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.

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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.

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Deo Gratias!
The Vatican has published a modern-day Latin dictionary with NEW Latin words for the modern age -- and it is only $115! Sadly, the translations only go from Latin to Italian, which does me absolutely no good. But we can hope that an English translation will soon be on its way.

  thus spake Benjamin on 31.5.03


31.5.03  

 
Oregon Now Less Weird, Albeit Only Slightly
Mental-health officials in Multnomah County, Ore., have decided against hiring a Klingon-speaking interpreter, commentator Michael Nevin reports. It seems the county, in which the city of Portland is located, has now declared the move to hire such a person was not only a mistake, but an "overzealous attempt to ensure that our safety net systems can respond to all customers and clients."

Despite the obvious crack we could make about the inmates running the asylum, we will refrain from doing so. For one thing, the county made the right decision in the end, and for another, it is likely that the person who thought up this dim idea has been properly chastened. As such, we at The Rant now declare Oregon to be less weird a state than it was previously. However, in doing so, it must be noted that among the fifty states, we still believe Oregon ranks second only to Vermont in terms of its inherent weirdness.

"But wait," some readers will say with a concerned look on their faces. "I've never thought of Oregon as weird. How can you say that?"

Well, that's a reasonable question, even if I would venture to guess that many of these same readers would privately admit they have never thought of Oregon period. However, we here at The Rant were forced to once travel to Eugene, Ore., on business during one long lonely weekend back in 2000, and the experiences we had therein scarred us for life cemented our view of that state in perpetuity. We're sorry, but they did.

For one thing, you can't pump your own gasoline in Oregon. Now that's just weird. New Jersey is the same way, we might add, but at least in New Jersey we can chalk it up to protectionism and graft. We would note that there is absolutely no reason why a man should not be allowed to pump his own gasoline in this day and age; but such a rule is even stranger when one considers how rural Oregon is. Gad. And it's not like you get the old Fifties-style treatment at Oregon gas stations either, when some friendly clean-cut gent offered to change your oil. No! With the service I got while I was in Eugene, I'd say I was lucky the gas cap got correctly replaced.

For another, everything in Oregon -- or at least Eugene -- seems to have a forest-green/bright-yellow colour scheme, right down to the municipal airport. This is weird. The colour-scheme exists because green and yellow are the (weird) colors of the University of Oregon. The University, we might add, has a correspondingly weird name for its sports teams: the Ducks. (Good gravy, what were these people smoking when they came up with "Ducks" as a sports-team nickname? I mean, not only is it not so weird as to be pretty cool -- e.g. The University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs -- no respectable athletic squad would be stricken with fear or desperation when they learned they were playing the Ducks next week).

Please realize that we could go on for hours, discussing everything from Oregon's Government to the state's fanatical dislike for Californians, as reasons for why the place is just weird. But this would be time-consuming and psychologically ill-advised. So, instead, we would also say we believe Oregon to be caught in a strange time warp.

You see, when we visited Eugene, we didn't think anyone had bothered to do any redecorating since the Seventies. Certainly our motel, with its faux wood paneling and hideous decor, was Straight Out of Seventy-Eight. The one Chinese restaurant we saw? If we recall right, the one that was painted bright yellow? That screamed Seventies. Other parts of the city were similarly faded and worn-down. And we won't even mention the University itself, where most folks probably wished we were all still back in the Seventies. But that is neither here nor there. Just take my word for it -- the place is weird.

Weird, weird, weird.

Anybody know how to translate that into Klingon?

  thus spake Benjamin on 31.5.03



 
This'll Put a Grimace on Your Face
The Italian operation of the McDonald's Corporation has sued food writer Edoardo Raspelli for $25 million after a scathing review of its cuisine supposedly hurt business, The Washington Times reported in Friday's editions. While the firm's U.S. headquarters has disavowed any knowledge of the affair, the issue has caused a torrent of controversy in the Italian press.

We here at The Rant present the Times' summary of Mr Raspelli's criticism as a public service to our readers, and leave it up to them to draw their own conclusions:

"It takes a big effort to imagine this food as healthy," wrote Edoardo Raspelli in the Italian newspaper La Stampa in December. "The ambience was mechanical, the potatoes were obscene and tasting of cardboard, and the bread poor. I found it alienating and vulgar," he continued, adding that McDonald's signature Big Mac hamburger is nothing more than "fodder" and that the restaurant "symbolized oppression of the palate" ...

The 230 McDonald's restaurants in Italy, which employ 10,000 people, are perhaps a bit fancier than those on the turnpike. Their dishes include a local fiordiriso salad with rice and tuna, and a McMusic outlet in Naples features a Dolby surround-sound system, a music-video screen and sculptures. But Mr Raspelli says he was doing his job.

"I wrote what I thought about the fast-food kitchen. I find it repellent. But I have insulted nobody," he countered, comparing his McDonald's dining experience to filling up at a gas station. "I cite my right to make food criticism."


To be fair, the Times reports that the company says it only uses the finest ingredients, and will make a point-by-point presentation on the matter.

  thus spake Benjamin on 31.5.03



 
Someone -- Anyone -- Please Call Nelson Mandela,
And See if He'll Work on the Zimbabwe Matter

Why should we do that? It's because Thabo Mbeki, Mr Mandela's successor as President of South Africa, will do absolutely nothing to fix things even though his nation would likely have the most influence on Zimbabwe's Government, that's why.

You should know that Mr Mbeki has written an op-ed in The Guardian, in which he blames Zimbabwe's past colonial overlords for its recent troubles. Now, I'm not arguing that the United Kingdom could not have done more to assist Zimbabwe when it made its transition to (its then-) democracy in 1980. Nor have I ever felt sympathetic to the plight of the whites that have remained in the country. Old Rhodesia's racial-caste system was so oppressive -- even worse than South Africa under apartheid -- that it would appall any decent person. But to write about Zimbabwe now, without mentioning the name of Robert Mugabe once, is to write nothing.

Why Mr Mbeki saw fit to write such an empty article is not the right question to ask, for it is more than likely he had no hand in writing it. We can ask, however, why this is his position and hence that of his Government. Sasha Castel-Dodge has already taken Mr Mbeki to task for his nonsensical rambling; we here at The Rant shall do the same.

Mr Mbeki writes:

Our experience in the African National Congress tells us unequivocally that no lasting solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe will be found unless that solution comes from the people of Zimbabwe themselves. It tells us that no self-respecting Zimbabwean with any pride in his country will accept that another should determine his destiny.

That's very nicely put. Therefore, I soon expect Mr Mbeki to demand Zimbabwe's Government hold free and fair elections -- untainted from intimidation tactics, ballot-box stuffing, sporadic violence, and general oppression of the people. I also expect that Mr Mbeki will demand that the Movement for Democratic Change and its courageous leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, be allowed to operate as a legitimate political force. Oh. Wait. He's not going to do that, as we see later on.

In the heated atmosphere that surrounds the issue of Zimbabwe, the tendency to pose as high priests at the inquisition, hungry for the blood of the accused, has taken root - as though to demonise and punish is the way to solve the most difficult problems. In this situation, as in war, the truth soon becomes a casualty.

Yes, we can see the truth has already become a casualty, and you're only in your second paragraph. Sir, might I suggest that Zimbabwe's Government are the ones who are acting like high priests at the Inquisition? They certainly seem to do a lot of demonising and punishing.

From its very beginning as an independent country, Zimbabwe understood that it had to address the domination of the socio-economic sphere by the white minority - a legacy of colonialism. However, because of agreements reached during the independence negotiations in London, which counterbalanced the principle of black liberation with the protection of white property, the issue of land distribution was virtually quarantined. London inserted into the political settlement the racist notions of black majority rule and white minority rights.

Well, despite the understandable feeling to exact rather a lot of payback which Mr Mbeki addresses, one can't exactly just take the land from the people managing it and expect everything to run smoothly. You can't do much in this world smoothly unless you have a reasonable transition scheme and time frame in place, much less create a new Government and legal system. Sadly, as we have seen, no decent transition plan -- for land distribution or anything else -- was agreed upon.

Beyond this, the new democratic state worked to advance the socio-economic interests of the liberated majority. It focused on meeting the needs of the people, changing the state machinery to reflect the new political reality, and encouraging black participation in the economy and society in general, so that the majority joined their white compatriots as actors for development, rather than mere consumers and employees.

Well, now that the democratic state has turned into a one-party authoritarian state, it apparently stopped working at that a long time ago.

To advance these objectives, the government ploughed considerable resources into education, with dramatic success. Significant state expenditure went into health too, resulting in an increase in life expectancy from 55 to 59 years. Spending on rural development resulted in the small farmers' share of marketed maize rising from zero in 1980 to 70% in 1989.

There's a "Yes, but ..." coming.

By 1991, the civil service wage bill accounted for 16.5% of GDP, a burden on the economy caused by the rapid expansion of state services and the drive to achieve equal pay for black civil servants. Spending on the social sectors during the same year amounted to 13% of GDP. To alleviate poverty, the state decided to adopt measures that would keep the cost of living low. This was done through a system of subsidies, which has been maintained for two decades. By 1990, such subsidies absorbed a staggering 3.7% of GDP.

