Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant  

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

REACTION

A Quasi-Schimpflexicon

"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

THE ARCHIVES:

NOTICE:

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.

Poster images from The War are from Stanford University.

LINKS OF INTEREST

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(Ann Arbor, Mich.)

THE SOUTH

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Kepple's Eleven
(Or, An Attempt to Write a Ben Domenech-Style "Rundown" with a Catchy Title)

Happy Day-After-Everyone-Went-Shopping, ladies and gents. I tried to go out shopping again today and found, much to my surprise and irritation, that the mall was full for a second day in a row. So to hell with that; instead, I'll type up my reaction to various happenings around the blogosphere and such. En garde!

-----

Allison Barnes' family, being more clever than most, went and saw a movie on Thanksgiving Day.

The movie they saw apparently wasn't half-bad; it was a heart-warming Kevin Kline vehicle which promoted integrity and character, Allison reports. Personally, I don't know whether I would have enjoyed it, simply because I haven't been in the mood for a warm and friendly movie lately. No, friends, I am in the mood for a quality American-made action film steeped in its own implausible plot and violent excess. I don't know why; maybe it's just because I've been in a sour mindset as of late, or I just need some brain candy. Fortunately I have "The Matrix" on DVD.

Unfortunately, the movie was not all wonderful. Ticket prices have gone up again, as the incompetent theatre firms struggle with the after-effects of their own overexpansion. It now costs $9 to go see a film, Allison reports -- and you're not even guaranteed heat in the theatre.

Here in New Hampshire, we are experiencing similar problems. It's not that the ticket prices are bad in themselves -- you can still get a ticket for under $7 in the evenings -- but the refreshments will break anyone who has to work for a living in this day and age. Dear God. I think a large popcorn is up to $5 now, or perhaps even $6. Furthermore, this is not a large popcorn the way a large popcorn used to be, in which you were given the entire corn production of DeKalb County, Ill. in a bucket, topped with about a pound of salt and butter. The stuff now comes in a small bag. You are promised free refills, but if the movie is any good you're not going to get any of those.

It's just a damned shame, and a testament to how an entire industry can rot from within.

-----

Sasha Castel is getting married to Andrew Dodge! While I have expressed my congratulations over at Sasha's site, it deserves to be repeated for the record: Congratulations to you both, and may you have many happy years together!

As an aside, I should note that I was Person No. 18 to wish Sasha and Andrew all the best. Person No. 19 left this note: "This is charming and I wish the couple well, but calling this the first blogger wedding is ridiculous hyperbole. Blogs have been all over for at least two years, and have been around much longer. There must have been dozens of them by now."

Gad. The wedding announcements are getting fact-checked. Unbelievable.

Anyway -- Sasha and Andrew, I wish you both all the best as you take up life's journey together.

-----

Everybody! Paul Frankenstein's got sweet holiday swag!

Rock on. I want a "This is Not My Beautiful Beer" mug, personally. It will serve as a useful reminder for me at social events that This is Not My Beautiful Wife or My Beautiful House or My Large Automobile Either. It will also prevent me from those mornings in which the first words out of my mouth are: "My God! What Have I Done?"

-----

Megan McArdle has a really nice Thanksgiving post that, along with James Lileks' Turkey Day bleat, made me turn off the computer and go have a smoke out on the stoop. They were so good that there was no point in writing my own observations on the holiday.

-----

Ken Layne has an excellent piece about Matt Drudge that is really top-shelf. I always liked Drudge; actually saw him very briefly once, at a conference a few years back. It was amazing to actually be in the same room with the man; at the time, he seemed to have the same aura that Morpheus from "The Matrix" does; the man who is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

-----

Tim Blair kicks ass and takes names down in Australia. Just go read it, already.

-----

This site linked over at Natalie Solent's site caught my eye: It Can't Rain All the Time.

Oh, yes it can. I had a small cloud follow me around my whole last year in Los Angeles, just like those crazy cartoons.

-----

Schwartz. Buddy. Dude. Update the page already.

-----

Tom Paine has a fantastic series of posts on American life. They really are top-notch, and I heartily recommend them to anyone, whether one is American or not.

This got me to thinking, however. Wouldn't it be neat if I was to travel to some exotic foreign country and report via my blog on how the locals acted and what their culture was like?

Then again, no, that would not be neat. That's because, despite my supposed worldliness, my American instincts would take over and I would end up stumbling around said foreign country like Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones films. Then, as I groused about my nausea and my inability to speak the local language, I would inevitably commit some sort of horrible faux pas that would force the local authorities to put me in the stocks. No thank you. I've seen enough of the world; I'm sticking with North America from now on!

-----

Finally, last but not least, go check out Oliver Willis' site to see this incredible photo of holiday shopping insanity. I've linked to it before, but it is worth linking to again. I mean, it's either a holiday sale or that old episode of The Twilight Zone, the one where the aliens force all the neighbors on Maple Street to turn against each other in madness.

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.11.02


30.11.02  

 
The Coward's Way Out
I have been informed that quite a brouhaha has erupted over the policy of certain bloggers "delinking" other bloggers from their "blogrolls" as of late. Many other bloggers, as is our wont, have seen fit to comment on this development. Arthur Silber, a libertarian blogger, has the best summary of this petty fight here, while Meryl Yourish has the best response to it that I've yet seen.

My thoughts on this are simple. First, it's clear that any blogger has the right to list or de-list any other writer he or she feels like, without warning or permission. Second, there are circumstances in which delisting is perfectly reasonable, even warranted. However, let's assume for the sake of argument that in a delisting incident, the qualifications in Item Two are not met. That leads to observation three: delisting someone because they don't agree with one's opinions is a self-serving, petty, narrow-minded, weak-willed thing to do.

In short, it's the coward's way out.

If I deleted those writers with whom I did not completely agree from my link list, it would fall from about 50 links to about three. Instead, those folks are there for a reason: it's because they can write, it's because they have drive, it's because they're intelligent. To borrow from popular culture, let me go further, and say that those folks to the left kick ass in the morning and take names in the evening; they tour the facility and pick up slack; they provide good intellectual dividends.

So, that's why I always encourage you to read them after you've finished reading my work. Why not spend some today reading the folks to the left? You know, to Make Your Voice Heard about this silly little contretemps, or something.

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.11.02



 
Why I Left Los Angeles, Reason No. 425
Reuters reports a swarm of bees trapped customers inside a Chatsworth, Calif. liquor store for two hours on Thanksgiving Day.

OK, that's another reason why I'm glad to have moved to New Hampshire: there are no maddened swarms of voracious stinging insects here. Add that to the other things that make New Hampshire Great: there are no massive fires, no mudslides, no earthquakes, no riots, no criminal police; there is no smog, no insane cost of living, no three-bedroom homes that run for a million bucks.

We don't, however, have any private liquor stores, and as such I haven't had a drop to drink in weeks. But you've got to expect some tradeoffs.


  thus spake Benjamin on 30.11.02



 
Conspicuous Consumption
There's a new Thai restaurant here in Manchester over on Second Street, and boy! it's nice to see that we've got a place that really does it right. As it's Friday, and hence my day for catching up on errands and rushing about, I decided to stop in to see whether its advance reviews were on target. They were.

Sure, the place is stuck in a strip mall, but despite that limitation the owners have created a rather nice setup within. The decor is modern but still pleasing; it is neat and quiet; and there's ample room to either eat at the bar or the tables. The staff is perfect -- they've got the combination of uncomplaining service and efficiency that really makes for a nice time out. There are no blase introductions about what lackey Will Be Your Server Today, and no irritating questions about Whether Everything is All Right Here, and no pressure to Try One of Our Overpriced Appetizers Smothered in Some Horrible Chemical Concoction With a Catchy Branded Name. Instead, empty dishes are removed promptly; food is spaced between courses; drinks are refilled as needed.

With that, they could have served me fried chicken on newsprint and I would have been happy. The food, however, is much, much, better than that. I started out with a good, if not perfect bowl, of tom kha gai -- or, as the managers wisely called it, Chicken Coconut Soup. There were thinly-sliced mushrooms in it for some reason, and there wasn't enough chicken. But despite this, the most important part of the dish -- the coconut base -- was perfect: not overly thick, nor watery. That was followed with a very good masaman curry. Actually, it was excellent, not merely very good. There was heat, but not outrageously so; there was curry, but it played off the meat and the vegetables beautifully. Even better, it was served with a perfect amount of rice. All told, it left you satisfied but not disgustingly full.

Total cost? $10, not including tip.

Coming from a guy who used to eat Thai at least twice a week in Los Angeles, I would heartily recommend it to anyone coming in for a spell. It's at 581 Second St., right off Exit 4 on I-293 and next to the convenience store. You can't miss it.

Now, I offer up this impromptu restaurant review because it exemplifies good things about America. This restaurant delivered in spades in terms of its quality, convenience, service, and low expense. Overall in America, I think our standards have slipped in this realm, but we still do quite well at providing goods and services quickly and cheaply, especially when compared to other nations.

This is why I don't understand why Americans go Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, and thrust themselves into a panicked maelstrom of spending and excess that makes everyone involved with it act like a) there's a hurricane coming and b) the Soviet Government is in charge of gift distribution. Actually, that's not even fair to the Soviet people: they were civilized when queueing up for a bit of meat or flour or cooking oil. In America today, despite the fact that we are the wealthiest and most free nation on Earth, citizens fight for goods as if the only Christmas gifts available in the stores are some leftover packages of Krasny Oktyabr Cooking Oil and Uncle Joe's Redi-to-Eat Borscht Mix. Further, they act like even those wasn't guaranteed because the People's Glorious Red Army was off getting killed in Afghanistan.

