume from daily reading of a paper that it's probably going to get a write-up of some kind. From my experience as a newsman, people don't change the way they act in front of reporters in a court of law. That's even though they know what happened will be written up the next day.
The same principle applies here. The only difference is that there's a wider audience.
I will admit, though, that having television cameras in the courts does cause one negative thing. Televised trials project a warped view of how the legal system actually works to those watching at home. If these average folk are ever hauled before the bench, they will unfortunately find that few of the safeguards and shenanigans which lawyers on television use will be of any help to them. Instead, they will find themselves with a middling-fair defense attorney, a trial which lasts all of four hours, and a slap-dash sentencing hearing. And so justice is done.
Media Lesson One Newsweek is reportedly offering early retirement packages to 12 percent of its staff. Ads are down, costs must be cut, so on and so forth. Kepple the Younger asks whether this means he will never have to read Anna Quindlen again.
No, Jesse, it won't. This is why. The Powers That Be are very fond of Miss Quindlen. This is how she got her column on the back page. Were The Powers That Be not fond of Miss Quindlen, they never would have given her that spot. Hence, it is safe to assume that Miss Quindlen will be writing for Newsweek until the end of time itself. Quod erat demonstradum.
Good Lord, There's a Lot of Backlog . . . Gosh. I take the day off and what happens? Seemingly everyone in the world posts something worth commenting on. So keep checking back tonight. We'll have reaction to Linse, McArdle, Rubush I, Solent, Layne, Welch, Rubush II, Willis, Kepple II, den Beste, Radic, and all the rest. Provided I can keep up typing at 70 words a minute, that is.
Layne re Cavanaugh Ken Layne writes more on anti-blogger Tim Cavanaugh and Suck.com. We get a bit more detail on just what Suck.com was, and why it was important. This post in itself is important for those of us who automatically translate the word ".com" in our minds as "red ink."
A Typo, My Eye Down in Texas, an award plaque meant to honor actor James Earl Jones was "inadvertently" done up to honor James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King. Little Brother Jesse makes it quite clear why this was not a mistake on someone's part.
Africa's Woes Oliver Willis, who linked to this Slate article detailing the particularly bad political and economic situation in Zimbabwe, says only that Africa is "always ignored by America, and the world." Unfortunately, until things change in America, the United States will continue to ignore the continent's plight.
Does Africa need our help? Of course it does. Let's take Zimbabwe as an example. In that wretched despotism, the ravages of war, poverty, disease and corruption have so battered the populace that the average Zimbabwean can only expect to live 37 years. Those 37 years won't be pleasant ones either. A quarter of the adult population has AIDS, the economy is in a shambles, armed thugs roam the landscape, and their currency is becoming worth less and less every day. And while things in Zimbabwe are bad, even the good spots in sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa, Nigeria) have so many problems they're in no position to help. Even if they wanted to, which is doubtful.
But there is no way the U.S. could intervene in Zimbabwe (or anyplace else in Africa) without stirring up anti-American zealotry here at home. One can imagine the academic elites and their assorted allies on the Left bemoaning the return of colonialism and imperialism, while denouncing America's allies in Africa as compradore corporatist lackeys, or whatever phrase they decide will be in vogue at the moment. Add into account the miniscule amount of African-U.S. trade and the Cold War's end, and it becomes clear that there is absolutely no compelling national interest on which to base any future American actions on the African continent.
But then, failed blogger Tim "Little Timmy" Cavanaugh tosses off a Tom Shales-esque hit piece on the various shining lights in El Republica del Blogland. Layne, Welch, Reynolds, Solent, Staerk, Radic, Lileks -- they all took flak from Cavanaugh, a writer of little note who formerly edited something called Suck.com. The controversy is only hours old, yet it's already becoming clear that a dozen Lassies ain't gonna be able to get Little Timmy out of the well he's fallen into this time.
Not that it's any surprise Mr Cavanaugh would fall into the well in the first place. His article itself, as I mention below, doesn't just lack things like a coherent nut graf or a structure or a point. He even gets some of the names wrong -- like that of Noam Chomsky, which he spells with an I, at least as of 4 AM EST today. It's an impressive screw-up not just because Chomsky is so well-known, but because the first rule of Reporter School is that YOU GET THE BLOODY NAMES RIGHT.
The most ironic thing about this is that Little Timmy's whinging about will increase Web traffic at the University of Southern California's Online Journalism Review, probably by a factor of ten or twenty. I'm pretty confident in that estimation, as Web logs are infinitely more interesting to people than an on-line review about journalism. It's the type of publication people in the field don't even read. And I look forward to reading the mass deluge of responses to the OJR blasting Little Timmy for his ill-tempered and malicious maundering.