It's one thing to have subsidies for certain necessary staples, and another thing entirely to put 35 percent of a nation's gross domestic product under Government control. Ten percent would have worked nicely; twenty percent, what we have here in the United States, would have still been reasonable. But I have a feeling that the whole "rapid expansion of state services" had a bit more to do with the economic problems than the "achieve equal pay" aspect.

Now, I'm sure that there will be a few hackles raised among the libertarians in my audience for my argument that in impoverished nations, certain subsidies for basic staples are necessary. But it reflects the facts of life. Some people will not be able to afford even these goods at free-market rates. When people go hungry, they tend to get angry, and when they get angry, they go out to foment civil discord. And even subsidies running at 3.7 percent of GDP would not have caused problems if other spending was controlled.

These extraordinary expenditures could only be sustained by running a large budget deficit and through foreign borrowing. In other words, live now, pay later. By the end of the first decade of independence, public sector debt stood at 90% of GDP. The capital needed to finance economic growth began to dry up. Contrary to the false assertions about the socialist Mugabe government, Zimbabwe remains an overwhelmingly capitalist economy; but by 1987 private investment had dropped to less than 8% of GDP, compared to an already low 12% in 1985.

One cannot correlate public-sector debt with the availability of private investment capital in this case. In this case, they have very little to do with each other. Consider that many industrialized nations have debt-to-GDP ratios of over 100 percent, and even here in the United States it is about 60 percent. The trouble comes when debt is denominated in the form of dollars, and one's currency has a tendency to float downwards against the dollar because the conditions are not good for investment. When investment dries up or even leaves, economic health is correspondingly affected. Hence the troubles the nation faces.

As early as 1984, when the government had to appeal to the IMF for assistance, it was clear that the path it had chosen was unsustainable. But, contrary to what some now claim, the economic crisis currently affecting Zimbabwe did not originate from the desperate actions of a reckless political leadership, or from corruption. It arose from a genuine concern to meet the needs of the black poor, without taking into account the harsh economic reality that we must pay for what we consume.

Well, one would be a fool to say that reckless political leadership and corruption have little to do with the problems now facing the nation. I imagine that Executive President Robert Mugabe has personal means at his disposal that are far more than he could legitimately place a claim, but we shall never known until we find out about the hidden bank accounts and lines of credit to which he likely has access. I would also imagine that this lack of ethical concern at the top has not gone unnoticed by Mr Mugabe's subordinates in Government.

The longer the problems of Zimbabwe remain unresolved, the more entrenched poverty will become. The longer this persists, the greater will be the degree of social instability, as the poor respond to the pains of hunger. The more protracted this instability, the greater will be the degree of polarisation and social and political conflict.

So we'll have free and fair elections, then, and a system of Government based upon the rule of law? A system that would invite investment from abroad and economic help from the outside world? Oh. No, I suppose not.

To respond to this, the state will have to emphasise law and order. As it responds in this way, the less will it be able to address anything else other than law and order. The more it does this, the greater the absence of order and stability. None of this will happen because there are demonic people in Harare. The internal logic of society compels all of us to be carried along by events, to destinations we may not have sought. As has happened with us at various times, Zimbabweans too will have to break the vicious cycle.

It's all happening because there are demonic people in Harare; they're in charge. Although, I agree this vicious cycle can be broken, perhaps if Mr Mugabe were to conveniently die. However, since that appears unlikely despite his advanced age, we would suggest that he quietly resign and go live abroad in exile. France has never minded before when other despots moved to its shores, so I'm sure they would be amenable to this.

As neighbours, we will encourage Zanu-PF and the MDC to sit down together to agree on a common response to the challenges their country faces. As patriots who occupied the same trench of struggle with Zimbabwe when we, together, battled to end white minority rule in our region, we will do what we can to enable Zimbabweans to enjoy the fruits of their hard-won liberation. Righteous and self-serving indignation will achieve nothing.

And neither will this. Neither will this.

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.5.03


30.5.03  

 
Feng Shui Doesn't Sway Me
Allison Barnes has a nice post up in reference to her home-office space, and how it notably does not conform to the principles of feng shui.

Feng shui, as most probably know, is the ancient Chinese art of arranging one's furniture in such a way so that it maximizes harmony and productivity, while minimizing disruption, bad luck, natural disasters, and so forth. Since this protocol requires that one believe in weird spiritual phenomena that I don't happen to believe in, I find it useless. On the other hand, lest I be seen as insensitive, I must give the Chinese credit for thinking this up. From a capitalist point of view, it is pure genius. Consultant A is able to make a handsome profit dispensing advice all while gaining the psychological satisfaction of watching people frantically redecorate. Customer B, meanwhile, feels better about his or her life. Customer B also reaps the benefits of not having to worry about other people who really buy into what Consultant A is selling, and as such wouldn't come over to his place of residence for dinner if Customer B's chi, or energy, was inadvertently being sucked into the heat vents.

Anyway, after a cursory examination, I realized that my office completely fails to conform to the principles of feng shui. Let's examine some of the principles set forth therein, which I take from those masters of feng shui, the good people at Better Homes & Gardens Magazine:

Do position the work surface so that you are facing the door of the room—positioning your desk this way is the number one rule of thumb to follow when applying principles of feng shui to a home office. Experts say that if you place a desk so that your back is to the door, you'll always feel jumpy, as if you are vulnerable to being "stabbed in the back."

Yeah, whatever. I live in a four-room apartment. There is absolutely no way I can arrange the work surface without it violating the ancient art of "not making one's home look like a cesspit." The work surface also happens to be attached to a very large faux-wooden desk/office set-up which it takes two people to lift. Furthermore, since my father helped me move the damn thing into my current abode, moving the desk would violate the most important of Confucius' Six Relationships. Not only are these far more important than feng shui, we both knew this was the best place for the desk, and as such, that's where the thing will stay.

And I don't feel jumpy because I have my back to the door. That door has a dead bolt, and the door itself is thick enough so that anyone attempting to enter without my permission would break his bloody foot. So there.

Do unclutter your office so that chi, or energy, can naturally flow through the space.

If I uncluttered the office, I couldn't find anything. My current pattern works fine, if I do say so myself. Besides, right now my energy flows naturally from the keyboard to the computer screen, and I want no changes to a system that works so well. And if I changed it, we all know the computer would start acting up, and the blue screen of death would start showing up with alarming frequency, and I'd have to take the thing down to Mike at the computer store, and he charges $35 an hour. Thirty-five freaking-dollars. Gad.

Do cover up your computer and workspace every night if it is located in your bedroom or else you'll feel the constant need to work.

I already feel the constant need to work. Working prevents idleness. Idleness is the devil's workshop. Q.E.D.

Do place a red object in the wealth corner of your desk (top left corner) or office (left corner) to stimulate good luck.

What! Look, I'm not wasting my good luck on things like having my Blogger archives all show up at once. I need my good luck for the next time -- and there will be one, knowing me -- that I end up in hospital for emergency surgery. If luck is a finite resource, then God knows I've used up a significant portion of my luck reserve in my 27 years on His Green Earth. And that's not good. I fully intend to live for at least another half-century more, and some medical experts have told me that I will live to 110, just out of pure spite. Hence, I need to carefully hoard what luck I have left, lest I end up in a tight spot down the line.

So away with this feng shui stuff. I have more important things to worry about, such as what I'm going to have for lunch. Although I must say that at this point, I've got quite a yen for Chinese.

UPDATE: OK, so I post this, and the page gets all bolluxed up. Well, I'm still not using up my good luck reserve. For - get - it!

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.5.03



 
Oh, Dear God, I Need Sunlight
The sun came out for three minutes today. These three freaking minutes were the only time we have seen the sun here in Manchester in ... God. I don't know. I swear it's been at least a week, that's for sure. Perhaps this damp, dreary, wet, cold, miserable weather has lasted for more than that, but to be honest, I'm starting to lose track. This is not good for a sickly fellow like your humble correspondent, especially considering your humble correspondent used to live in Los Angeles.

There, you see, he was treated to endless sunny days with clear skies. The cool, crisp nights would take away the heat, making the weather perfect for a nice walk after dinner along the ocean. Before the walk, of course, he would sit outside of Mercedes' Grill in Venice after a fine meal of Caribbean/Cuban cuisine, listen to the Pacific surf just yards distant and smoke cigars with Rubush. Other nights, he could traverse the three blocks down to James' Beach on Venice Blvd. and do much the same.

(sermon)
Oh, sure, he suffered when things went bad. Sometimes, in January or February, the city would go two or even three days without seeing the sun. And the people DID wail and gnash their teeth, and GRIMLY faced the death and destruction that awaited them on the concrete freeways, and were most BUMMED OUT when the life-sustaining sun failed to appear on schedule. But did he have horrible sinus headaches? Did he suffer from colds and the flu? Did he grow pale and withdrawn, cursing the dreary existence that was visited upon his city day after day? NO! For these things were UNKNOWN to him there!
(end sermon)

OK, I'm whining. I admit it. But you would too if your weather forecast called for rain today and rain tomorrow and rain on the day after that, and -- it could happen -- rain on the day after that too. I mean, this just isn't right. It's as if we're stuck on Ray Bradbury's Venus, where it constantly rains and men go mad due to the constant downpour. Oh, if only we had Sun Domes here -- those wonderful places where folks could sit for a while, have some coffee, and get out of the muck and the rain and the ever-present, soul-deadening gloom.