Don't believe me? See for yourself in this AP photo:



Loyal shoppers thankful for the Soviet state's generosity line up to buy nylon stockings and chicken at the famed GUM department store in Moscow, 1985. Or, this could be the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Hamilton Township, N.J., at five in the freaking morning today. We here at The Rant can't tell which.

This was not an isolated incident.



North Korean shoppers hoping to buy rice and the Stalinist state's latest childrens' game ("Let Us All Resolutely Struggle to Crush Yankee-Led Reactionary Hijinks") wait in front of a dollars-only store in the Special Industrial Section of Wonsan, N.K, in 1998. Or, it's the scene at a mall in Indiana. (AP)

Finally, to prove that I am not the only correspondent writing about such matters, examine the photo that Oliver Willis has posted. This excellent photo shows shoppers seizing boxes of computer components as if the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889 was rapidly approaching their location.

(sigh)

People.

The stores are not going to run out of goods.

They are not going to suddenly close up shop and leave you without the opportunity to give your children a Merry Christmas.

They are not going to be without quality gift items and special products that will provide "you and yours" with fond memories of this holiday season -- holiday seasons of which you have dozens upon dozens left, by the way.

You do not need to queue up at stores during hours of the night in which only criminals and the police are afoot. You do not need to park your vehicles on the grass or in other areas in which it is forbidden to park. You do not need to act like a crazed maniac high on crystal meth when you see a space open in Lot 56Q of a mall's Byzantine parking area. You especially do not need to act as if the end of the world as we know it will take place if you are not able to secure whatever "hot" children's gift is on the shelves. Whatever it is, they will ignore it in a month anyway. You know that. You know that.

Thus, I would call for my fellow Americans to all act in a civilized, cordial, and pleasant manner while they shop this Christmas season. Since the chances of this happening are approximately -- oh, say, zero -- I will see you all at the malls at a reasonable date, like Dec. 15, when crowds are thinner and the retailers are starting to get desperate to make their sales targets.

In the meantime, I'm going to hole up in my apartment and hide, lest folks think I have a huge cache of "Fur Real Friends" or whatever the kiddies are yammering for this time around.

  thus spake Benjamin on 29.11.02


29.11.02  

 
If Things Get Hot ...
... you'll probably want to read the site of the blogosphere's only Iraqi correspondent. The man has a chair on the roof all ready for when the bombs starting dropping. It's about all he can apparently do, it seems; the air-raid sirens in Baghdad don't work.



  thus spake Benjamin on 29.11.02



 
Now This is a New One!
As Wednesday has come, I was pleased to see that The Raving Atheist's much-anticipated response to my post about God's nature was on-line and ready. Clearly it took a lot of work, and I am gratified to see that my post merited such an outpouring upon the page. Our atheist even took a bad photo of me and grafted the image of my head onto a pig, which I submit as prima facie evidence that my argument did, has, and will always carry the day in the end.

Still, our atheist has taken considerable pains to refute my argument, which I would also submit as evidence that there was something worth an attempt to refute. And, our atheist did throw me a bone in the commentary portion of the site, viz.: "I don't think that Kepple argued poorly; his arguments are mainstream Catholicism. It's just that the position is indefensible. But I'm sure he will have more to say about that.

Yep!

We will first deal with our atheist's opening salvo against my position:

The Raving Atheist does not shy away from unpleasant realities. After all, the conclusion of atheism is that the best and worst of us meet the same fate after death; Hitler was not punished and Gandhi was not rewarded. However, my objection to Kepple's eschatology, apart from its complete arbitrariness and lack of evidentiary support, is that it is irrational, illogical and internally inconsistent. And those are perfectly good reasons to declare that it is false. Kepple's arguments that we can't know God, or that human logic is not God's logic, are either meaningless or self-destructing.

We will get to the last sentence of the above statement in a bit. But we must first deal with the question of logic, and how it relates to faith.

I think our atheist would agree that one cannot sustain a belief in God through logic alone. For instance, when one considers the idea of Christ rising from the dead, we know that the act of rising from the grave, after a three-day internment, could not be evinced by any earthly force available at the time. The Resurrection involves a set of circumstances which logic cannot explain. Therefore, believers necessarily expound a bit of faith when we say that He did indeed conquer death. That may be arbitrary, and I may not have evidence to support my claim, but it is my belief nonetheless.

On the other hand, one can use logic to unbind the simplistic tenets of atheism. While our atheist may not care for Lewis -- perhaps because Lewis was at one time in his camp -- I do care for him very much. But since our atheist insists that logic is the linch-pin of any rational world-view, let us consult Dr Lewis on the question of atheism:

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line ...

"Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense.

"Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.
Dark would be without meaning.

Now, our atheist clearly has a sense of logic -- able to make the distinction that his or her logic is correct and mine is not so. In this he or she is apparently not a relativist. Yet where is this sense derived from? After all, he or she can't claim I'm wrong unless his own sense of logic applies to anyone other than our resident atheist. Nor can our atheist avoid the fundamental truth that he or she sees certain acts as correct -- not believing in God, for example -- and certain acts, such as being a theist, as irrational.

When you get right down to it, logic dictates that there are fundamental truths, such as answers to questions of right and wrong. The question is why the fundamental truths exist in the first place, and where an exploration of those fundamental truths leads you. Sticking your head in rhetorical sand does not make them disappear.

Of course, our atheist does stick his or her head in the sand rather a lot.

I have noticed a pattern in our atheist's arguments, which is as follows. Rather than actually set out points or an outline to support or refute a position, he or she unilaterally condemns it with some blanket assertion that Event X or Postulate Y is irrational, or illogical, or doesn't jive with the news at six, or that the dog threw up on the World section of the New York Times that day. To shout "Dixi!" whenever a Mystery of the Faith is discussed does not do justice either to the topic at hand or to our atheist's argument. If something is illogical or irrational, why does our atheist not explain why that is so?

Well?

First, the notion that we cannot know, conceive of, or question God is fashionable among certain types of believers, who fancy it to be a clever, yet humble-sounding position. The problem with this argument is that it is not an argument about God at all. Rather, it is an extreme form of skeptical agnosticism which, in reality, is talking about nothing at all. If God is "unknowable," then the word "God" is reduced to a mere sound devoid of any meaning, indistinguishable from utterances such as "poy" or "blark" or "unie." Most people, confronted with the question "does poy exist" would not answer "yes," "no," or "I don't know," but would rather demand to know what is signified by "poy." It is simply impossible to commit to a belief in, a disbelief in, or even the unknowability of a concept that lacks any definition whatsoever.

Yet my argument is not that God is unknowable, or that He cannot be questioned. I had written that "the idea that God acts in a manner some people find irrational can't lead to the conclusion that God does not exist. Who are we, after all, to look into the mind of God?" That He may act in a manner some don't like is not saying that He is unknowable; indeed, saying that He acts in one way or another way is saying that we've faith He does act in a certain way.

As for the idea that He cannot be questioned, I wrote that "to argue with the ways of an omnipotent, omniscient God is futile, whether one believes in Him or not." But this certainly does not mean that He cannot be questioned. People question God all the time; and I am certainly among them. I would not have faith if I took Christianity blindly; I would not be human if I did not question why things happen the way they do. Sometimes that questioning can get us rather frustrated with Him, and certainly many people turn from Him. But I do think that He has set out rules for how the universe works, has given people free will, and things like that. I also think that no matter how I much I plead or scream, He isn't going to change those rules.

Let's examine this Godidiot technique a little more closely in connection with the central doctrine of the Christian faith: that killing His own son was God's method of saving mankind. How killing one's offspring saves everybody is not immediately apparent to us humans, but we are assured that God's logic is perfect. Perhaps the Godidiot will make a half-hearted attempt to portray Jesus as some sort of shock absorber, but will quickly dropped the analogy once its deficiencies are exposed. Ultimately, the Godidiot will announce, human logic is not a means of comprehending the mystery, and the soundness of the plan must be accepted on faith.

My question to our atheist is why faith is an invalid standard. Obviously logic can only get us so far in this debate. Despite our atheist's ravings, logic can pretty much lead one to an intellectual belief that God exists, that the universe was created on solid laws or solid foundations, and that there is a rationale to its workings. Christianity does require faith, but I think I have hit at the intellectual foundations for why that is.

Kepple's sloppy, waffling misuse of logic infects the remainder of his god-awful arguments.

Kids! Look! It's a pun! (Oh, wait. We're being serious. Sorry.)

He embraces the analysis of one of the supreme Godidiots of our time, C.S. Lewis, who, as Kepple notes, argued that Christ must have intended that we think of him as the Son of God rather than merely a great moral teacher. So, once again, despite Kepple's admonitions against reading the mind of God, we are invited to evaluate what Christ "intended" according to a human logical standard. A standard which, of course, we are urged to abandon once it perceives the irrationality of the notion of becoming one's own son to save mankind, or the irrationality of making belief in that notion a precondition of participating in that salvation. And abandon it we must; for any consistent and sustained application of logic to the options proposed by Lewis would lead us to adopt the conclusion that Christ was, in fact, "mad as a poached egg."

I would refer our atheist to my above comments on this matter regarding the illogic of it all. But I would note that I do embrace Dr Lewis' explanations, including his argument that Christ was the Son of God. Dr Lewis, you see, was able to persuade millions of people to his point of view regarding spiritual matters. This is compared to our atheist's current tally, as I know it, of zero.

But the most disturbing thing to me about Godidiot Kepple is that he is a convert to Catholicism. It's one thing if you are brainwashed into that faith from childhood and simply continue believing mindlessly; it's another if you've stopped and thought about it, and made a consciousness decision to embrace it. I won't repeat my usual slurs about the Church and its deranged, senile, pedophile-enabling leader, but I must comment on Kepple's declared reason for making the switch from Methodism: someone was nice to him.