Needless to say, I've already sent one in. Here's my "professional" take on the matter:
Date: January 19, 2002 3:24 AM
Author: Benjamin Kepple
Subject: Who is this Tim Cavanaugh person, anyway?
Mr Cavanaugh's embittered article about "blogging" and those who "blog" would prove more effective if it had a point. He doesn't seem to have one in this rambling, noxious piece.
For what is Mr Cavanaugh trying to say here? That blogging is bad? I don't see how adding more voices to our National Conversation is a bad thing. But regardless of whether that was his point, the messages sort of expressed in his article aren't all that inspired anyway.
If Mr Cavanaugh is angry because Normal People are criticizing the Salters and Ehrenreichs of this world, then he needs to take a good cross-country trip. If he's upset that Sullivan, Postrel, et al. are succeeding where he has failed, he needs to gain a sense of perspective. If he's trying to say that Web loggers should not recommend the quality work of other writers, then he's a disgrace to his profession. We shall expect to see no blurbs -- not a one! -- on the jacket of Mr Cavanaugh's next book.
Besides, just who is this Tim Cavanaugh person anyway? What are his qualifications for writing such an article? True, his bio says he edited something called "the late Suck.com," whatever that was. Other than that, though, he doesn't appear to have a Web log himself. Maybe if he worked on one, he might see why so many people write and read these things.
For me, it's a fun way to let people close to me know how I'm doing and what's on my mind. It's a way to keep my own writing skills on target. It's a great way to get in touch with smart and interesting folk from all corners of the world. It's a far more enjoyable way to keep up with national and world events than watching Dan Rather. Besides, I've actually made somewhere close to $18 from my tip jar and other donations. Considering this is a hobby, that ain't bad -- and it's a healthier balance sheet than certain "professional" outlets were apparently able to show.
So, Mr Cavanaugh, the follow-up here is obvious. Bury your hatchet and start your own Web log. After a few months, report back to the OJR's readers and let us know how it's going. I think you might just change your mind.
(Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant;
A shocking crime in an age when few are shocked at anything anymore. But that's not the most shocking thing here, either.
Now, evil Daniel and Manuela Ruda told a German court they weren't responsible for their sick acts. You-know-who was. Unfortunately, since it will prove difficult for the German authorities to throw the Prince of Darkness into the dock, the Rudas will be punished accordingly. What would this be, you ask?
"Several witnesses have testified that the couple suffered from personality disorders. They could both face long terms at secure psychiatric institutions," The Telegraph reports.
That's not as insane as what the Rudas did, but it is still an outrage. Not that we are to be surprised at this, of course. It's symptomatic of a fundamental flaw in how both Europeans and Americans mete out justice these days. Instead of making the argument that the insane are still responsible for their acts and must be punished accordingly, we exempt them from any culpability because they are insane. That in itself is madness, and it prevents true justice from being carried out. In this case, that would be life imprisonment, preferably assigned to the general population of a rather nasty prison.
Yet Another Link Added Allison Lives! has joined the ever-growing list of High Quality Sites. Besides, it is your duty as a reader of The Rant to visit, and visit often, any site whose designer lists "Barbara Walters" as a "pet peeve." Not only that, Allison posts and comments about various snippets about the insanity of everyday life. Like the fact Tonya Harding is in trouble again.
Somewhere, some poor reporter had to write this story, you know.
"We're very troubled about the destruction of the documents, and we're very concerned about the accounting advice we got," said Washington attorney Robert Bennett, who is representing Enron.
If anyone is left over at ENE, you might want to take my advice on this one. That is: don't you scum try to lay everything off on the poor accountants. It was YOUR deals which were shady, YOUR books which were cooked, YOUR people who signed off on things. In short, you guys blew it. Take your medicine and have done with it, or the medicine might get a bit harsher before this is all wrapped up.
Now THIS is Quality Journalism In Delaware, a 42-year-old man dies suddenly in his apartment. No one notices. No one, that is, except for the carnivorous lizards which said man kept in his apartment. The resulting horror makes for excellent tabloid-style journalism.
Well, I use excellent guardedly here. For in its report on the matter, the Philadelphia Daily News is almost gleeful in its treatment of this godawful incident. In fact, I'd say their story ("Man Dies, His Lizards Are Hungry ..." ) rivals or tops any tragedy-related news story I've ever seen in terms of sheer callousness. And as a newsman myself, I am appalled that paper's editors allowed their man to write about such a horrible thing this way.