Sadly, we don't. So I'm forced to do the next best thing.

I'm going to turn on every light in this apartment -- the kitchen light and the bathroom lights and the floor lamp and the two lamps I have on this computer desk for reasons I can't explain, and even that lamp on top of the bookshelf in the room I never use. Even though it's just after midnight, even though it will waste electricity, even though the neighbors whose names I don't even know will secretly chalk up another reason to avoid that guy at the end of the hall. And then, I'm going to get a Diet Coke, and stare at the overly-bright kitchen lamp for a good hour or so.

And I'm going to count down the minutes until fall.

  thus spake Benjamin on 28.5.03


28.5.03  

 
Just a Reminder: Agent Smith Rules
So does Lileks, for that matter. Just read his deconstruction of The Matrix: Reloaded:

The Matrix may be fake, but so is lo-fat soft-serve dessert. Zion is that crappy homemade ice-cream that has chunks of salt and carob instead of proper chocolate. Everyone’s commented on the infamous rave scene, in which the population of Zion crams into the Temple Of No Particular Faith and confronts their imminent death by dancing ecstatically. Big huge slo-mo close-up of feet squishing in the mud. All of a sudden I was channeling my inner Agent Smith. I can’t stand the smell, he said of the Matrix. Buddy, if you thought an average air-conditioned office was bad, try 3 AM in a huge nightclub packed with a quarter-million sweaty people who live on beans.

Now I liked The Matrix: Reloaded. But I don't think I've ever read a better review of the movie, or had more enjoyment reading a review of it.

  thus spake Benjamin on 27.5.03


27.5.03  

 
Florida Woman Demands Veiled License Photo
A Florida woman has demanded the right to wear a veil for her driver's license photograph, the Power Line blog reports.

The Power Line informs us that while one veiled photograph of Sultaana Freeman was already taken for her current driver's license, the State of Florida later ordered her to appear for an unveiled photograph. If she failed to comply, the authorities warned, Ms Freeman would have her license summarily revoked. As one might expect, Ms Freeman has vigorously challenged this decision. She alleges the ban on veiled photographs violates her Constitutional right to practice her faith. Also the photograph is that bad, and she just hates it.

All right, so she didn't allege that second part. But on legal grounds, that second excuse makes about as much sense as the first.

Those of us who were afforded a taxpayer-financed driver's education course in high school should recall the many admonitions from our instructors that driving was a privilege, not a right. After all, the State -- as is its right -- can and does take away this vital mode of transport from people all the time. This is done for a variety of reasons: if they drove while intoxicated, if they can't safely operate a vehicle, if they're minors and they received a citation, and so on. Hence, the State can grant and rescind the right to operate a motor vehicle for any reason it wishes, provided those reasons apply to all citizens -- without regards to their race, color or creed.

So if Florida demands that a resident submit to a photograph to receive a license, he or she shall, unless he or she really develops a fondness for mass transport.

The Power Line also notes: The state will contend that the Islamic religion does not, in fact, prohibit Freeman from being photographed. Freeman's lawyer says this is irrelevant, since under Florida law it makes no difference whether his client's objection is based on a tenet of an organized religion, or is unique to her.

This is an entirely backward argument. It has well been established that one's religion does not prevent one from being subject to secular law. For instance, if a man argued that under his religion, he was obligated to play John Philip Souza music over loudspeakers at three in the morning, he would still get hauled before a court for violating municipal noise regulations. As such, if Ms Freeman does not want to be photographed, she should not apply for a driver's license.

Finally, we would note that Ms Freeman is particularly fortunate not to live in Saudi Arabia.

You see, it's not only that she would not be allowed to drive a car there, or otherwise enjoy many of the basic freedoms which America has rightfully given women over the years. It's that she would also be forced to unveil her face for her identity card photo.

-------
(via Sheila)

  thus spake Benjamin on 27.5.03



 
Fear and Justice in Ohio
What in the hell ... ?

You know, I don't mean to be overly cruel about this ... but this town is a disgrace.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.5.03


26.5.03  

 
Report: Europe Will Fail
Well, all right, that's not what the British Broadcasting Corporation said today. Actually, it reported that former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing has unveiled a draft proposal for a Euoprean Union Constitution. But trust me. It will fail.

For one thing, there's the issue of what to call this new super-Europe. There are reportedly four possibilities: the European Community, the European Union, United Europe, and the United States of Europe. Now I can assure you that the last choice would not only immediately thaw any ice that has formed in the relationship between America and the old European Powers, we on this side of the Atlantic would see it both as a sign of respect and a signal that Europe was committed to true reform vis-a-vis its economic and political systems.

So, naturally, it has no chance of passing at all, as the BBC reports. Of course, I don't see what good the other three names are going to do either. The European Community is politically correct and has a weak aura, like the old European Economic Community. The European Union is blah now. Meanwhile, United Europe suggests not that the new entity would be an alliance of sovereign states, but rather some proto-fascist regime. This may be why it is the favoured choice of the Brussels elite, as the BBC reports.

For another thing, M d'Estaing has suggested that crafting this Constitution is similar to the process which the American Founding Fathers went through to draft the U.S. Constitution.

Well, no. You see, this assertion would only be true if, say, South Carolina had told everyone else at the Constitutional Convention that John Rutledge was going to supervise it, whether they liked it or not. Further, if the other states had not agreed to this, South Carolina would have ensured that there was no Constitution at all.

Furthermore, the Founding Fathers didn't demand a lavish salary, personal retainers or a year-long stay in a hotel, such as M d'Estaing did. Indeed, if M d'Estaing's demands for compensation had been met, the BBC reports they would have run into several million euros. Contrast that to the situation in 1787. Then, to take one example, the two delegates from the Great State of New Hampshire were forced to pay their own expenses to, from and during the Constitutional Convention.

This is yet more proof that New Hampshire rules, I might add. But I digress. The point is that Valery Giscard d'Estaing ain't George Washington.

Anyway, the proposed EU Constitution is only a skeleton document at this point, which news reports say means that M d'Estaing has managed to come up with chapter headings. Of course, Constitutions ought not to have chapters, which is yet another reason why Europe will fail. Consider that the American Constitution, the finest framework for Government ever established, only has seven rather brief articles. It was easy and simple to understand, and we left all the angry bickering over what it meant until later.

But what can one expect when one looks at the makeup of the EU's convention?

The convention includes representatives of EU governments, national parliaments - including those of applicant states - the European parliament and the European Commission. Part of its work is public consultation - it has canvassed opinion from a wide range of European players, including academics, trade unions, think-tanks and non-governmental organisations.

See? I'm telling you, it will fail. After all, if the EU wanted a really decent Constitution, they would have done what we did back in 1787. Namely, we took a small body of reasonable citizens, locked them in a room, and told them to hash things out and get back to us. Now that Governments are involved, it will ruin everything. One country will insist on a weak union, while a second will demand industrial protection, and a third agricultural subsidies. Then, after years of wrangling, the French will threaten to shoot it down if it's not tweaked to serve their own interests.

This is not how you go about nation-building. Not at all.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.5.03



 
Just a Wee Test Post
I may regret this, but I'm sorting through some technical issues here in the People's Republic of Blog Software, so let's try it.

  thus spake Benjamin on 25.5.03


25.5.03  

 
Truth in Advertising Department
So I was over at Lileks' site tonight and looking at all the neat old matchbook scans he has, and I came across a particularly neat one for something called TROPISAN. TROPISAN, as we learn, was at one time an anti-psoriasis tablet. Nothing special about that, you say? Ah, but what's cool about the little advert is its tagline:

"COMBATS HORRID SYMPTOMS."

Gad! Now these people were on to something. It's also proof positive that at one time in American life, medicinal advertisements were designed to tell consumers what exactly their products did. Unfortunately, American advertising has become so degraded sophisticated that my allergy medicine does not only purport to cure my allergy symptoms, it also promises me that I can frolic in some Elysian field of wonderment with a cute blonde girl while driving a nice automobile. And the only way that's going to happen is if I write a best-selling novel and somehow turn into a professional athlete.

Gah. Anyway, just out of curiosity, anybody know whatever happened to Tropisan, the amazing anti-psoriasis tablet? I said, it's just out of curiosity. I may have six different health problems going on at one time, but flaky-scalp ain't one of 'em. At least not yet.

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.5.03


23.5.03  

 
Say, Everybody! There's a Party at Dean
Esmay's House, and Everyone's Invited!

Well, OK, maybe not everyone -- the last thing we need is for Casa Esmay to turn into Andrew Jackson's inaugural, when the then-President made the egregious mistake of literally inviting everyone into the Executive Mansion. But do note that Dean, an excellent and gentlemanly soul whose virtue knows no bounds, has charitably invited bloggers and blog-readers to his house in Michigan for a party on Saturday, July 19. That means us, or at least those of us who are able to get to Motown. So if you want to go, hop on over to his neato Web site and leave a comment, and you'll get all the details.