The question at hand was whether being nice, as opposed to hitting someone over the head with Scripture, was a good way to win converts to a certain religious faith. Now, obviously, yes, my friend's nice demeanor did play a factor in my heading down the road to Catholicism, as I said. However, it was not the reason for my conversion. I converted to Catholicism because of its intellectual rigor, its strength in holding to its theological doctrines instead of bowing to the ever-changing tastes of the world-at-large, and its acceptance of reason while holding fast to its spirituality. One may not agree with all of Catholicism's teachings, but there is no teaching that is not backed up with a healthy amount of reasons for it, both spiritual and temporal.

I did not join the Church the way someone signs up for a book-of-the-month club, as inconceivable as that might be to our atheist.

That said, I would ask a question of our atheist that has interested me. I'm going to bend the rules a bit and again take it from the site's commentary section, but I think it's important enough to ask. Our atheist asks in the comments: "Yes, the point of the Godidiot Award is just to have fun. It is limited to journalists and bloggers; if I wanted to debate Tertullian or St. Augustine I'd just do it in my head."

My question is: why wouldn't our atheist refute St. Augustine, or Tertullian, or Eusebius, or any of the other myriad Church Fathers, on site? True, it's less fun and more dry. But I would certainly be interested in seeing in how our atheist deals with these thorny issues. I would be even more interested to see if our atheist could deal with the thorny issues they bring up. In response, our atheist could perhaps send me some tracts from whomever the atheists consider important.

Finally: you would not believe how good that bread was. I mean, I didn't leave any for you, but you can take my word for it that it was outstanding. I can assure you it went very well with the fish.

  thus spake Benjamin on 28.11.02


28.11.02  

 
Lou Dobbs Rules
Consider this a very short introduction to My Inverted Sense of Celebrity: I think CNN Moneyline anchor Lou Dobbs rules.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.11.02


26.11.02  

 
It's Not Just a Download, It's a Court Martial Waiting to Happen
The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., has seized over 100 computers from students in a dragnet searching for shared music and movie files, the Reuters news agency reports. According to the report, cadets could either face a court-martial or expulsion from the academy "if investigators find digital songs or other copyrighted material on their hard drives."

As one might imagine, speculation is rife that the mediocre minds in charge of the recording industry were somehow behind this.

The Reuters report quotes an unnamed spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America who says he doesn't know anything about the facts of the case. Strange, since that's not what The Register, a technology publication based in the United Kingdom, says. It says the Navy was "acting unilaterally at the behest of the RIAA."

However, going back to the original story in The Capital of Annapolis, Md., we find that the RIAA simply sent a letter to various colleges and universities asking them to ruin the fun -- I mean, address copyright infringment -- and develop policies against that practice.

As such, one could infer, from these three stories, that this led the Navy to act in the way it did. And all because some mids downloaded music files on purpose!

Of course, as a writer, I -- like the recording industry -- have a stake in making sure the copyright laws of the U.S. and other nations are respected and obeyed. But I will admit that I have mixed emotions about how the recording industry has handled the whole situation regarding the theft of its music. Since the industry itself doesn't exactly have a squeaky clean history in terms of ethics, morals, business practices, or seemingly anything else, I don't exactly get too torn up when they're the ones getting taken to the cleaners.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.11.02



 
The Perils of Customer Service
Cruel Government officials in Arlington County, Va., turned off Radley Balko's water for days, Mr Balko reports in an irate screed in which he publicizes the problem and bemoans the unhelpfulness of Arlington County workers. We learn that, despite the fact Mr Balko paid his $130 bill weeks before, he spent days without agua until he took matters into his own hands.

This is another reason why I love New Hampshire. Everyone is helpful and friendly. For example, when I received a speeding ticket for traveling 80 mph in a 55 zone during a trip from Manchester to Concord about a year back, did the state trooper give me an additional and well-deserved ticket for not having a state inspection performed on my car? No! He did not! Not that it needed an inspection anyway, mind you; if California thought the car was fine, New Hampshire would too; but still, the trooper was polite and friendly about the affair.

Further, when yours truly waited until the very last day of eligibility to pay the reasonable fine (less than $100), was the Department of Motor Vehicles a nightmare to deal with? No! It was not! An actual human being answered the telephone, processed my information, and gave me a confirmation number. I about fell out of my chair when I realized how painless it was. A job that would have taken a day in California took three minutes in the Granite State.

That's not to say that everything goes perfectly, though. Witness the trouble I had recently with my computer.

Before I continue, you should know that my desktop computer is not merely old, it is a museum piece. It dates from -- wait for it -- 1998. It is inadequate in terms of memory, in terms of disk space, and in terms of Internet connectivity. In short, it's so old it practically has vacuum tubes. To make matters worse, I am what is colloquially known as a "technofeeb." This means I never update anything, I only replace parts when they inconveniently break, and when the thing does not do what I want it to do, my idea of technical support is to mutter obscenities under my breath.

So when I recently purchased a pretty neat computer game -- a strategy simulator -- I was rather disappointed to see I needed an upgrade to Windows 98. So I went down to a certain office-supply store and inquired about an upgrade.

ME: For some reason, I need an upgrade to Windows 98. Will this work?
CLERK: Well, I'd say you should have upgraded two years ago! Ha, ha!
ME: Ha, ha.

This annoyed me like you wouldn't believe. Here I am, about to drop a buck on a less-obsolete version of some stupid computer program, a program I had no need for two years ago, and I get the high hat from some low-rent clerk. I'm sorry that I wasn't salivating earlier at the prospect of getting Windows 98. I'm also sorry that I didn't buy into the tech boom back in 1998, and ride it to its peak before selling. But we all make mistakes.

However, that led to this uncharacteristic response:

ME: Look, buddy, don't be cute. I need a new operating system for my machine. Help me.
CLERK: OK.

Now, I was surprised at myself for saying this. I'm still a Midwesterner in many ways, and as such I'm inclined to be polite and pleasant. I'm not the type of person who would walk into an establishment and act haughty and threaten to have someone bastinadoed for not catering to my every whim. But now that I think about it, maybe there's something to be said for making things clear if the nice-and-friendly act doesn't work out. As a last resort, yes, but still -- who knows? Maybe Mr Balko's water would have never dried up if he had called up a county commissioner at home and given him an earful.

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.11.02


24.11.02  

 
Oh, Man ...
Here's an insight into my musical tastes. Right now, I've got Casino Royale playing on the DVD player. Burt Bacharach score, a lot of brass, a lot of schmaltz, a lot of great old-style lounge-ish stuff. I love it.

I always thought that while the Austin Powers movies were fun, CR was a better parody of the whole James Bond series. Besides, any film that comes up with fun lines ("It's depressing that the word secret-agent has become synonymous with 'sex maniac.' ") and quasi-intelligent ones ("I did not come here to be devoured by symbols of monarchy!") is a good one in my book.


  thus spake Benjamin on 23.11.02


23.11.02  

 
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
Ohio State defeats Michigan 14-9. Stupid Navarre fumble. Stupid interception at the end. Stupid Ohio State. I suppose I should wish the Buckeyes good luck in the Fiesta Bowl, but to be perfectly honest, it hurts too much to do that right now.


  thus spake Benjamin on 23.11.02



 
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ........

Michigan is ahead 9-7 after the end of the first half, and incredibly it's all due to their field goal unit. For those of you who don't keep an eye on Michigan football, you should know that we're using the punter to kick threes. This came about after we got sick of the first two fellows we had in that position.

Here in Manchester, N.H., my football experience has largely been good, except for two minor hiccups. The first was a false scare when I turned onto the station carrying the game. It was a pre-game newscast, and the sportscaster was talking about upcoming "high school football!!!!!" I about died. This matchup is too important to even mention events like high school football within 90 minutes of kickoff.

And, as the first quarter was getting under way, I had a telephone call. I figured it was my father, for Dad has been showing a disturbing neutrality in the Michigan-OSU rivalry as of late. It could be because he and Mother now live in the Cleveland area. But it was not Dad.

CHEERFUL WOMAN: Hi! Is Benjamin Kepple there?
ME: What?
CHEERFUL WOMAN: Mr Kepple? This is so-and-so from Chase. The pre-approved Mastercard we've mailed to you has a fixed rate and ...
ME: Ma'am. You're calling during the Michigan-Ohio State game.
CHEERFUL WOMAN: Oh.
ME: I can't talk now.
(click)

Well, we're back to the second half of the game. Let's hope the 9-7 lead holds over the barbarians!

.... BLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUE

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.11.02



 
Two Hours, 14 Minutes 'til Kickoff
OK, lads -- two hours until the beatdown begins in Columbus. Let's have at it. And for those Michigan fans who must unfortunately watch the game in company with Ohio State fans, I have found some inspiring lyrics for you to spout out to them at key points during the game.

Yo, I thought I told you that we won't stop/
Now what you gonna do 'cause it's cool/
I got money much longer than yours/
and a team much stronger than yours/
'cause there ain't enough time here/
for you to shine here/
I'm bigger than the city lights down on Times Square/
Yeah, yeah


-- Sean (P. Diddy) Combs

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.11.02



 
Speaking of Transit ...
I realized today that it would be impossible for me to engage in a life of crime.

It's not simply because I am a horrendously bad liar; the type of fellow who turns red and stammers whenever he tries to pass off even a minor fib. It's not simply because I really don't care for firearms. It's also not simply because I would find it incredibly embarrassing to stand in the dock.

It's because I have an amazing guilt complex.

You see, while I was out driving today, I found myself in an exact change lane of the F.E. Everett Turnpike's Bedford Toll Plaza without exact change. Without any change, for that matter. Since it was impossible for me to back up and get into the all-vehicle lanes of the toll plaza, I was forced to blow through the toll and deprive the State of New Hampshire of its much-needed 75 cents for passage along this major throughway.