But let me show you what I mean. Now, maybe it's just me, but responsible editors do not permit such a story to start like this:
"If you live alone, and you drop dead in your apartment one day, you don’t want to have six-feet-long, flesh-eating monitor lizards running around the place.
You just don’t.
Because they’re not going to get fed, and they’re going to get hungry, and you’re going to be lying there, and like we said, they’re flesh-eating. And, aw, jeez, you don’t want to have them running around loose, OK?"
That was the lede for writer Scott Flander's article about 42-year-old Ronald Huff, of Newark, Del., whose own pet lizards devoured much of his corpse after he suddenly died in his apartment. Flander then goes on to write in detail what exactly happened to Mr Huff. While Flanders does not mention this aspect of the story, one can assume it's going to be a closed casket funeral.
Now, as a newsman, I know the temptation to become jaded to awful events. That said, it is our duty as journalists to remember that even folks like Mr Huff -- who may have had issues -- have a family and friends. That's not to say one doesn't report on a horrific incident, but rather to say one reports on it with the dignity and respect it deserves. This hard-nosed, ill-intentioned article does neither. It is one thing for the editors to put on a tacky or shameless headline*. But when a reporter crosses that line, he not only does a disservice to his profession, he hardens his soul.
* The best (or worst) such headline, of course, is: "Headless Body in Topless Bar," New York Post, 1983.
The West v. Rubush So Scott Rubush didn't like The Lord of the Rings. Oh, oh, oh. Oh, Scott. Look deeper into the films, my good man, they're positively overflowing with pro-conservative and pro-Christian messages. Look into reading the books, for they're more powerful than any movie could ever be. Finally, come on, man. Liv Tyler.
Not Him Again While doing my daily blog reading, I was shocked -- shocked! -- to find a name from my distant political past swirl out of the mist. It was none other than paleoconservative / neolibertarian Justin Raimondo, who just recently attacked two of my favourite Web log writers -- Ken Layne and Sgt. John Stryker -- for, well, writing Web logs. Since readers of both Ken and the Sarge read my site, I thought I'd share my observations of the fellow. I never met him, but I knew of him. His was a name that would appear in cyberspace at odd moments, prompting a furrowed brow and much bemusement on the part of yours truly.
My high school history teacher, Mr Forsberg, used to say that the political spectrum was not a straight line, it was a circle. On that circle, centrism was placed at one point, whilst the pro-Communist Left and the neo-Fascist Right were placed at a point directly opposite. Mr Raimondo may not be at that point where Right meets Left, but personally, I think he's pretty bloody close.
Part of why I think that is because Mr Raimondo does not seem to care for Israel very much. This is on display here , here, here, and here, and here, a little bit over here, and a tiny smidgen here. I do not understand why Mr Raimondo has such an apparent animus against Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Israel, whose neighbors have attacked it since Day One. Israel, which continues to be attacked day in and day out by civilian-killing terrorists.
Nor do I claim to understand why he continues saying these things. I'm just pointing this out.
Part of that is because Mr Raimondo has some rather pointed views about September 11. Now, while the rest of us were beside ourselves, Mr Raimondo saw fit to write this -- apparently on the very day the attack happened. Again, I'm just pointing this out.
That noxious little shrine might even be funny if it didn't so viciously attack a man I respect so much. Further, since I worked for Mr Horowitz and his FrontPage Magazine for two years, I think I'm in a pretty good position to advise my readers not to buy into such unadulterated silliness. This long-running feud apparently stemmed from the fact Mr Raimondo does not, allegedly, think much of Martin Luther King either.
I'm just passing that on.
Anyway, as I said, I thought I had heard the last of Mr Raimondo, until he made the mistake of taking on Ken Layne and Sgt. John Stryker. Now, these fine gentlemen reacted to his screed in different ways. Mr Layne, who apparently laughed his ass off for twenty minutes after reading it, told Mr Raimondo to break out the Tanqueray. Sgt. Stryker reacted seriously to Mr Raimondo, basically taking every point Mr Raimondo made and tearing it to shreds.
I am impressed with the Sergeant, because taking Mr Raimondo seriously takes dedication. Real dedication. I mean, look at that picture. As a smoker for three years, I can tell you the man looks like no regular consumer of tobacco I've ever seen. While I'm in high dudgeon, here's another question. How does Mr Raimondo fit in with all the Buchananites at their meetings? ("Raimondo? It's Italian! I swear! It's Italian!")
I'm. Just. Sayin'.