Also: if you want to drink, you'll have to bring your own liquor. Dean is a very generous fellow, but I am sure he is also plotting to save for his own retirement. And the way bloggers knock back the demon rum ...

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.5.03



 


We here at The Rant realize that many readers, especially those without blogs of their own, may not fully realize the amount of work that goes into updating and maintaining our site. Thus, we present the above camera shot from our spacious offices here in Manchester, N.H. to show what exactly it is that we do.

At left, seated, is Benjamin Kepple, The Rant's chief content provider, as he scans the Associated Press "wire." At right is Ned Smith, The Rant's MIS officer and chief archivist. In his hands are a) The Rant's archives for Sept. 2002 and b) a communique from a reader. The machines throughout the room process, scan, spindle and otherwise contort each Rant entry as it is composed into "electronic" format. As odd as this might seem, they represent a major advance from the site's capabilities just a few years ago. Back then, we actually had to have each entry laid out the old fashioned way -- and have you any idea how annoying it is to have these things type-set?

But we can assure you that both Messrs Kepple and Smith -- indeed, all of us, here at The Rant -- are quite excited about New Technological Developments which are close at hand. We estimate that within two weeks' time, we can roll out an entirely new Rant to the public. We'll still have the same sort of high-quality cantakerous outrage which you've come to know and expect, and with a new format that will have easier-to-search archives -- heck, archives that don't suddenly disappear, more graphics, and more opportunities for photo-based expressions of anger and despondency.

The most amazing thing, of course, is that this is all due to the kindness of others. We can assure you -- and them -- that they will be properly recognized soon.

So keep your eyes peeled. Things aren't changing right away, but they'll soon be changing for the better -- and you'll certainly notice the difference. But we thank you for your continued patronage, and hope you'll keep on stopping by.

Cordially,



Top Management
Benjamin Kepple's Daily Rant, Inc.
"Your Hometown Nostalgia Source"

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.5.03



 
After Two Years and Two Months in His Apartment,
Kepple Notices Convenient Appliance-Thingy


I must apologize for the dearth of posting as of late. Sadly, the unpleasant realities of modern life were much in force this week, and I was kept busy doing lots of mundane tasks, such as the laundry and counter-cleaning and dusting and all that.

You should know that at some point during this week -- specifically, last night at about eleven -- your humble correspondent was washing his dishes when he noticed that the sink had one of those convenient water-hoses normally only seen in upscale apartment houses. The appliance itself isn't all that remarkable, of course -- one presses a button and water is diverted from the spigot to the hose-mechanism, thus providing a directional spray of water. What is remarkable is that I have lived in this apartment for nearly two years and three months, and last night was the first time I noticed it.

What bothers me about this whole thing is that I can't understand how I missed it. I do my dishes regularly at this very sink. I have a pretty good eye for things that tend to stare me right in the face. So how in the name of all that's holy did I not notice this stupid thing for over two years? Gad! I mean, I'm only twenty-seven years old. Just because I act like someone from the early Sixties does not mean I should have troubles as if I was in my early sixties.

Ach. Maybe I just need to get more sleep, eh?

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.5.03



 
Science Devises Neato Miracle Cure for Men
CBS News reports that the good, fine people at Auxilium Pharmaceuticals Inc have developed a gel containing testosterone:

Patients rub it on their arms and shoulders to restore normal levels of the hormone and combat the sagging sex drive, low energy, depression and dwindling muscle mass and bone density a (testosterone) deficiency can cause.

Now this is good news! Clearly, from my reading, this development means that men will remain young and virile and healthy forever, without any need to do anything useless and frustrating, by which I mean sit-ups. Well, either that, or we're going to see a lot more bar fights as hordes of newly-invigorated manly men degenerate into Neanderthals before our very eyes. I don't know which.

Actually, now that I think about it, this may not be good news after all. That's not to say the health aspects for men aren't wonderful news. But physicians will have to give this to everyone who needs it. So, what if the gel is given to men who have failed to properly hone the traits and skills a gentleman has spent years learning? I'm warning you, we'll have guys in their forties busting a cap in somebody else's ass because they got their toes stubbed at some discotheque. Further, what if such men take more than the prescribed dose of their medication? Will we have even more crazed, oversexed louts roaming our streets? We have enough problems with this already.

Based on my long observation of my own gender, I have found that those men who develop their bodies at the expense of developing their minds usually find weird things to be a fun time. I include randomly breaking private property, engaging in asinine contests where the goal is to drink one's opponent into a state requiring hospitalization, and showing one's buttocks to God-fearing, law-abiding citizens on the street in this category of weird things. What if they get their hands on testosterone? Also, in addition to the above, such men could even develop a fixation with the opposite sex -- which is fine, but not if they're not intending to honor the obligations which society has laid upon them in such instances! This could lead to outbreaks of social disease, or even to an explosion in the prevalence of reality-based or sleazy daytime-talk programmes on television:

PROGRAM HOST: "So, Curtis, you were sleeping with Tarlene even though Boodles told you that she had quit her job, moved from northern Arkansas to southern Arkansas, and had taken up a job as a chicken-plucker just to be with you?"
CURTIS: "Yeah, Jerry. Thanks to this new testosterone gel, both of 'em don't mind my bad dental work!"
AUDIENCE: (incoherent screams of disapproval)
HOST: "Wasn't that ... I don't know ... kind of cruel, backhanded, and downright treacherous?"
CURTIS: "Dude. Step off! Ain't no one gonna tell me how to live my..."
HOST: "Oh, but wait. We've got Boodles right here in the studio! Come on out, Boodles! ... oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, that's got to hurt."
AUDIENCE: "JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!"

So I will close by saying that I am concerned about this development, and fear its effects upon society if it is not strictly regulated. In the meantime, I may try to acquire some testosterone gel. I clearly don't need it, but there's no denying it could prove useful someday. It's entirely possible that I could some day find myself at a bar competing in a drinking contest against some lunkhead ex-fraternity type, who was enjoying his newfound freedom after posting bail on an indecent exposure charge.

And all to gain the attention of some beautiful girl.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.5.03


19.5.03  

 
When Worlds Collide
On Sunday, The New York Times published a pretty interesting article about blogging. Specifically, the Times takes a look at how items posted on one's blog can occasionally cause one headaches, in terms of how those items affect one's relationships with family and friends:

While personal blogs have been around for years, their proliferation has caused a wrinkle in the social fabric among people in their teens, 20's and early 30's. Inundated with bloggers, they are finding that every clique now has its own Matt Drudge, someone capable of instantly turning details of their lives into saucy Internet fare.

"It's like all your friends are reporters now," said Douglas Rushkoff, a blogger and author of "Media Virus" and other books about the impact of technology on society.

In the rush to publish, many bloggers are running headlong into some of the problems conventionally published memoirists know too well: hurt feelings, newly wary friends and relatives ...


Wasn't it some Times man who quipped that if you wanted to make an omelette, you had to break a few eggs? Ah, never mind. Give the Times credit for this one; they wrote a good article about blogging that, when all was said and done, didn't repeat the same old tired copy we've read before about the art. That, and they did touch on an issue that's probably affected every blogger at least once. God knows it's affected me. My parents read my blog regularly. My non-blogging friends complain if they think I've been snarky about them here on The Rant. Acquaintances drop the fact they've read the blog in casual conversation, as if it was the most regular thing in the world.

It's very cool, but also very weird.

So how does one deal with this? In my case, I set limits. The blog would be a better read if I broke those limits, of course -- Living Vicariously Through Kepple! -- but it wouldn't be worth it in terms of the human cost. That's why I keep my family life pretty closely guarded and try to say only nice things about my friends. After all, in this particular sphere, I'm the only gatekeeper. I'm the only one who controls what goes on blog and what stays off. With that comes a responsibility to those whom I write about and who don't have a forum of their own in which to respond.

That said: if I go on a date -- HA! -- and end up in a relationship -- insert hysterical, mocking laughter -- would I blog it?

Damn right. But I would keep to the old saying that discretion is the better part of valor.

(via Dean Esmay, who wrote his own post on the matter.)

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.5.03



 
Oh No! Kepple's Blogging at Midnight AGAIN
Oh, yes. Since it is Sunday morning here in Manchester, and your humble correspondent is alone at home again, he has been reduced to writing a stream-of- consciousness blog entry.

* In a spontaneous action most unlike me, I went and saw "The Matrix: Reloaded" on Thursday night.

Holy - shit - is - this - a - good - movie. Never mind the plot for right now; like most fans, there's no way I could explain it coherently, even if I was caught up on my sleep. But let's just say the whole endeavour is very well done, and expands well on the principles set forth in the first movie. It also makes the smart move of forcing moviegoers to see the third movie if they want to understand all the plot twists and other developments in this installment. The special effects were better than ever, naturally, and there was plenty of acting involving my favorite character in the series.

What's that? No, it's not Morpheus. It's Agent Smith. People! This is me we're talking about here. Agent Smith rules.