Instantly, I knew that I was going to be In Trouble. I was sure that video cameras at the plaza would record my license plate number, and instantly ship that information to the Department of Transportation in Concord. The way I figured it, the Department of Transportation would immediately swing into action, broadcasting a description of my auto and me to every state trooper within twenty miles of my location. New Hampshire, after all, is a really crime-free place, and I figured this would receive the authorities' attention. As such, I was also sure my petty criminality would result in a summons or a bench warrant or some other horribly embarrassing eventuality. I would be dragged into court, and have to plead guilty, and have to pay a fine, and listen as the judge gave the stock spiel about how I was giving up my rights to a trial.

So what did I do? I pulled into the nearest toll plaza on the highway and offered to pay for the fare.

TOLL WORKER: "Hello!"
ME: "I have a question for you! I was at the Bedford Toll Plaza and I got caught in the exact change lane without any change and I blew through the toll and ... "
TOLL WORKER: (blinking)
ME: "... and can I pay the fare here and here's $1.50 and I'm sorry and ..."
TOLL WORKER: "Forget about it."
(pause)
ME: "Forget about it?"
TOLL WORKER: "Mmm hmmm."
ME: "Well, it's just that I haven't done anything like this before."

I mean, really. So much for my spirit of rebellion and youth and all that. I mean, I even felt the hair on the back of my neck go up when I saw a state trooper come up behind me in the No. 1 lane a few miles down the road. Sure, he passed me without doing anything, but for a moment I was convinced he was going to pull me over for not paying the toll. Either that, or the toll booth worker I spoke with was so taken aback at my rambling she called the authorities.

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.11.02



 
Taking the Train
Megan McArdle has a nice post on why subway fares in New York City should be increased from their current rate of $1.50 per ride. She argues that the subway's low price contributes to its overuse, and says the system is overcrowded and underappreciated. The result is that the system doesn't cover its own expenses, and you know who gets hit whenever a government entity can't pay for its own expenses.
.
Now, I have only had occasion to use New York's subway during my two visits to that fine city. Still, having frequently used mass transit in my day, I've never had any problems with the agencies in charge increasing their fares for service. The reason for that is simple: I find it a devil of a lot cheaper to take the train than to drive my car into or around any major metropolitan area. It's quicker, too. This is the case in Boston, the case in Washington, and the case in New York. It is even that way in Los Angeles, although that city's Metro system is hobbled by the fact Los Angeles remains America's capital of urban sprawl.

In Washington, a one-way trip from the suburbs to the city is remarkably cheap -- perhaps $2 or so. The trains are clean and on-time, and the platforms are spotless. The only drawback is that the Metro rolls up shop at about midnight. In New York, my recent trip to and from Stamford, Conn. to Grand Central Station was $15 roundtrip, and I was more than happy to pay it. I would pay $25 for such a service without a thought. I also found the $1.50 fares within the city system to be remarkably cheap, and I would certainly pay more if it meant they'd add more trains. Being squashed like a sardine on the No. 7 train, while having to stand up and constantly pray the train doesn't make a sudden stop ("Why is it making that grinding noise?"), is Not Fun.

(Note: I tried to fit the word "which" into this post. I failed. Still, this enlightening post makes for good reading.)

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.11.02


22.11.02  

 
Yuck.
File this to the disturbing-but-true archive: the Houston Chronicle reports that a North Texas businessman has been arrested after co-workers said an image file containing child pornography popped up on-screen after he had finished a PowerPoint presentation.

The exec told his co-workers that a "computer virus" had caused the image to appear, the Chronicle says, but he was sacked almost immediately from his position. The Chronicle adds that the man has also resigned from his position as the pastor of a Baptist church in the Fort Worth, Tex. area.

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.11.02



 
Valiant Michigan Wolverines to Play Pathetic Second-Rate Institution
So Sports Illustrated's "Stewart Mandel" thinks that the hooligans on Ohio State University's football squad will beat the Conquering Heroes of Michigan at noon on Saturday. Nineteen to nine, he says. They're really a good team at home, he says. They don't have John Cooper at the helm anymore, he says.

Faugh! The very idea that the spoiled, second-rate, namby-pamby Buckeyes could defeat the University of Michigan is silly. Sure, we let them win occasionally, but we never let them win when they have a chance to have an undefeated season. Furthermore, the boys in blue know full well that, to their legions of die-hard fans, this game is practically the season itself. Hence, failure is not an option. Not an option at all.

Besides, you saw OSU play Illinois, right? You saw Illinois almost win in overtime, right? Exactly. There's no way in the world that those jokers in red-and-gray have any hope in the world of defeating the Champions of the West.

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.11.02



 
The Fifties, Redux
Gee, I take twenty minutes to write a tongue-in-cheek post which praised the Fifties, and I get slammed for it all over the blogosphere.
It seems that some folks don't have the same type of nostalgia for that era that I have, although other bloggers seemed to agree with me.

But let's deal with the negative comments, which fall into two distinct categories: the social, and the economic.

In the first area, many folks -- Oliver Willis among them -- have taken pains to point out that things weren't exactly rosy for minorities during that era. Their points are well-made. Certainly my intent was not to say that the Fifties were perfect, or that this was something we should just ignore. Jim Crow's legacy is a shameful one on many levels, and you can imagine where we could have been today if we had treated everyone equally throughout the 20th Century.

I do think, though, that those who entirely condemn the Fifties as a bastion of racial intolerance should consider the very real progress that was made on the Civil Rights front during that time. There's no denying that the Fifties were still appallingly infected with overt racism; but it was also the first time when long-standing racialist policies were weakened.

There was the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned 1896's shameful Plessy v. Ferguson decision establishing "separate but equal" school facilities. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to Little Rock to ensure schools there were desegregated. The decade also saw the end of discriminatory laws that shut minorities out of housing, higher education, and public recreational areas. Those things would not have happened in the Twenties or the Thirties.

That's not to say that a lot of things couldn't have been done differently, and that a lot more couldn't have been done during that time. However, the Fifties were the first time real progress was made on the civil rights front, and as such, I think that's worth noting.

Now let's turn to the economic issues, in which I can have a bit of fun.

I have noticed in my visitor logs that folks are arriving at The Rant via one Jesse Taylor, who has taken me to task for my economic commentary. Mr Taylor, who is apparently one of those poor benighted souls born without a sense of humour, has taken much of my quippery in a serious vein. For instance, he seriously seemed to believe that I thought the American Dream was founded on layaway. I thought my tone made it clear I was being silly, but I guess I'll have to explain myself.

I don't think the American Dream was built on layaway. I do think it was built on extremely high rates of productivity in all sectors of the workforce, which, combined with an ever-lowering cost of goods and services, led to people having more money than they had before. Add in reasonable but expanded offers of credit, and the mass availability of capital to businesses and homebuyers on the part of investors and lenders, and suddenly people began to buy their own homes and cars en masse. Hence, the American Dream.

But let's look at Mr Taylor's commentary in depth:

A two-earner family with children has a hard time saving for the future unless at least one earner is some sort of professional - two parents in "menial labour" (between $35,000 and $40,000 a year) could barely support themselves nowadays, let alone an actual family. It has nothing to do with them throwing their money away or anything so flighty. Take a movie, for instance. In the 50's, an expensive night out at the movies might cost you a dollar (food and ticket). Nowadays, a single person going to a night movie might spend as much as $15-18 for themselves (a ticket, a popcorn and soda). I'm lowballing the second estimate and highballing the first one. Still, for a $.25 ticket in 1950, the rough cost (using CPI) should be about two bucks or so. That ticket is at least $6.00, if not $8-10. Living the same way one did in the 50s is virtually impossible, and Kepple should know that.

Using the price of movie tickets to determine a standard of living isn't an acceptable over-time measure. But I would say that the question of whether one can support his family does come down to the fundamental question of thrift, even in this day and age. What does a family want and what does a family need? Does a family really need more than one television set, or more than one car? Does a family really need to take a really nice vacation each year, or could a more modest one suffice?

My point was that it all comes down to this. As a commerical on television points out so well, people who have the same type of families, who have the same income, who have the same lives often end up in different financial circumstances when it comes to paying for big-ticket items like a college education. Don't let appearances fool you: the people who may live in a 2,000 square-foot house could very well afford to live in a 5,000 square-foot abode, while the educated professionals with the jumbo mortgages and the hot cars in the drive may be hoping each day things keep going as well.

He also suggests that the estate tax's repeal would help the economy, which is just silly nonsense. Quite honestly, that whole "top 1%" thing is remarkably true in this case - the estate tax, for all intents and purposes, largely affects only the inheritors of rather large and unearned (by them) sums of money. Like, in the millions of dollars. It stops this whole "massive accumulation of wealth" thing that would be insanely bad, because, unlike the pipe dream, rich people don't always put all of their money back into the employment market. Very often, they keep it for themselves in order to get yet more of it.

Mr Taylor seems to have a basic understanding of what the estate tax does, but he does not have an acute knowledge of how the tax law or the economy works.

The first thing that needs said is that the estate tax affects two classes of individuals in particular. The first is farmers, the second is small businessmen. The reason for this is simple. Farming is not the most profitable business in this world, but the wealth that it does generate often comes in the form of land a homesteader owns. A farm which may only make a small profit each year can be an enterprise worth millions of dollars. When the farmer passes away, it requires the heirs to sell a portion of this land to pay the tax bill. In the case of a small business, an entrepreneur may find that he puts much of his profits back into the business, to help it grow and stay strong, while he himself takes only a moderate salary. When the entrepreneur kicks the bucket, it requires the heirs to sell a portion of or the entire business to pay the tax bill.