But now that I've had a really good laugh pointing out Mr Raimondo's various foibiles, let's look at the meat of his latest attack against "Warbloggers." Now Mr Raimondo says that many of them "claim" to be Libertarians (not me, thank God) and that their writing all amounts to a pile of scribblings: something equivalent to the diary one's little sister kept in the fourth grade. Further, Mr Raimondo claims many of us are pro-Israel (we are), that we are all imitating Glenn Reynolds, that we're proponents of American Empire, and that we don't criticize the Israelis (why would we?).
There's even more on why Israel is bad in his response too. But never mind that for now.
The end result of all this? Well, don't take it from me. Let's . . .
RANT READERS: " ... turn to the audiotape!" (wild cheering ensues)
"I'm sick of people posing as rebels – and, yikes, even "libertarians"! – who are ready, willing, and even eager to surrender the last of our liberties to the likes of John Ashcroft, and who see themselves as the enforcers of a new political correctness ...But you know what? I'm not telling you to get the hell out of the country. I'm not saying "adios" and, believe you me, I won't let the door hit me 'cause I ain't going out. I'm staying right here in the public square, getting a lot more hits (visits, visitors, readers, whatever) than you and all your dinky little warblogger friends put together. Because, you see, you're dead wrong: wrong not only about the war, but sadly misinformed as to what America is all about."
I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this pompous, self-righteous, egotistical piece of work from a writer whose ideology is dead. One could ask why, if he gets so many more hits than we do, he is attacking us in the first place. One could ask why, despite all that has happened over the past few months, Mr Raimondo continues on as before. And one could ask why, when so many of his ideas have gone through history's trials and been found lacking, he still thinks the way he does.
An Early Reflection I received an e-mail from the Rev. Uncle Dave today in which he writes, "Let me know if you'll be doing any reflections in the Daily Rant on the upcoming Roe v. Wade remembrances." He was referring to Sanctity of Life Sunday, which takes place four days after this will be posted. The memorial, as one can deduce, falls during the week in 1973 when the Supreme Court declared Americans had a fundamental right to obtain an abortion. While abortion was legal in some states during the pre-Roe period, U.S. government data show the decision effectively doubled the number of abortions, year-over-year, in the United States. In 1997, there were 1,186,039, or three abortions for every ten live births.
This is an extraordinarily difficult, polarized, and painful subject for me to write about, and I don't intend to preach to the choir on this one. It's too serious and too important for that. For from the abortion issue comes a key reason why I left the Methodist Church and eventually became a Roman Catholic; a key foundation for my political beliefs today; and a key difference between the ground I occupy and the ground which my opponents trod. And, of course, there is a very personal reason why I feel the way I do about abortion. It is that, in 1976, my mother delivered me in the 22nd week of her pregnancy, and that medical science has now progressed to the point where children born in the sixth month of pregnancy -- and even earlier -- are now able to live. It may take a lot of help, but by God, they can make it.
But let me make my position clear. If, on the street, you came up to me and asked me whether abortion should be legal, my answer would be:
That's it. Just No. No, not in the first and second trimesters; No, not if the child may be born with a birth defect; No, not in a case of rape or incest; No, not even to save the life of the mother. Just No; a thousand times No; whatever God throws at me in life No; an immutable and unshakable No.
Now, the opposition to abortion falls as one progresses upon that scale. Abortion is largely illegal in the third trimester, and many of those who favour legal abortion pale at the thought of it occuring even then. Move it to the second trimester, and you see less people become opposed to it. They reason the child is not yet developed enough for it to be an act that's wrong. In the first trimester, even less people become opposed. When it comes to rape and incest, people have the rational if misguided view that abortion is OK because the woman or girl is not at fault. And when it comes to saving the life of the mother -- well, there are a lot of otherwise staunch pro-lifers out there who won't touch that one with a ten-foot pole.
So why, then, do I oppose it?
It is not just because we are willfully ending a human life. I can come up to you and say, "Well. We know that human life begins at conception. Therefore, willfully ending that life with malice aforethought is tantamount to murder, or at least manslaughter. Q.E.D." But that ain't gonna change your mind one bit. Not if the paramaters for debate are different, not if we have different views on human life, and not if I cite sources which have no meaning to you. I can pull out the Holy Bible, and argue like an old Spanish padre in a movie that THIS is my Authority. If you don't recognize it, that Rock upon which I stand looks to you like a hill of sand before an oncoming tsunami.
It is because of how we end it, and why we end it. It is because of what it does to us and what it does to the child.
For the procedure itself is not, as some would make it out to be, a problem-free and safe and altogether convenient experience. Women still die during an abortion, illegal abortions still take place, and even if all goes well it is an incredibly painful experience. After all, think how it is done. The abortionists, or their subordinates, have at the womb with a scalpel or saline, or they suck the fetus out as if it was a nasty stain requiring the ShopVac. It is a painful and brutal thing which we do to the most helpless among us, and it is not something of which we should be proud.