* They had a huge blogger bash in New York on Friday night. Since the last one I went to -- that was back in November -- was incredibly fun, I can imagine all the folks attending had a great time. It's a shame that such things seem to be a phenomenon purely of the major cities, although it makes sense from a logistical presence. But hey -- we can always hope that a Northern New England blog-fest could be arranged at some point in time.

I mean, really. Imagine how fun it would be. Actually, you don't have to imagine, for we here at The Rant have dramatized it for you:



JULY 2005: BOSTON-AREA blogger Oliver Willis (right) stays cool at the First Annual Northern New England Blog-Bash as Benjamin Kepple, a lesser-known blogger from Manchester, N.H., makes a point about social policy.

(PHOTO: VFX shot from The Matrix: Reloaded.)

* I told you. Agent Smith rules.

* Sara Grace has a nice post about pub crawling along Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica on Friday night, which got me all misty-eyed about my days back in Los Angeles. Although I never realized that one could actually go bar-hopping along Pico.

I did remember one bar that she and her compatriots went, though. That was The Joker, which was rightfully described as "a dank hole in the wall." Not that I ever went there -- I mean, the thing looks like a dank hole in the wall from the outside. But I will always remember what the bar's proprietors had put on their marquee after California's smoking ban went into effect: "Non-Smokers -- Where Are You When We Need You?"

You have to give style credit to the place just for that alone.

* We here at The Rant are pleased to see that we are the 1955th Most Popular Blog, according to the good people at blogstreet.com. That's out of about 136,000 blogs in total. As such, we take pride in this. We're also quite pleased to see that we rank 542 out of about 136,000 blogs in terms of the blog's importance, a model which eyes not just how many links you receive, but who they're from.

This is a very cool thing, although I do hope that we're not dragging any of our friends down because of our own links to them.

* Andrew Castel-Dodge has put up a link to a short film he starred in recently. If you're like me, and you're on a dial-up connection, you should be warned that it is an 8.7 Mb file which is annoyingly Flash-based, meaning you have to wait for it to load instead of downloading it. Still, it's quite cool. It's about vampires, which if you ask me are an under-rated horror concept.

* Finally, we pass on this interesting quote from Patrick Ruffini, who estimates that 100,000 people read blogs daily, not counting multiple-page reloads: Blogging's comparative advantage is that it does attract for its readership a fair percentage of influentials, technorati, and other miscellaneous type-A early adopter types.

Damn right!

  thus spake Benjamin on 18.5.03


18.5.03  

 
Casablanca Blasts Kill at Least 20
It's too early to tell if al-Qaeda are involved, U.S. intelligence officials say.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.5.03


16.5.03  

 
A small matter can become a great one.
-- Japanese proverb

As Japan moves ever closer towards ending its long-standing pacifist foreign policy due to developments involving North Korea, we might want to keep such thoughts in mind. Personally, I don't see a problem with Japan having a stronger conventional military, but I'm leery about the idea that we should let yet another power in East Asia develop nuclear weapons. For one thing, it's awfully destabilizing. Second, to borrow from another proverb, things are working out pretty well with the eight corners of the world under our roof.

-------

Oh. If you haven't read Edwin Hoyt's "Japan's War: The Great Pacific Conflict," you really ought to do so. It'll run you about $18 or so but it's well worth it. Not only is it the source of the above neat sayings, it's a treasure-trove of information in terms of the war.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.5.03



 
I am Shocked and Appalled
A certain disgraced ex-reporter for The New York Times has hired an agent to seek out potential book and television deals, the New York Daily News reports. The tabloid informs us that this ex-reporter could net somewhere in the mid-six figures for such endeavours. Unless, of course, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office -- and/or his former employers -- were to prove successful in any attempt they might make to seize the ex-reporter's gains.

Gad.

By the way, Ben Domenech has more on this, if you're interested. I'm going to simply sit here in silence while I develop a good case of apoplexy.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.5.03



 
Administrative Note
The archive links on the home template here at The Rant are being spotty again, so if anyone is looking for particular posts ... well, they're all somewhere on this page anyway, right? Have a looksee, make a game of it, and such. Although I have to admit this state of affairs is even annoying me. I mean, I don't understand how they can just show up one day and disappear again the next. The files are still there, of course, it's just that the display is gone.

Thanks for your patience as I work these things out.

  thus spake Benjamin on 15.5.03


15.5.03  

 
C is for Cookie, But That Wasn't Good Enough for Some Frisco Lawyer
Who Decided He Would Sue The Good People at Kraft Foods Inc.
(Until, That Is, He Got Bucketloads of Free Publicity)


I about had a heart attack this evening when I saw that a San Francisco lawyer had sued Kraft Foods, makers of the popular Oreo cookies we all know and love, because they contained so-called "trans fats" which are patently unhealthy.

Afterwards, though, I realized that I had worried too soon. This lawsuit, which would have banned the sale of Oreos in the Golden State, has been voluntarily withdrawn. The Associated Press reports that Stephen Joseph, the lawyer behind the lawsuit, merely "wanted to get the word out about the dangers of unlabeled fats contained in the popular black and white cookies."

Good, I thought contentedly to myself, as I prepared to retire for the night. Then I made the mistake of going to Mr Joseph's Web site. As I read it, I about had a heart attack for the second time this evening. After I recovered, clutching my sides and praying to God above that He would let me live to smite this idiocy where it stood, I realized that some sort of response had to be given to the commentary published therein. To Mr Joseph's credit, that commentary is what I believe is called "very good lawyering." To Mr Joseph's blame, some of it is quite silly.

But let us look at this posting, drafted as a press release from Mr Joseph, in depth:

I am pleased to announce that we are voluntarily dismissing the Oreo lawsuit. The factual and legal basis for the lawsuit when it was filed was that the American people did not know about trans fat. At best, perhaps 10-15 percent knew. The American people were being kept in the dark by the food manufacturers. The word “trans fat” is not even on food labels. That was then. This is now.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see how Big Food can keep the American people in the dark when we're discussing a byproduct that the Government did not and does not require on food labels. Now, if such disclosure was required on food labels, and certain corporations lied about the amount of trans-fats in a product, then that might prove a reasonable statement to make. Also, folks like Mr Joseph might have a good class-action on their hands. But until those things change, Mr Joseph, I have news for you: we still live in a society organized on what we call "democratic capitalist principles." This means that companies are going to try to convince people to buy their products, whatever they are, not scare them away with big splotchy graphics proclaiming said products' detrimental effects: "NOW MORE PRONE TO CAUSE GOITER & GOUT!"

After three days of incredible national publicity, everyone in America knows about trans fats, and if anybody doesn’t, I don’t know where on earth they’ve been hiding. The factual and legal basis for the lawsuit has totally disappeared. I certainly could not tell a court now that nobody knows about trans fat. Here is an e-mail that I received from a lady that made me realize that the lawsuit was very important, and had been successful, and that it was no longer necessary:

“You have me reading labels! I picked up only two out of many boxes of children’s cereal’s yesterday in the grocery store, and two of them contained partially hydrogenated soybean oil – also saw it in Cool Whip and Nestles instant hot chocolate. My God there’s a monster out there. My husband came home with a package of Chips Ahoy “Light” cookies, and I grabbed them and read the label. You guessed it – they have partially hydro oils!”

Did that lady have a right to know? Or would you have preferred Kraft and the other food manufacturers to have kept her totally in the dark? I have received thousands of similar e-mails.


Ah, see my above point. Clearly this lady did not have a right to know, since it was not a Government requirement that she know. Of course, she could have actually called the firms herself, and consulted with her doctors and other authorities, and learned about foods that contain such trans-fats. Then, she could have avoided them. That's not to say I don't think it's good that this lady is taking more of an interest in her nutrition. That is good. But really.

It is just great that Kraft has now announced in response to the lawsuit that it is “actively exploring ways to reduce trans fats in Oreo.” Kraft is accepting that there is a problem that must be solved. Good. Hopefully, we will see a trans fat-free version of the Oreo soon, so that those of us who love Oreos (I really do) don’t have to eat unsafe trans fats to enjoy them. We have that right, don’t we? Kraft should give us all a choice.

Mr Joseph is being lawyerly again. He either fails to realize or willfully ignores the very real choice that we all have in such an occurrence, which is that people have a choice not to eat the stupid things if they don't wish to do so. And no, sir, at this point in time, you don't have the bloody right to have specially-made Oreos just because you want them that way. Go make your own if you're not happy with the way they are now, or accept that Oreos contain these trans-fats. Please.

It is now is up to each food manufacturer to decide how to respond to the new public awareness of the existence and danger of trans fats. Let’s hope that they respond responsibly. No money was ever requested in the lawsuit. There is no greed factor. No one has made a penny out of it. And it did not cost one penny of taxpayers' money.

I can't complain about this ... but only because I don't have the facts at hand I would need to complain about it.

Incidentally, I am generally against lawsuits against food manufacturers, and I am certainly against the MacDonald’s case which I think is totally ridiculous. I've said that over and over again this week. Everyone knows that fast food is unhealthy and they have to be responsible for their own actions. Trans fat was a unique situation, because so few people knew about it, it isn’t on the label, Kraft was opposing trans fat labeling saying it would be “confusing,” and the FDA says that we should eat none of it.