These eventualities present some tough questions for policy-makers. For one, keeping the estate tax could mean that the lives of average folks -- the people who work for the landowner or business owner -- are disrupted when the liquidation of the establishment becomes necessary for tax purposes. On the other hand, getting rid of it could pose some problems for the Government's ledger. We'll let the politicians sort out which the correct move is.

Secondly, Mr Taylor does not address another key point: that the super-rich, the very rich, or even the marginally rich, with say over $1 million in investable assets, know how to avoid paying estate taxes. There are a variety of schemes in which this may be done, all legal and all honourable, but the most common of these is a trust. However it is done, though, the long and short of it is that the folks Mr Taylor would like to see have their fortunes diminished will not have them reduced.

But even if these funds are placed in a trust, that doesn't explain his assertion that the rich don't place their monies back "into the employment market." These monies are not squirreled away under a mattress, they are not placed in a Money Bin, they are not jammed into a safety-deposit box. They are invested in the capital markets. This provides the investor with a reasonable rate of return on his investment, while the firms he has invested in will use that money to produce goods or services, thus leading to jobs and income for workers and spending in the economy. If the value of the shareholder's investment rises, he can then plow a realized profit into other investments, thus continuing the cycle. Or, if he feels that he has the cash on hand to do so, he can engage in consumerism. His spending will help create jobs elsewhere. Look at it this way, Mr Taylor: everyone who buys an $80,000 Jaguar sedan directly accounts for one or two jobs right there, and indirectly for perhaps five or ten more.

The rest is rather silly attempts at humor and blatant ignorance of his own shining whiteness.

(look at hands)(scream in horror)

Speaking as someone who actually pays a small amount of attention to the economy - the main problem now is that there is virtually no capital investment going on now. New jobs are not being created because money is not being spent. Money is not being spent because the insurance of jobs is not there. Productivity keeps rising, and the workforce keeps being encouraged to limit its own growth. Real proportion of wages keeps growing, rather disparately, between the top income earners and the bottom income earners. A return to the "good old days" of the 50s, when it was really easy for white people to get what they needed while minorities went to inferior schools, got inferior jobs and suffered the indignity of inferior facilities, would perhaps be the worst thing for the nation besides a return to the 1850s.

Well, as I thought I had pointed out, I am most certainly not advocating a return to Jim Crow. But back to the economics.

It's true that we're in a recession, although it seems like we're rapidly approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. Productivity would appear to be the engine that is driving our economy, although I don't see how the workforce is encouraged to limit its own growth. When people work, they produce; and when they produce; money is made. Full employment, of course, can lead to inflation. But if it appears inflation is getting out of hand, the Fed can raise interest rates or take other corrective action, like having Alan Greenspan dress up in a chicken costume.

As for the disparity of income between the classes, we have seen it grow, but only during the Nineties. In fact, from 1967 to 1992, Census Bureau data shows that income levels generally stayed steady. Even now, though, the income disparity has not grown by all that much. I also think that given the wave of corporate scandals, we will see this inequality reduce as the true top-flyers have their compensation packages reduced.

We'll get back on track eventually, don't you worry about that. And anyone who is able to move along with the changes in today's economy will be able to stay on track, come hell or high water.

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.11.02



 
A Resolution I Shall Probably Regret
On Jan. 1, 2003, I am going to quit smoking.

Actually, given my past attempts at quitting, in which I have fallen off the wagon faster than a cowboy ducking for cover at the OK Corral, I should really say that I am going to attempt quitting smoking. Still, I have purchased rather a large box of nicotine gum, rather a large bottle of Motrin, and rather a large box of pens so that I can chew on the ends when I want a smoke. For this time I am actually serious about quitting, more so than the other four or five times, and I hope that I can succeed.

Whether I can do so is another matter. This stuff has its claws into me like you wouldn't believe, and I can tell you what exactly is going to happen when I do quit. I'll use the nicotine gum about as sparingly as I can during the first week or so, and in response I will suffer a range of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. I will probably smoke my last on New Year's Eve. By noon on New Year's Day, I'll be notably wanting a cigarette, and by 6 p.m. that evening, I'll be positively craving one.

As the nicotine works its way out of my exhausted and ruined system, I'll begin to get headaches, and the shakes, and cold sweats. I'll be irritable, nasty, and generally unpleasant to everyone around me, even my friends. I'll start purposely hyperventilating so I can get high off the tar coursing through my lungs, and rummage around for some wayward half-smoked cigarette left in the car ashtray. My smoker's cough, which has already taken on qualities like those synthesized by Ferris Bueller when he faked illness, will only grow worse. Finally, after about day three, my wrecked body will collapse in agony.

But four years of this has been enough.

It's not like people haven't tried to tell me what I'm doing to myself. My parents have pleaded with me to stop. My doctors have scolded me. My friends have tried to convince me. My fellow bloggers have encouraged me. Yet, after all this time, I still haven't listened.

Well, I'm listening now. Finally, after a night of doing some Very Hard Thinking about the world and my place in it.

I have decided that there are a few things that I would very much like to have in this world. I would like to perform basic physical activities without wheezing and gasping for breath. I would like to have teeth that actually get clean when I brush them. I would like to be able to really taste food again. I would like, as Dave Barry once put it, not to smell like a low-grade brush fire. Finally, I would like for once to do right by everyone in the world who has kindly taken the time to encourage me to take arms against Demon Tobacco.

So here's the pledge, my friends. From now until Dec. 1, I will continue to smoke as normal. From Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, 2003, I will do my very best to cut down on the amount of cigarettes I smoke, something that usually comes together during the holidays anyway. Finally, on Jan. 1, 2003, I will extinguish them forever. Hopefully, this eternal period will not be like eternal peace, which lasts only until the next war.

But I do think that it's time for me to quit, and to quit for good.

  thus spake Benjamin on 21.11.02


21.11.02  

 
I'm the *What* Again, Now?
The Raving Atheist -- who is fast becoming a favourite around here, folks -- has announced that I am next week's "Godidiot of the Week." Not this week's, but next week's.

A Godidiot, so our resident atheist proclaims, is the type of fellow who infests AOL chat rooms with badly-written screeds aimed at converting, well, everyone else. The type of person that would go to an atheism site after a "Google search like "Jesus+Angels+"remove tattoo"+NASCAR."

I would have enjoyed such a parry from our resident atheist had it been kept a surprise. Instead, now I shall have to wait days upon days to see our resident atheist's response to my response to the original posting. This is what troubles me.

For the ball is in the atheist's court, and there's nothing I can do about it. Indeed, as our atheist has an enjoyable weekend, I'll be forced to wait and see what is written. Yes, as a certain party enjoys the sunny and warm weather of his or her tropical clime, I shall rue the miserably cold dampness and fog here in the Granite State. As our atheist enjoys the luxurious space of a nice flat, I shall type away in my small hovel. And as our atheist is remarking on the intense bouquet and the muted tannins of some latest acquisition of red wine, which goes so well with the pecorino romano and the arugula salad, I shall drink copious amounts of flavored malt beverages.

Sure, that wine might be Clos du Bois -- the famed California vintage with its spokesman who eez not from Fraaaaance. But it beats what I can get at 10:30 on a Thursday night. Hard lemonade, anyone?

  thus spake Benjamin on 21.11.02



 
He Wouldn't Drive a Prius
An anti-SUV protest in the greater Boston area had ministers among its participants, according to an article in Grist magazine. One of these ministers, as he vainly attempted to cause the populace to stop purchasing sport-utility vehicles, was lauded for carrying a sign which read: "What Would Jesus Drive?"

What indeed. It seems a bit silly to me to ask what the Son of Man, the second person of the Triune God, would choose as His automobile. But it could be a fun question, so let's have at it. And the first thing we've got to do is get rid of this notion that Christ would drive an environmentally-friendly car.

Sure, no man knows the day nor the hour of the Second Coming. It could come tomorrow, or it could come ten billion years hence. What we do know, or rather what we can conjecture, is that there will be no use Saving the Earth when it happens. After all, the nice thing about the end of the world is that you don't have to worry about future generations or carbon emissions or what will happen to the ozone layer.

But should it happen within my lifetime, I am fully confident that I will not see Him merrily buzzing about the roads in a New Beetle, or a Prius, or even one of those all-natural gas cars Government officials drive. After all, we're talking about the Christian God; not some enviro-friendly sociology major who thinks his car will help him get some action.

No, my friends, I think this is what's going to happen. As the vast majority of us still left beat the stuffing out of each other in a futile attempt to escape firestorms, millions of locusts, and an unstoppable angelic horde, Christ is going to drive by in a Hummer. I mean the fully decked-out, semi-military, manly version that can knock down anything in its way. That type of Hummer.

He's probably going to want that, since the roads will be nearly impassable, hail and firestorms will have put many otherwise-usable cars out of commission, and sulphur-breathing armies will be busy slaughtering any and all people who were foolish enough to put "In Case of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned" bumper stickers upon their vehicles. Besides, I would submit that He would not take the trouble to return if He was going to get stuck in a cramped two-seater. He does not care about a Government tax credit; he is going to need a real machine to do some real important work.

The Hummer would be the clear choice of vehicle for this work. It's got a disturbing amount of cargo space, which means He could pick up a few lost souls along the way and still have room for whatever He takes on road trips. It's got a powerful engine, which means He can hit 0-60 in no time flat. Last but not least, the thing's got stopping power. I don't care if the whole host of Hell is arrayed against Him; he'll be able to flatten them in one blow. Have you ever seen how bloody wide one of those things are? Gad.