And to think why this is done. It is not for any perceived moral good, and only very rarely do we do it to ease someone's pain and suffering. We do this out of convenience! Convenience! What has happened to us as a people that we countenance such a thing? That we would end human life because it might interfere with one's career, or one's future wealth and status, or one's fast-paced lifestyle! How have we, in this modern era, fallen to the point where we would snuff out our own flesh and blood, the living beings that are yet a very part of us even after we have gone?
But in our hearts we know it is wrong. Whether we support or oppose the practice, we know in our hearts that it is an act which is fundamentally wrong. And just as good works multiply the good in our lives, bad choices multiply the bad in our lives as well. We know this very much is the case with abortion. We see it in the ruined relationships, the psychological pain, the increased suicides and the hidden pain which gnaws at women after an abortion -- and men, too. Even now, it still takes two people to make a child, and too often we forget the pain suffered by the father. Even if pro-choicers say he is irrelevant.
Of course, it is a testimony to the bad ideas which have sprung up in this day and age that those who favour abortion seem unwilling to address the very real problems their support of this practice has caused. For one, just like the Sexual Revolution, legalized abortion gives feckless and dishonourable men yet another escape route away from their bad decisions. When casual sex is common, it erodes the institution of marriage; and when abortion is common, it erodes the institution of the family. That just seems like common sense to me. There's no inducement for a man to marry a woman if he can sleep with her at will, and as such, there is no inducement for him to stay with the mother if she aborts their child. In either case, it is the woman who gets the bad end of the deal, not the man.
Finally, though, the worst part of all is what we are doing to the child (or fetus, if you want to argue it that way). We are ending life, and we are doing it in a horrific way. Now, people do argue that if we excise a fetus three weeks into a pregnancy that we are simply cutting out cells. That gets a "Yes, but." for an answer. The but there, the rub to this whole thing, is that we are destroying human life without its consent. A baby in the womb, whether three weeks or eight months along, cannot offer consent for anything, much less whether it is OK for people to end its life. And even a libertarian, who would give us all the freedom to use cocaine and engage in all sorts of vice, would blanch at that.
But we're doing more than just ending a life. We are extinguishing a soul. We are crushing untold human potential. We are sacrificing great things for very small gains, and gains which may not prove to have any advantage to them at all.
Yet we continue to condone this brutal and barbaric practice as if we were having a society-wide disagreement over whether to order Chinese or Italian food for dinner. And that is appalling. If there is one thing we can and must do in talking about abortion, it is deal with it seriously. That goes for both people for it and people against it. I really wish that people who favoured it would do more thinking about just what it is they're supporting, and why they support it. It seems that many on the pro-choice movement are pro-choice simply ... well ... because it's convenient, and it doesn't require much thought, and it's an easy way not to get involved in any arguments. Not all, of course not. But I think there are a number who would fall into this category.
And it also goes for people who are against abortion too, because it seems that many of them -- us, I should say -- are acting for the wrong reasons. For example, while searching on-line for abortion information, I came across the Web site of "Focus on the Family." That's Dr. Dobson's group, and one with which I am usually in agreement. Yet I was appalled to see advertisements for Sanctity of Life Sunday related products on the site. I know they only ask for donations, but it sure looks like a sale.
What really gets me, though, is how damned perky the site is. Like this description of "Life is Sacred," a pro-life video: "There's nothing like an excellent audiovisual presentation to get the sanctity of human life message into hearts and minds. And this one fits any program!"
Oh, swell! We may have untold millions of dead from abortion, but we can have a great old time down in the church's social hall on Sanctity of Life Sunday! We'll have a video, and Murtha can bring her three-bean salad that everyone loves!
Abortion foes are treating this issue too much like a political primary and not enough like something serious and awful and horrific. That said, I think people who protest abortion clinics and who would rather denounce pro-choicers than try to convice them are doing what they do with good intentions. The problem is that I don't think it has been all that effective. All we're doing is taking doors that are open, whether they are wide or open just a hair, and slamming them shut.
When we do that, we're not making people really think about the actions they are taking or supporting. It may take more work and effort to convince them quietly, but it is worth doing.
So whether you are for or against abortion, I hope you'd take some time this Sunday to think about what it really means, and what it's done, and what it will continue to do as long as we let this go on. Perhaps that time spent will change your mind, and perhaps it will not. I hope, though, that it would bring some insight into why so many of we who oppose abortion feel that way. And why I am asking my fellow Americans, and pleading with you, and begging you to just let it all stop.