Yeah, but dude. Just because you don't like a state of affairs which is completely legal doesn't mean you commence legal action. I mean, really. That's like suing your neighbor because he plays his stereo at night, and doing so before you even ask him to turn the music down.

There should be no more trans fat lawsuits, because everyone now knows about it, and if anyone files one they should consider me to be an opponent. The existence and danger of trans fats is now common knowledge as a result of the last three days of publicity and as far as I am concerned there is no longer any basis for suing anyone.

Oh, well we can all rest easy then! I think. No, I can't.

And to those of you who thought I was infringing your freedom, remember, when the facts are suppressed you have no freedom. You had a right to know about trans fats, and now you do. What you do with the information is entirely your concern. If you knowingly want to continue to eat trans fats, enjoy!

Gee, thanks. Would it be unfriendly of me to point out that the reason people were so worked up about this was because it seems kind of obvious that cookies are bad for people? Obvious that such things are to be eaten sparingly? Obvious that, given the two previous points, people should have enough knowledge based on those two common-sense principles alone to know better?

Thank you to all of our supporters, each and every one of you. We made a difference. A big difference. And thanks Kraft for working on a trans fat-free version of the Oreo. I hope that I get to taste the first one.

He had supporters. I could weep!

  thus spake Benjamin on 15.5.03



 
Only Wretched Sub-literate Morons Would Not Enjoy The Scotsman
Because we here at The Rant believe in providing our ever-loyal readership with the best commentary that has been written lately, we have decided to showcase a selection of opinion articles from The Scotsman.

From our examination of its pages, we believe that The Scotsman succeeds mightily at doing a few things very well. For instance, it provides "Scottish News direct from Scotland." This is very important for those of us with ties to the old sod, because most of us still can't understand how the place decided that Eastern Europe under the Soviets was the perfect model for its Government. Sure, we quasi-Scots used to have an enjoyable time blaming certain southerners for this malaise, but things seem to have gotten worse since Holyrood took the reins. Furthermore, we are convinced that certain of our Scottish ancestors, who did not care at all for said southern-dwellers, are practically spinning in their graves at these developments. Still, we have The Scotsman, which through it all continues onwards.

The Scotsman also has a penchant for being direct, which we like very much. We very much like its dry wit, its blunt manner, and its devil-may-care attitudes. We also like top-quality writing, and writing that makes us laugh so hard we practically vomited up the meagre supper we managed to scrape up out of the freezer this evening. As such, this work should be shared, and rightfully so. Hence, we present a selection of five articles from The Scotsman, all of which should make you laugh heartily and forget your worries for a while:

Drink Makes Men Vomit on My Begonias
Why the Royals Should be Kept Well Away from Public Transport
Euro Crusader Liddell Won't Let Facts Get in Way
Oafs at the Oath Ceremony Enough to Make You Swear
Scalpel-sharp Words Failed to Have the Operating Staff in Stitches

We think these selected works from the paper's repertoire will convice readers that they too should read The Scotsman on a regular basis. Also, we would like to say we very much approve of Fiona McCade.

  thus spake Benjamin on 14.5.03


14.5.03  

 
Chinese Example Proves Unfortunate Names
Not Merely an American Phenomenon


Before I begin tonight's round of postings, I must apologize to my ever-faithful contingent of readers for not posting as frequently over the past few days. For one thing, I was in Maine. For another, I have been working like the Devil himself. But the key reason for my lack of posting was sort of a general malaise, in which I couldn't get really bothered over any silly news item or cultural calamity which came down the pike. This is why the previous two entries were awful, but never mind.

However! We at The Rant have learned this evening that a Chinese couple named their newborn son "Saddam Sars" in response to world events taking place around the time he was born. We have further learned from the Sydney Morning Herald that the boy's full name is Saddam Deng Sars, with Deng being the familial surname. Finally, we should also note that we originally learned of this development from Sheila Astray, who smartly considered what things would have been like had her parents done such a thing when she was born.

I do know that if my parents had done such a thing when I was born, I would have been the object of ridicule and scorn throughout my childhood. Somehow, I don't think I would have enjoyed life as Whip Inflation Now Kepple, Gas Rationing Kepple, or Ford Administration Kepple. What's even more disturbing is that those examples aren't the worst of them. These were the Seventies, after all, when a lot of things we rightly now consider stupid were considered "with it," "groovy," "solid," and "far out" -- you know, dy-no-MITE*!

As such, I thank God and all His Saints and Angels that my parents did not consider it a dy-no-MITE! idea to name me Disco Duck Kepple. But of course, they would not have ever considered doing that. My parents were responsible, level-headed people who were too busy working hard to spend hours thinking up cutesy names for their first-born child. Instead, they spent their time looking for open gas stations.

But this incident in China got me to thinking. First off, what does possess otherwise rational parents to give their child -- or children -- cutesy, smarmy, faddish, just-plain-foolish names that could help push their children into a life full of self-doubt, self-pity, and mockery at the school bus stop?

I mean, really. Take, for instance, one boy's name which I particularly do not like: Dakota. Now, I'm sure plenty of parents were well-meaning when they chose this name, but did they ever stop to consider that they were naming their offspring after a Dodge pickup**? No! They did not! Sadly, when the cruel years of junior high school come around, the boy's vicious and spiteful peers will start calling him names like "Gremlin" and "F-150" just to pull his chain.

I am willing to admit that in a few instances, such cuteness does work -- either if one's last name fits well, or one is able to shorten one's Christian name into a catchy nickname. But note the key word in the above phrase: few. Ninety-five percent of the time, such a project will fail miserably, and it will show for all the world to see.

And don't get me started on badly-thought out names for girls, because that's even worse. The way I see it, girls ought to have pretty and flowery and wonderful names that roll off the tongue like that! and send a man off dreaming the moment he hears them. Girls ought not to have names that remind a potential suitor of his particular brand of gin, the exotic dancer he saw last month in Las Vegas, or the city where he lost his wallet. And I can assure you that, when I eventually get married and have lovely daughters, that I will hold to those naming principles.

But the story does not end here. My second complaint has to do with names that are spelled oddly.

Friends, I beseech you: help your poor correspondent understand why otherwise rational parents would do such a thing. And I'm not talking about common, widely-accepted variants either, such as whether to spell Elizabeth with an S or a Z, or whether one likes Laurie or Lori. I'm talking about cultural sins such as naming one's daughter "Gennifer," with a freaking G. I'm talking about the base corruption of perfectly decent if faux-snobbish names like Brittany into "Britney." God.

I mean, at least with Brittany it means something: it's a region that was absorbed into France centuries ago, yet still maintains its own regional dialect and traditions. It's not the first girl's name I would choose for my daughter, but I can see why it is popular, and it's a perfectly fine name. With "Britney," on the other hand, it comes off as if there was some sort of communication problem between the parents and the hospital attendants. I would go on to say that it would also cause problems whenever one had to identify oneself to a data-entry clerk or police officer, except that's not as powerful a complaint as it was in the old days: I've met people who have had trouble spelling Benjamin.

Yes, Benjamin. Now, I can understand Kepple, because there are so many variants. But BENJAMIN?

The incredible thing is that this gets worse.

During my painstaking inquiry into this most sensitive of subjects, I discovered baby names so badly-thought out and so hideously mangled that they constitute offenses far worse than the two I previously cited. If we consider names like Dakota a sin of incontinence, and Gennifer a sin of malice, then we must consider these names sins of treachery. They are in the lowest pit in Baby-Naming Hell. They are diabolical in their intent. They are proof that even the simplest of God's providential gifts to man, the right to name other creatures, can be twisted and warped to serve Lucifer's evil schemes.

Now, because we believe in time-honored principles like "research" and "investigation" here at The Rant, we sallied forth this evening to see whether anyone else had written about this. As it turns out, a Google search for "stupid baby names" turns up an astounding 259,000 entries. But what astounded us the most here this evening was Item No. 4 which Google turned up for us.

This page apparently originates from an America On-Line communique from aeons ago, by which I mean 1996. Now, this page does serve to debunk the myth that some parents actually name their children Male or Female. Such names, we are told, occur on birth certificates when the parents of the newborn infant have not yet selected a name, and hospital officials must put something -- anything -- on the paperwork. But in the course of this investigation, these tireless researchers also found that there were rather a lot of odd baby names. Really odd baby names. Disturbingly odd baby names.

Specifically, we refer to names such as Beautiphul, Lisa (that was a boy), Boat, Tangerine, Tequilla, Abyss, Tall, Sin, and He. He, if you're wondering, was a girl. Again, we here at The Rant have no reason to doubt the existence of these names, which were supposedly gathered from birth records compiled in New York State for the year of 1994. By the way, given the panoply of truly awful names we have presented here, it will come as no surprise that 30 children in the Empire State were named Unique in 1994. As the old saying goes, Unique meaning different, Unique meaning singular, Unique meaning one. Well, not in this case.