OK, so I'm being silly in this little exercise. But then again, maybe it's silly for ministers to get involved in questions about the type of automobiles their parishioners drive, eh?

  thus spake Benjamin on 20.11.02


20.11.02  

 
Report: Young Adults Clueless
One of the lines in an old song, written during the Vietnam Era, was as follows: "The President, he's got his war/Folks don't know just what it's for." If this study, reported on today in the Washington Post is any guide, most 18-to-24 year-olds not only don't know what our prospective war is for, they might not even know where it is.

Only 13 percent of Americans surveyed could find Iraq on a blank map. Only 17 percent could find Afghanistan. Only 89 percent could find The United States of America. And if that wasn't bad enough, they proved equally clueless on America's internal geography. A majority of people around my age don't even know where New Jersey is. New Jersey, for Pete's sake.

Maybe we need a better map. Something that the kids will understand. I suggest scratch-n-sniff technology. We could use pizza for New York, pine trees for Oregon, seafood for Maine, and other smells as needed for various parts of the country.

"Dude! What in the hell is THAT?" "I think it's Hoboken!"

  thus spake Benjamin on 20.11.02



 
Right! That's It!
As of 6 PM EST today, I have declared that The Rant is officially a Michael Jackson-free zone. There will be no more links to galleries featuring his horrible visage, no more links to stories about his extravagant lifestyle or his odd-ball decisions, no more comments about his disappointing latest albums, or his weird acts in public, or his hair catching on fire. The enduring success of "Thriller" can't save him this time around -- this is it!

For the last day or so, the rather disturbing footage of Jackson holding his own child from a hotel balcony stories above the ground practically invaded my normally relaxing time in which I watch the news. Such an act is not merely weird or strange, it is downright stupid. As such, I am condemning him to the Perdition of People Beneath Ranting About. He has finally fallen to the level where he gives rhetorical pleasure neither to Hell nor Heaven, and as such he will be left to suffer the merciless swarm of bloggers that deeply care about the entertainment industry.

I don't care if he now claims it is all a terrible mistake. I wash my hands of him and wish him a very nice life.

Or, at the very least, a life in which his face doesn't disintegrate into a brackish pool of ichor in front of hundreds of stunned onlookers.

  thus spake Benjamin on 20.11.02



 
What's the Sentence That Scared the Hell Out of Me This Week?

You can find out here, in Lileks' very important Bleat about why folks shouldn't tell other people how TV shows or movies end. ESPECIALLY when they involve The Sopranos. Dear God, I about had a heart attack when I read the second sentence.


  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02


19.11.02  

 
Quote of the Day
(On Providing Equal Time to Terrorist Sympathizers)

"Well, fuck that shit. I don't need to be balanced and even-handed about condemning murderers. I don't need to mourn a dead terrorist, because hey, he was just another victim of the cycle of violence "since the resumption of hostilities." I don't need to extend the courtesy of respect to people who would kill me--not merely post amoral comments on my blog, but gun me down or blow me up because of my religion and my nationality--by providing them a forum for their twisted Thanatos-drive on my own site."

-- Asparagirl

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

(roar cheers of approval)
(slam gavel twice)

Very well put. Game, set, match!

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
OK, We're NOT Back Where We Belong
(Or, "Crix Nix Wack Hacks")

Variety informs us today that the American Broadcasting Co. has a show in the works to find America's "hottest" man and woman.

As one might expect, the show -- which will be called "Are You Hot?" to draw in the crucial IQ-under-80 demographic -- is proudly trumpeted as lacking any intellectual or creative merit. Indeed, the programme's producers explicity inform the Variety scribe that the show will feature lots of people wearing skimpy outfits and having them get into overly-dramatized conflicts. Whether this will actually take the form of a real conflict, or simply lead to a convienient battle in a tub of mud, remains to be seen.

These people are damned lucky they're not living in Comstock's era.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
(deleted 6 - 6 - 03; contact me for info)

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
I Left Los Angeles for THIS?
It's 27 degrees here in Manchester right now, and outside I can hear one of my neighbors trying frantically to start his car. It is apparently lodged in some sort of hellish ice and snow bank and, as if to add insult to injury, its engine will start but not stay running. He is revving the motor with a vengeance, and the car has apparently stalled.

This would not normally concern me except for the fact that his car -- actually a truck, the fellow is in construction -- has stalled in the middle of the driveway to my apartment building, where my car is parked. I would very much like to get to work today, so I hope that he is able to get the engine running at some point over the next three hours. Oh, wait, there it goes -- glad to hear it.


  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
Oh, Rats
The Washington Times reports: "The District has twice as many rats as residents, which puts the vermin population at about 1.4 million ..." That's all well and good, but it doesn't answer the obvious question: does that include members of Congress in the total or not?

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
New Links Added

"And lo! For Kepple DID go to New York, after friends mightily encouraged him to do so; and while THERE, he met a whole bunch of SWELL bloggers.(18)

Then, when the PARTY ended, he made his way back to the dark, cold, unfriendly, MISERABLE environs of New England, but NOT forgetting the great time he had in New York, nor the PEOPLE therein. And Kepple ADDED those people not previously on his blogroll to the blogroll, saying, "Come, let us add THEM to the blogroll, so we CAN spread their wisdom to the multitude." (19)

And the multitude WAS happy, and there was MUCH rejoicing." (20)

--- The Book of Kepple, Chapter 26, 18-20.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
A Spiritual Roll of the Dice
The Raving Atheist has an interesting post on one of man's age-old spiritual questions: just who gets into heaven when all is said and done? Does this group consist only of Christian believers, as some would argue, or would it consist of everyone who has lived a good life? The post comes from a Newsday feature on the question, and the two main conclusions our site's resident atheist draw are as follows:

How to get out of this dilemma? The Squad gives this advice: the "standoff is solved, or at least moderated, by a good dose of humility . . . [i]f religious people who wish to convert others to their faith would focus on acts of kindness and charity, justice and mercy, they would both serve their faith and increase their flock far more than by beating prospective converts over the head with texts they don't believe." But how does this resolve anything? Serving one's faith and increasing one's flock doesn't help anyone, if the faith is false and the flock goes to hell. And how is someone's being nice to you a reason to accept his beliefs about the afterlife? Isn't the whole debate over whether it's (1) being nice, or (2) believing in Jesus, that gets you into heaven? Wouldn't it be much nicer, in the long run, to beat people over the head with texts to insure their eternal life?

Let me propose my own solution. There is zero evidence that human consciousness survives death, and zero evidence that heaven exists. The notion that some omnipotent being had a son and killed him just to formulate a belief-based litmus test for letting people into heaven is insane. People may well see my name in the telephone book and question whether I really exist, whether it's just a misprint or a name planted by the telephone company to combat copyright infringement -- but their disbelief would not entitle me to torture them for a short while, much less eternity, even if I had murdered a kid to give them something to believe in. So why not just drop all this silly afterlife talk and be nice to each other during the only lives we've got?


I have to admit that our atheist's candor is refreshing (as one would expect from such a friendly dinner companion). C.S. Lewis famously noted that there were many people of a non-religious bent who argued that Christ was simply a great moral teacher, but that this was the one conclusion one must not draw. With the things He did, and said, and promised to do, Lewis pointed out that He did not intend for us to think of Him as a great moral teacher. He intended for us to think of Him as the Son of God; and if Christ was not, Lewis argued, then He was either as mad as a poached egg or He was the Devil of Hell.

But the idea that God acts in a manner some people find irrational can't lead to the conclusion that God does not exist. Who are we, after all, to look into the mind of God? When Einstein made his famous quip that "God does not play dice," that was the answer given to him, and that is the answer I would give to our resident atheist. To argue with the ways of an omnipotent, omniscient God is futile, whether one believes in Him or not.

After all, one can't exactly ring Him up and ask why He decided to use Job as the centerpiece for a bet the way people bet on a Sunday football game. Nor can we ask Him a lot of the questions to which we would certainly like to know the answers: why He created all of us, for example, or why He told Constantine to paint the chi rho on the shields of his army; or why He continues to let Alec Baldwin have an acting career. Well, we can ask all we like; whether we receive answers to these questions is another matter entirely.

As for the question of entitlement, our resident atheist draws the incredible conclusion that God isn't entitled to do whatever He wants. Look. If we're dealing with an omnipotent Power, then the idea that He is or is not entitled to do anything is silly. He can and He will do what He pleases, whether we like the way it turns out or not. We may not like the idea that Hell exists, but that does not invalidate the theory that it does. Some might believe -- and certainly I have known clergymen who believe this -- that there is no Hell; but then, as Lewis pointed out, what good was the Redemption if that wasn't the case?

The long and short of it is that to put God in the role of man -- as if He is entitled to receive His Social Security benefits, or entitled to receive a jury trial -- is a limited, and thus nonsensical, argument.

As for whether being nice helps win converts, I would certainly argue that it does. I speak from personal experience on this one.

Many of my readers know that I am a former Methodist, and that I converted in 2000 to the Catholic faith. Now, you should also know that during what one might call my own period of questioning in this area, I worked in an office environment where many of the workers had deeply-held religious beliefs. There were strong Catholics, like Chris; and there were also a number of evangelical Protestants.

At this time in my life, I daresay that I was open to both viewpoints; and like many mainline Protestants looking to renew their faith, I saw myself at a fork in the road. I could veer to one side spiritually, and join either the Catholic or the Orthodox faifths; or I could veer to the other, and become a more fundamentalist Protestant. The Protestants in my office weren't all that enthused about my entry into the Catholic church; but there was no such opprobrium coming from the other side of the aisle. And what got me started down the path to Roman Catholicism was not a sermon about Hellfire or brimstone, but rather a few quiet talks about God and an open invitation to Mass.