I would humbly submit that a child's name is too important a thing to take so lightly. That's not to say that I think that a name implies one's destiny, but I do think it can express some very important features of a person: things ranging from their heritage to their personality, from their family history to the heroes their parents had so long ago. And for the child, his or her name becomes a very keen part of his or her being, so much so that for most of us, we can't readily imagine giving up the names our parents gave us.

So while I am not a parent or an expectant parent myself, I would hope that those who are expecting a new entry into their life give the names they've thought out very long and very hard looks. That, and express your veto power. After all, it takes two to tango.

------
* Despite our researches here at The Rant, we have not successfully identified the meaning of "stella," a Seventies-era slang term. According to our on-line research, it is a derogatory name for a "disco queen." Unfortunately, we don't know what a "disco queen" is either. We hereby present this as further proof that the Seventies were such an awful decade that people couldn't even come up with decent slang.
** We have willfully disregarded the possibility that people did consider they were naming their offspring after a light truck, and then decided they rather liked the idea. We still believe in the inherent goodness of people here at The Rant.

  thus spake Benjamin on 13.5.03


13.5.03  

 
The Bulls Are Back in Town
8726. Boy! Now that's nice to see. Of course, it's nowhere near those psychologically important benchmarks we used to hear about (12,000; 11,000; 10,000) but hey. It will do. Now if we could get it to 9,500 by the end of the year, I'd really be pleased.

  thus spake Benjamin on 13.5.03



 
Kids! It's Time for MORE Cultural Depravity!
Providing proof positive that being a newspaper columnist is one of the best jobs ever, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel scribe Jim Stingl wrote his entire May 8 column on the tempest-on-a-teapot surrounding Wal-Mart's decision to ban certain men's magazines for having naughty cover illustrations.

As we would expect from such an endeavour, Mr Stingl uses important time-honored journalism techniques in ferreting out the "big scoop" behind the whole story. Namely, he goes out and spends $15 for one copy of each of the three proscribed publications. He also manages to find a Young Person to talk about the lure of these magazines:

Derek, 18, gets his copy of Maxim from a friend in Wauwatosa who has a subscription, so he doesn't care what Wal-Mart does. He says the magazine's raunchy jokes, advice on fashion and music and such, and, yes, the perfect babes in their tiny underwear are an antidote to the fare he reads for school, such as "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Now, I myself do not read these magazines on a regular basis. This is primarily because I think they're crap. I mean, really. If I wanted to read raunchy jokes, receive advice on fashion and music and such, and see artificially-rendered photographs of attractive women, I would not purchase the low-grade equivalent of Playboy. Instead ... I'd go out and I'd buy a Playboy.

Of course, I don't think much of Playboy either. Sure, it will occasionally have something decent to read in it, but the last time I read an issue -- years ago -- the thing was incredibly boring, to the point where it made me dread turning the next page. Maybe that was just an off issue, or the magazine has changed since then, but I doubt it. I will, though, give its publishers credit for not making it boring and stupid, which to me seems the real cardinal sin which these lesser men's magazines commit all-too frequently. I mean, how many variations on a theme can even the most talented magazine staff think up, before they all start to sound flat?

  thus spake Benjamin on 13.5.03



 
Oy Vey
Maybe THIS will fix the archiving problem. Eh? Ya think?

  thus spake Benjamin on 10.5.03


10.5.03  

 
Cesspit Boston
Wow. It only took ten minutes of my time, but I found two wonderful reasons why I'm both incredibly happy to live in New Hampshire and will never, ever, ever voluntarily go to Boston unless it is an emergency situation. These two reasons, you see, are this post from Deb at Insomnomaniac, and this other post from Deb at Insomnomaniac.

We learn in these posts that Deb, a Boston resident who pays approximately $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in that miserable city, has a juvenile crime problem in her neighborhood. As Deb tells us, surly gangs of white youth regularly sally forth from the public housing projects one mile distant to occupy her neighborhood, and proceed to get involved with mayhem and common thuggery. Actually, it's quite a serious situation -- several law-abiding citizens in her district have been brutally assaulted by these roving packs of degenerates, a figure which nearly included her husband. Fortunately, Deb has learned the First Rule of City Living -- if one demands action from the local authorities and discusses things with the neighbors, things will be done.

Now, some questions Deb asks in her posts seem reasonable to me, such as, "What is wrong with this place? What is wrong with this state?" Of course, as a resident of New Hampshire, I have plenty of opinions on what exactly is wrong with Massachusetts in general. But it seems to me a pretty simple equation, when looking at these delinquents. Broken families + lack of moral or religious training + lack of intelligence or drive + Sixties-style socialism and permissiveness = urban trauma.

The way we fix these problems is a subject for another post. In the meantime, I say: the next time these kids get locked up, we offer them a choice. They can go to jail, or they can go join the military. With the first option, they are removed from the streets, and as such are not a clear and present danger. With the second option, the military offers wayward youth a family-like structure, moral and religious training, and an orderly, hiearchical structure to which they will adhere. Because the word "permissive" ain't in a drill instructor's vocabulary.

  thus spake Benjamin on 10.5.03



 


THIS IS a key reason why I left California. Look at that beautiful freeway -- ten lanes of concrete, straight, well-kept -- and traffic is moving at about three miles per hour! The lanes at the left are the westbound lanes of the 101* in the San Fernando Valley, so it means this picture was probably taken sometime during the mid-afternoon rush (3 to 8 p.m.) on some idle weekday.

Let me be clear. This is normal out there.

The above congestion could be slightly alleviated if two diamond lanes** were built along-side the freeway. But suggestions to do just that have been met with the standard "they're paving paradise to put up a parking lot" chorus.

Now look. As a former California resident, I can say with authority that all of its metropolitan areas need more freeways, and need them now. You can't double-deck the existing ones because of the earthquakes, so the only reasonable course of action is to fire up the bulldozers and start paving -- from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down, as the saying goes. Otherwise, they really will have paved paradise for a parking lot.

(PHOTO CREDIT: Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)

HELPFUL NOTE FOR EASTERNERS:
* In Los Angeles, the 101 is the Ventura Freeway, except when it is the Hollywood Freeway, or when it is the Santa Ana Freeway. Got that? The break-point between the first two freeways is the 134 junction; the second two, the 110/101 interchange. The Santa Ana starts at that really big interchange near downtown where the 5, 10, 101 and 60 all come together at once. The above explanation should show why we refer to the roads by number out there.

** a "diamond lane" is California-speak for a high-occupancy vehicle, or commuter, lane. To folks like me, we have found them as useless in California as they are Back East.

UPDATE, Friday Morning
Hey, Angelenos! Check out Sigalert.com for live traffic updates. I wish we had something this cool back when I was in Los Angeles.

  thus spake Benjamin on 9.5.03


9.5.03  

 
It's a Catfight, But an IMPORTANT Catfight
Warren Buffett and Alan Greenspan square off about the value -- and danger -- of derivatives, The Telegraph reports in today's editions.

A derivative, for those who are not skilled in the financial markets, is generally an investment that you should stay away from, unless you work at a stock exchange or brokerage house and know better. That's really all you need to know. You see, they're incredibly complex and are based on things like frozen orange juice futures.

The Telegraph story is an interesting article and worth reading, though, no matter whether you have any interest in the financial markets. Of course, we here at The Rant live for things like this, thanks to our patented Inverted Sense of Celebrity. It's much more cerebral than hearing about the latest spat between Ben Damon and Matt Affleck, or whoever they are.

  thus spake Benjamin on 9.5.03



 
As Authorities Raid Boston Cat Lady's Apartment,
Oliver Willis Finds Himself Next Door to the Action


Hey, everybody! Read those stories in the Boston Herald about the infamous Cat Lady of Boston? Oliver Willis is right next door to it all -- literally. Gad. Yep, it's just one more reason I'm glad to live in New Hampshire -- because even when that type of thing occasionally happens here, it is far, far, far away from me.

  thus spake Benjamin on 8.5.03


8.5.03  

 
I Hate Hospitals, Part II
You should know that when your humble correspondent comes home from his daily toils, one of the first things he does is check his voice mail. We here at The Rant detest voice mail, as we find it almost daemonic that people can contact us at any time of the day or night. If we are not answering the telephone, we are not doing so for a reason. It's because we're not here, or we're busy doing more important things, or what not. Besides, everyone who knows me knows that if you want to reach me, you should drop me a text message.

I arrived home this evening to find three voice mails. One was from a local car dealership, promising me -- the prospective car buyer -- Big Savings on the latest models they were offering for sale. Sadly, this voice mail came from a particular make that I do not care for at all, which again reminded me that I needed to sign up for the federal Do Not Call list. The second voice mail was from my mother, and it was a very nice message thanking me for the Mother's Day gift which I had sent her earlier (Mom -- you can call and leave a voice mail any time). But it was the third voice mail that really infuriated me.

This third voice mail, you see, was from the hospital which treated me for my appendectomy in January. Being a hospital, and thus having a billing department that prizes Communist-run Eastern Europe as a model of efficiency and quality service, it noticeably failed to send me any bills at all until the end of March. Of course, when the bill arrived, it was completely inaccurate and thus went unpaid until they got their house in order.

Their house was put in order a full four months after the operation took place: to be precise, on April 28. On May 8, I received a dunning call -- just one week after I received a valid bill from this institution. What was that old saying? First, do no harm? Oh, wait. That only applies to the doctors, doesn't it? And things were not helped when I discerned the tone of this dunning call. Not only did it sound as if the person on the other end of the line had suffered a bout of irritable bowel syndrome not seen since Leonard Part 6 hit theatres, the delivery was given in a grating, harsh tone that reminded one of a guard at Checkpoint Charlie. No please, no thank you, just that low growl -- "Papers, Herr Kepple!"

Gad. Oh, and the fact I was disconnected when I called, after holding on the line for ten minutes? Not exactly the Rotarian Ideal of Service, people.

So I have resigned myself. I will call them at 10 a.m. tomorrow and hash this all out, and be unfailingly polite and pleasant on the telephone. I shall attempt to explain the situation as best I can to people who probably could care less, and placate them with the thought that the check will be in the mail sometime this month; you know, when I get around to it. I trust that they will be receptive to this. If they aren't, I shall have to politely and sweetly ask them to send me a full line-item of the bill so I can examine it myself. After all, it was for $10,109 in total, so I should make sure I'm getting my money's worth from my insurance firm.

  thus spake Benjamin on 8.5.03



 
It Hurts. It Just Hurts.

  thus spake Benjamin on 6.5.03


6.5.03  

 
So Much for My Al Gore Look
There are many among us who inform us, with the utmost gravity, that we should all strive to learn something new everyday. They will be glad to know that yesterday, I learned a very important lesson. However, because my learning experiences tend to involve emotional anguish, physical pain or both, I think this whole striving-and-learning bit is crap.

On Monday morning, I learned that it was a bad idea for one to attempt shaving before one has his morning shower.

Now, in general, men know this is a bad idea. It's a lot easier to work with a straight razor when the stubble on one's face has suffered through a blistering assault of shampoo, skin cleansers, soap and scads of similarly overpriced products which tout their pseudo-alchemic properties. But as I stumbled into my bathroom on Monday morning, my body pleading and begging for more sleep, I decided that I could get a head start on my day by shaving before my shower. The beard only needed a little bit of a trim anyway, and as such ...

Given the picture at left, I realize that some readers may be surprised to learn that I have -- or rather, had -- a beard. I grew it after I had my appendectomy back in January. Following the tradition of men everywhere who have found themselves temporarily laid up, and seeing that my chances of finding a nice girl to date were even lower than they are usually, I decided back then that I would flaunt the social convention that discriminates against men with beards. So I grew the stupid thing out. Further, I took the second step of purchasing a rather expensive beard trimmer. This device, which cost me $50, allows one to use either the biting edge of its electric straight razor or trim one's beard to a desired length by means of an adjustable cap.

So guess who forgot to put the cap on yesterday morning> Guess who, in one fell stroke, practically shaved off the right side of the beard he had spent months cultivating. Guess who, in the ensuing minutes, indulged in much wailing and gnashing of teeth? Guess who, despite his valiant attempts to avoid profane language here on The Rant, spewed forth curses and blasphemies that would shock and appall a 16th-century English sailor? And lo! the heavens trembled, and the earth fell.

Of course, even worse was the fact that I had to shave everything else in the 23 minutes I had until I left for work. God's truth, I went in to the office looking like I was twelve years old. Matters were not helped any when I sliced my lip with the electric razor, which fortunately did not draw blood but merely hurt like the sting of a bumblebee. Then I had to endure two full days of polite inquiries about why I had shaved off my beard. Because I am a fool, I told my coworkers the truth.

So consider it a lesson learned. At the rate I'm going, my next lesson will involve the importance of looking both ways before crossing the street, a municipal construction project, and a cement mixer.

  thus spake Benjamin on 6.5.03



 
The Great American Diner
I’ve been meaning to post about this for a while, but I must say I was pleased to see Ken Layne has noticed my public call for him to have breakfast at Jack’s Coffee Shop, a diner in Sparks, Nev. Mr Layne writes:

I've been meaning to get over there -- the idiot local paper even managed to note the establishment -- but the place is only open for breakfast/lunch. I like my diner breakfast around 3 a.m.

Now I'll admit this is a respectable argument. There is something wonderful about going to a diner at three in the morning, as I full know. It’s not merely that the food one eats is good, old-fashioned American food. It’s just nice to go to a pleasant place with friends, hang out and have some coffee, talk with the old-style waitresses who really work hard for the overly large tip that you should rightfully give them, and kick back a while from the world at large -- and all in the wee hours of the morning.

But there is ALSO something to be said for going to a diner in the true morning, when it is still quiet out and the sun is just rising above the horizon. Not only does it make for a great start (or finish!) to one’s day, it gives a man time to think about life. What his plans are, what his dreams are, what he hopes to accomplish in the time he has left. Afterwards, he can rise from that booth or table feeling refreshed, and leave behind all the cares and worries he had when he came in.

So despite its restricted hours, I would still encourage Mr Layne to try the place, at least once, perhaps on some idle Saturday morning when the rest of the weekend looks shot. They open at seven; you’ll want the pancakes.

* * *

By the way, you can also get some good pancakes at a place right here in Manchester, and do so 24 hours per day. It’s weird to think that Manchester would have a place like Reno beat in the diner category, but there’s a hell of a good place downtown on Lowell Street. I mean, it’s fantastic.

The Red Arrow Diner is one of those unchanging facets of American life that seemingly has been, is, and ever will be. It’s not merely that you’ll get the true diner experience there as you have breakfast at its long counter—everything from the décor to the waitresses’ no-nonsense attitudes is just so fitting—but it has a true aura of history to it. The place opened decades ago, but despite the ownership changes along the way and a recent decision to go smoke-free (I say recent in Manchester terms, by which I mean years and years ago), it is essentially the same place, and worth going—especially for breakfast.

But no discussion of American diners would be complete without mentioning the semi-famous Dick’s Diner in Murrysville, Pa. I can say with authority that it is the best diner in the 48 contiguous states.

Of course, because we here at The Rant believe in transparency and honesty, I must admit that a relative did and I think still does own it. As I understand it, it’s named for my great-uncle Dick, who handed it down to my second cousin Dick. However, while I don’t know who runs it now—I want to say it is my second cousin Betty—I can say that it still maintains the same type of atmosphere and food that has made it a veritable local institution.

Don’t take my word for it, however. Reviewer Sam Edelmann, writing for Citysearch.com, notes:

There are three criteria for judging diners: breakfast, hot sandwiches with gravy, and pie. Dick's grades an "A" in all three.

Oh, and that’s another great thing about the American diner: pie. It doesn’t matter what kind of pie, you just have to order it. Not only is it part of the experience, it’s usually really well-done. Consider this semi-anonymous reviewer who advises patrons to order dessert with every meal at Dick’s, including breakfast. But if you are still not convinced, Mr Edelman writes:

As for pies, Dick's is well known in the area. There are usually at least 10 varieties available, including the exceptional Boston cream. You can't make a bad choice here.

Exactly. You can’t make a bad choice. So if you’re in northern Nevada or southern New Hampshire or even western Pennsylvania, you have no excuse not to visit any one of these fine establishments. Indeed, it is your duty and obligation as an American citizen to partake of the cultural heritage your nation has given you. So bid farewell to the corporate monstrosities that dot the modern landscape. Drive on in, take a seat, have some coffee, and just relax. You’ll be glad you did.


  thus spake Benjamin on 4.5.03


4.5.03  

 
Technical Milestone Achieved
We here at The Rant have long struggled with Soviet-era blogging technology. This is primarily because we are a) cheap 2) have little time and c) so technologically inept we could not install Movable Type if someone held a loaded gun to our heads while simultaneously threatening to club a baby seal with a truncheon. A large, spike-enhanced truncheon.

Furthermore, we are often distracted here at The Rant. Occasionally this is due to weird things, such as the pushpin which may have just entered your correspondent's foot. Oh, dear God. Oh Jesus. Oh. Oh oh oh. Wait a moment, will you? (meaningful pause) THERE. Gad. But usually this is because we have eight million things running through our heads at any given time. Ideas that really are quite good are sometimes never given the space they deserve, and long projects are as such impractical. In addition, because we are cheap, we refuse to pay people to do these things for us.

However, tonight a major technological innovation has appeared. We have successfully installed a "blogrolling" feature thanks to the Good People at Blogrolling.com. We do not entirely understand how it works, but we do know that it lets you, the reader with a blog of your own, easily see when we have updated the site. We also know that with the simple push of a button, we can manually update this feature so you will constantly know when we have updated. Indeed, after this post is completed, we will "ping" the site, which will "send" an electronic notice over the Internet to a main "server," which will in turn "send" notices out to readers.

We're very pleased to announce this technological innovation, as we feel it brings more value to our readers, clients, and most importantly the corporate office. For more information, kindly direct your attention to the left-hand column, all the way down at the end. Thank you for your time and consideration.

  thus spake Benjamin on 3.5.03


3.5.03  

 
Well, THIS Hits Close to Home



(via Super Fast Computer)

  thus spake Benjamin on 3.5.03


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