The gentleman responsible for my conversion to Roman Catholicism -- Chris Weinkopf -- knew that one could catch a fly much more easily with honey than with vinegar. And when you look at the idea of worshipping God not as a defense against rot and disease and boiling oil, but rather as a homecoming after a long trip, then I think you become closer to Him.

But that doesn't answer the final question: who gets in? After all, not getting into heaven means one or more distinct unpleasantries. We Catholics have a bent towards believing in Purgatory, where souls are cleansed before their eventual admission into Heaven. Of course, there is also the prospect of Hell, from which none escape. But contrast that to the message that John 3:16 so famously tells us; that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I don't claim to know the mind of God, what He thinks, how He chooses who gets in and who doesn't. But I have never thought Him so bound by earthly logic that He would not find a way to reward those who served Him without knowing that they did so. Would He condemn those who never had a chance to hear His word; condemn those who followed a different path? He might, but that has never struck me as something He would do. It just doesn't seem to fit with the notion of an all-powerful, but also merciful and loving God.

Of course, there are those who would argue otherwise. But they generally take more of a literal view towards Scripture than I do, and to avoid the tangential question of whether Scripture is the Word of God or the Word of God as Written By Man, let me just say it's a view with which I don't agree.

Rather, I've always seen those tough quotations about Hell and the Redemption as most meaningful towards Christians. They seem like warnings, really; just as every other faith has its warnings about what will happen to you if you don't live a good life. Some faiths warn that it will mean reincarnation as a lesser being or into a lower caste; mine pretty much spells out to believers what will happen if they stray from the path. Those who have never believed in God may find they have much less to worry about than those who did or do, but have since concentrated more on themselves than on Him.

That, to me, is what it all comes down to. It's not a question of professing one's faith according to a certain rite; it's a question of living one's life well and living one's life in His service. I may not have any evidence of that, but I have faith that when the time comes for each of us, He'll take a good hard look at us knowing everything we don't want to admit and don't want to face and don't want to deal with.

In the meantime, though, let me say that I do agree with one of our resident atheist's conclusions. Being nice to each other in our earthly lives, and putting others first instead of ourselves, is a very good first step down the path that eventually leads to Him.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
Another One Bites the Dust
The Associated Press reports that Governor Don Siegelman of Fl -- I mean, Alabama -- has conceded to his Republican opponent in the race, U.S. Rep. Bob Riley. The move gives Republicans a majority of the corner offices among the 50 states.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
Jawohl!



Have you ever wondered whether Schroeder -- now there's a good German name -- ever practices saying dictator-esque lines in front of his vanity every morning? OK, maybe I'm the only one who would think such a thing.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.11.02



 
"Kids! It's the Gallery of Nature's Mistakes!"
Well, no, actually. It's really a photo essay on how Michael Jackson's face has changed over the years in a weird reverse-Dorian Gray type of situation. Gad. This is almost as disturbing as when I learned Jeffrey Jones was arrested for allegedly sleeping with minors. Well, then again, maybe not.

  thus spake Benjamin on 18.11.02


18.11.02  

 
INTERNATIONAL BLOG SUMMIT HELD IN NEW YORK
At Party Without Equal, Kepple Loosens Up
The Untold Story of Kepple’s Car (“What Do You Mean, Something Fell Off?”)

NEW YORK -- "Gee. This is it. The big co-ed sock hop mixer. Well, I guess I'd better go in there. ... I knew it! They're all LAUGHING at me! And just because my LAPELS are uneven!"

A few years back, the Nick-at-Nite cable channel produced a series of helpful advertisements entitled "How to Be Swell." These black-and-white short films addressed some of the most pressing issues facing America at the time: issues such as how to put out a bacon fire, how to avoid the in-laws coming for a visit, and finally, how to attend a party without making a complete dork out of oneself.

I don't know whether the helpful tips presented in that short firm were of any subconscious aid to yours truly, but I do know that I managed to a) attend the International Blog Summit held yesterday evening at Caffe Taci in New York, N.Y. and b) not make a complete jerk out of myself. Of course, there were some differences between the party as it was and the film I recall. For one thing, in 1956 -- when the stock footage for the film was retrieved -- we know through societal records such as this that alcohol did not exist. On the other hand, I think I had more to drink last night (three beers, three double-shots of gin, and a rather good glass of red wine) then I have had in a long time.



See? Here’s me on double-shot No. 2.

If you think that's scary, look what happens when you put the photo under a blacklight:



Uh oh, the secret's out. But that's getting ahead of myself a little bit.

The trip nearly ended up in disaster. For, while I cleverly concealed this choice information from friends and family, you should know that there was some tension on Friday afternoon when I was having maintenance work done on the car.

You see, the car needed work. It wasn't bad work -- just the normal type of preventative maintenance one might normally get with a trip of this magnitude. The coolant was looking a bit crusty, so I had the radiator system flushed. The oil needed changed, so I had that done. Finally, the transmission fluid was looking a bit off-brown, not the bright red it’s supposed to be. So I had that flushed and replaced.

During that process, this conversation took place:

GREASE PIT WORKER: “What the -----?”
SUPERVISOR: “What the hell is THAT?”
ME: “Dear God!”
GREASE PIT WORKER: “It just came off!”
ME: “Are things supposed to just fall off?”
SUPERVISOR: “Jesus Christ!”
ME: “Things aren’t supposed to fall off, you know.”
GREASE PIT WORKER: “GAAAAH.”
SUPERVISOR: “Have you ever had this transmission serviced?”
ME: “No! It hasn’t needed servicing! It’s worked FINE!”
SUPERVISOR: “Well, how the hell did …”
ME: “Well, wait. I had the fluid flushed out back when I was in California.”
SUPERVISOR: “Ahhhhh. It looks like someone tried to do something and this got stuck.”
ME: “What the hell is it?”

Well, what the hell was it, you ask? It was apparently some sort of measuring device used the last time I had my transmission fluid flushed. Back in California, over a year-and-a-half ago. Incredibly, this long plastic tube caused no damage, and The Family Truckster’s transmission has run incredibly well ever since.

I also had a bit of trouble actually getting to the hotel for which fellow-blogger Scott Rubush had conveniently arranged. Due to a transcription error, Scott accidentally told me that the Hotel Ameritania was on East 54th St, as opposed to West 54th St. So I arrived right on time, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, only to find myself in front of a Japanese restaurant. Fortunately, I was able to navigate the city's subway system and reach our temporary abode sound and healthy.

After a pre-party at "Texas Texas" near Times Square, and watching a disappointing finish to the Illinois-Ohio State University game, Scott and I -- comprising the delegation from Small But Disturbingly Influential States -- proceeded to Caffe Taci. And boy! What a great party it was! Great Italian food, lots of drinking, and best of all the enlightened company of about 15 to 20 bloggers in all. There is nothing better than having hours upon hours of great conversation. Well, OK, there are a few things, but until I'm accidentally sent $22 million in negotiable bearer bonds through the post, I dare say this ranked up there.

Six hours after the party's 9 p.m. start, with the company of Scott, the Raving Atheist, Nick Marsala, Megan McArdle, Asparagirl, Andrew Dodge, Tom Paine, Ken Goldstein, Paul Frankenstein, Ravenwolf, and other people I've undoubtedly forgotten or just can't recall, we closed the place down, and it was great fun. Not only did I learn things about the world few other people know about, I got to talk with a bunch of great folks and listen to more opera solos in one sitting than I ever have before.

A special thanks, of course, goes out to Sasha Castel, our notoriously-witty and always well-informed hostess for the evening. She did the yeoman's work of arranging the event, bringing everyone together, and making sure everyone ponied up for their share of the $600 tab. In cash, no less. Thanks, Sasha!

Oh, one final note. Last night, it was suggested to Scott and I that we have breakfast at a bagel company on the Upper West Side notable for the quality of its bagels. We didn't do so, and I am now regretting this decision on my part.

You see, being a Midwesterner, the bagels we get out there in the provinces are nearly-always frozen or served cold. As such, there are many preferable baked goods other than bagels, such as croissants or donuts, for one to eat. I found out this morning that this is not the case in New York.

There, at a little cafe next to our hotel, Scott and I had really, really, really good bagels for breakfast. In fact, the bagel sandwich I had was perhaps the best bagel I have ever eaten in my life. This truly makes me wonder what I was missing out on by not tracking down this little store. However, I do believe that this may actually have an upside to it. I do plan to return to America's greatest city, of course, so I can stop there the next time I visit. And when I do, the sheer goodness of those promised bagels will not be wasted on someone who doesn't know any better!

UPDATE: Rubush spends another day in New York, and also has a report on the shindig. So, for that matter, does Sasha.

  thus spake Benjamin on 17.11.02


17.11.02  

 
Pain and Triumph
OK, so I can't leave just quite yet. I've laundry in the machines and dinner on the way, so what's a man to do?

Anyway, Richard Bennett has compiled a great list of Democratic reaction to their rather surprising loss on November 5th. Well, I wouldn't say so much Democratic reaction, as I would liberal reaction of the very hysterical stripe. Mr Bennett has uncharitably called this the "National Dumbass Competition," but I think that we can forgive them for being a bit overwrought. After all, the Triumphant Legions of The Right are gleefully waiting to take over the Senate.

However, being forgiving of the Democrats' malaise is one thing. Accepting it is another thing entirely. So let's look at some of the idiocies Mr Bennett so helpfully compiled (he has many more, I assure you).

First up on the Cavalcade of Doltishness is an article by one Monica Friedlander at the non-party democrats.com web-site. Ms Friedlander argues that her party was defeated from without as opposed to within. Well, maybe shrilly bleats is a better word than argues, as Ms Friedlander claims the GOP and the media "raped" the Democratic Party.

I'm not kidding. This is what she wrote:

The Democratic Party has been raped -- by the GOP with their appeal to faux patriotism and wartime frenzy; and by the media who used the full power of the Fourth Estate to spin, spin, spin for the GOP. Let's seek out the culprit and expose him instead of turning on the Democrats when they're down.

Monica -- Gee, that's an unfortunate name, isn't it? -- if you look very closely, you'll see a guy hunting thirteen miles west of Jackson Hole, Wyo., with a party of hangers-on and lackeys aiding him as he hunts for a "wascally wabbit." That's your culprit, now go and get him!

All snickering aside, I must say I find this bit about The Conservative Media really rather funny. Golly, President Clinton is in office for eight years and runs roughshod over the Republicans, partially aided by the fact that he's the President, and the fact that what he does is news. Mr Clinton could have gotten national coverage for coughing on the way to a Marine helicopter. Suddenly, President Bush gets in office and the media has turned into an angry bloc of right-wing stormtroopers.

This, of course, is crap. If Monica knew how much most journalists made, she would realize that according to Traditional Democratic Thought, they couldn't be Republican.

There was nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that the Democratic Party, and especially its chair, Terry MacAuliffe, could have done differently to resist the hurricane from the right.

If that's true, then I suppose we had best say our good-byes to the Party of the Left. They could have done something -- like had a coherent plan to salvage Social Security, or fix the economy, or cut government spending. That's a platform; that's a plan. If the Democrats had one, they didn't do a great job at getting that out.

But for whatever reason we choose to listen to emotional appeals that a stronger liberal voice would have helped us prevail. This view is borne out of ideology and wishful thinking. But political campaigns can't run on emotion, but on facts and rational analysis.

What was the last Democratic political campaign Ms Friedlander studied in-depth? Adlai Stevenson's?

All this is not to say courage shouldn't be encouraged, or that political calculations should rule the day. Quite the contrary. Had Democrats followed the example set by Paul Wellstone, Ted Kennedy and Al Gore and stood up to Bush, we would have felt a lot better. Had there been enough of them to prevail in crucial Congressional votes, the country would have been better off. But the party --on election night-- would not. We would have been trounced even more.

OK, so what you're telling us here is that if you had stuck to your core principles, you would have lost even worse than you did on Election Night. Why aren't you asking yourself if this is an indictment of your core principles? Maybe there's something a bit, I don't know, outdated and old-fashioned about them.

What did us in was something we were powerless to stop: the Orwellian brainwashing of the American electorate. Bush and the media created a crisis mentality, milking 9/11 for all it's worth, wrapping themselves in the flag, branding all opposition as unpatriotic, creating a perpetual enemy, and veiling America in an atmosphere of fear and terror. The electorate bought the propaganda hook, line and sinker. There was nothing the Democrats could have done to stop it.

Hoo boy. So instead of blaming yourselves -- the American thing to do -- you're blaming the voters and calling them idiots. Have you considered the voters may not like being called idiots? If in two years the Democrats come roaring back, I'm not going to blame a Democratic/media conspiracy aimed at brainwashing voters, I'm going to look at what the GOP did wrong.

Besides, if you were powerless to stop the Republican onslaught, why did you bother going out to the polls and working the campaign and the telephone banks and all of that? Really. If you're not going to give yourself any credit for anything, then why bother? Just give up, go home, and let the adults run the country.

Last but not least, the Democrats are being subjected to unfounded accusations -- perpetrated by the GOP and others who stand to gain by Democrats' failure -- that the vote on November 5 was a repudiation of the party. It was not. The numbers prove it. A switch of merely 50, 000 combined votes in Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire would have given us a Democratic Senate. Would there have been such an outcry against the Democrats had that happened?

Oy vey. Unfortunately, that's not how things work in America, Monica. That's like saying a switch of merely 500,000 votes nationwide in 2000 would have shut you and all the other Gore partisans up for the past two years. It doesn't change anything and it doesn't do anyone any good. The election's over. You lost. If you can't deal with it, you are going to lose many more elections in future.

But enough. Let's look at our second exhibit on the Cavalcade: Mark Morford, an SF Gate columnist. What that means is that Mr Morford is not a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, but an on-line columnist for its web-site. You may take from that what you will. Anyway, Mr Morford writes:

Feel that numbness? ... It's just the dark storm clouds of sadness and savage spiritual pain that just settled in over the collective soul of the country and indeed much of the world recently, as the Republican Party snatched total control of the American government and really honestly promised to further its agenda of fear and war and intolerance and bad sex and more petroleum products forevermore.

Dude. That's harsh, even from Mark "Run-on Sentence Boy" Morford. The last time I checked, I was not in favor of fear, war, or intolerance. I certainly was not in favor of bad sex. I may not be in favor of promiscuous and risky sexual behaviour, but that's just because discouraging such behaviour a) makes better public policy and b) is smarter in the long run.

I am in favor of more petroleum products forevermore, though. And Mark -- I'm surprised, given your above list of items, that you're not in favour of that.

Ahem. Anyway, Mark -- yes, he no longer merits a Mr -- goes on:

And the basic upshot being that Congress will now have almost zero struggle or balanced counterargument when the GOP chooses to ram through more generally invidious resolutions and white-power laws.

Dude. Mark, you need to switch to some of that fair-grown decaf the next time you're over in Berkeley.

Laws that further its famously mean-spirited schema of war, oil, corporate cronyism, CEO inbreeding, heartlessness, artlessness, cultural molestation, giddy homophobia and really awful fashion sense. Let us not also forget anti-choice misogyny, racism, gluttony, support for Big Agribiz and Big Tobacco and a general antipathy toward anyone who makes less than six figures or who really cares about the environment or enjoys true religious freedom or alternative viewpoints or authentic orgasms or honest laughter.


Dude. What is wrong with you? Do you honestly think having Republicans in control of Congress means this is going to happen to you?



Gad. You know, given the aimless blabbering thus far, I wouldn't be surprised if you did.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe "Mark Morford" is really a pseudonym and you claim that you telecommute from Oakland or someplace, but you're really a conservative operative working out of Falls Church, Va. That seems to make more sense, because I can't believe that anyone with your supposed views would write something so silly it would work in Republicans' favour.

Tell you what, why don't you throw in a little more hyperbole there? Why not claim that the Republican Party is going to draft single-mothers on welfare to mine anthracite in northeastern Pennsylvania? Or throw in something about how union members are going to be interred in camps until they are forced to put land mines along the Mexican border? Come on, get inventive!

In short, it is an agenda that contains much sneering about anything that doesn't gibe with rich white-bread American doctrines of money and power and the earnest care and nurturing thereof. Yay, Republicans! Suggested GOP slogan for 2004: "More SUVs in more private gated communities now!"

Strange, but where would one find rather a lot of sport-utility vehicles and private gated communities? Yes, that's right, California. You win a cookie, which you can dunk in your fair-grown environmentally sound Peet's Coffee while you drive your aging, inefficient, polluting auto.

(Mark, you've written a lot of crap here, so I'm going to skip down a few paragraphs, kay?)

Such was their conundrum. (Democrats) couldn't very well run on an anti-war platform because the Bush/Cheney/Rummy Axis of Evil has made certain the nation is far too terrified, and hence anyone who opposes the war is still considered a heathen pagan witch sodomite bastard leper by much of the gun-totin' vigilante populace.

Mark, out here on the East Coast -- you know, that place where the attacks happened, where we've good reason to be a bit on edge -- we generally like the idea of the war. Not all of us, of course, but we're not like you softies who all hate it. I also find it interesting you don't notice your slip in saying "much of the gun-totin' vigilante populace." That seems like you're admitting you're outnumbered!

They couldn't very well run on the miserable economy thing because, well, sure Dubya drove it into the tank and major multibillion-dollar corporate scandals have rocked his administration and layoffs abound and the CEOs are snickering like mad, but we are still at "war," after all. Fear über alles, friends. God bless America.

If the corporate scandals rocked the Bush Administration, why did Bush and the Republicans do so well in the election?

(Oh dear. You've written a lot more that's unworthy of a response. OK! We'll skip down)

This then, is why this is an extremely dangerous time. Why the energy has shifted so darkly, why the wind feels so bitter and the gods are shaking their heads and popping the Valium and heading off to the spa. Neither party should have such power. And the GOP now has far too much. The counterbalance lost its footing. The greedmongers and the power vipers have been loosed like never before in recent history. The center cannot hold ...

As noted crusty and ruthless and largely unpleasant former Clinton adviser James Carville observed just after the election, "The American people just don't have a clue as to what's coming." If you are female, gay, bisexual, atheist, black, immigrant, poor, progressive, intellectual, open minded, open hearted, if you hold alternative views, dress funny, dance, enjoy sex, read seditious literature, believe in peace and funky spirituality and don't particularly care for a sneering angry self-righteous well-armed anti-everything deity, you are about to find out. The hard way. And so is everyone else.


Being male, straight, religious, white, native, middle-class, insurgent, a traditional dresser and a believer in a Just Yet Rather Annoyed God, I think I'm part of the "everyone else" bloc that you describe, Mark. Not only do I have a clue as to what's coming, I'm generally looking forward to the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Two whole years where conservatives can pretty much run things, and no one's going to be able to stop them.

Ha. Ha! HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Sorry. I just had to do that. I haven't been able to do the patented Evil Kepple Post-Election Laugh since 1994. Anyway, I don't even think that many of the folks you include in your supposed bloc there will have all that much to worry about. You, on the other hand have plenty to worry about.

You see, those folks' lives might just improve over the next two years. That would lead not only to further Republican victories and a sea-change in many voters' opinions, but it might mean people got sick of your self-righteous, pedantic, damnfool, idiotic, feeble-minded, braindead columns.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.11.02


16.11.02  
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