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.


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.


Patior ut potiar


A Quasi-Schimpflexicon

"It's people like you who I would not hesitate to hit with my car if I saw crossing the street, thinking I would benefit society."
-- J. Artz, Mar. 11, '98

"Right now, your problems are the last thing on my mind."
-- Dr. Progressive, Mar. 26, '01

"It's like a blog on steroids."
-- Matt Rubush, Nov. '01

"Benjamin Kepple runs a fine Web log. . ."
-- Ken Layne, Dec. 2, '01

"Ben, you remind me of my mother in law."
-- Jason Hirschman, Dec. 26, '01

"Give him five years and we'll be able to find him eating Thai cuisine as he hosts his very own Tuesday night TBS movie show."
-- Jesse Kepple, Jan. 10, '02

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-- Matt Rubush, Jan. 24, '02

"Truth be told, I see very little that's French in Ben, save for the fact that he works 35 hours and smokes 16 packs of cigarettes a week."
. -- Chris Weinkopf, Mar. 22, '02

"Ben Kepple is so witty. Thank God somebody is."
-- Allison Barnes, Mar. 28, '02

"We all know you're witty, Ben. That's why we talk to you."
-- Matthew S. Schwartz, Mar. 30, '02

"The most convincing anti-smoking editorial I've ever read."
-- Clay Waters, June 1, '02

"As usual, Brother Kepple, I disagree with almost every word you type. But damn! I sure am glad you're there."
-- Brian Linse, Jul. 31, '02

"Not as succinct as Phil, but side-splittingly funny."
-- Sasha Castel, Oct. 23, '02

"Actually, you're WRONG!"
-- Oliver Willis, Dec. 5, '02

"Permanently aghast and agog."
-- Oliver Willis, Feb. 25, '03

"Ben Kepple is a festering sore on my buttocks."
-- Dean Esmay, May 15, '03



All work published on this site, excluding external links and citations, as well as some imagery, is (C) 2001, 2002, by Benjamin Kepple. All rights are reserved. Said work may not be republished in any medium or form without the prior consent of Mr. Kepple. However, favourable quotes praising my work are welcomed and appreciated, especially if you are a working journalist.

Poster images from The War are from Stanford University.



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Idle Diversions
Ooooh. Now here's something interesting. There's this site on-line that lets one create one's own mini-state, and then run it through a political simulator to see how it reacts to ever-changing world situations. It's quite nice except you can't do the best thing normally in such simulations, which is running roughshod over your hapless neighbors. Sasha and Andrew each have their own nations.

I do too, although I am going to wait a bit until I publicize the Holy Empire of Kepplestadt.

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.1.03


Update on the Foreign Situation
Canada starting to see reason; France and Syria make (not so?) strange bedfellows in UN politicking.

  thus spake Benjamin on 30.1.03

Ten Reasons to Be Pro-American
Tim Blair has once again done a service for the world in exposing the stupidies of the hate-America types over in Australia.

In this instance, Mr Blair singled out one Karen Jackson for mockery and general disdain. Ms Jackson, you see, had set forth a list of feebly-reasoned points which served as excuses for why she hates the United States. To compound this rhetorical crime, she did so on Margo Kingston's Webdiary, which readers know serves as a home for those whom Dante would class the Violent Against Art.

Reaction has been swift and furious, though, as Americans generally don't care for this type of thing. Tex over at Whacking Day, for one, has beaten me to the punch of coshing Ms Jackson for her many factual and logical errors. Meanwhile, Andrea Harris takes issue with a snippy little addendum Ms Jackson's appended to her argument, concerning what Ms Jackson likes about Americans.

Ms Harris, as one can tell, also beat me to the punch in criticizing Ms Jackson. For that matter, Mr Blair beat me in even linking to these fine rebuttals.

But one thing I have not yet seen -- as of Wednesday night -- is a set of points making the case for America. True, we're not a perfect country, and there are some things we could do better in this world. We're only human, though, and I think we try our best as we go along. So without further ado, here are ten reasons why non-Americans should hold the United States and its people in high esteem. Or, at the very least, give us another look:

10. The Friendliness of Everyday Americans.
As odd as it might seem, Ms Jackson cited "the friendliness of everyday Americans" as one of the things she liked about America. Perhaps she has been a tourist here. If so, she undoubtedly met quite a few friendly Americans on his journeys through this great land -- people that we sometimes quaintly call "Just Folks." Of course, Ms Jackson doesn't seem to realize that these very same Just Folks are largely those who would vigorously disagree with her views on life in no uncertain terms. Indeed, I would argue that Ms Jackson would not find debating with Just Folks in Connellsville, Pa., or Steubenville, Ohio, or Omaha, Neb., all that pleasant. But I think the fact she mentioned that says a lot about our country.

There's no denying that Americans are generally pleasant when interacting with non-Americans; indeed, one might even find them too friendly. Your typical American is curious to learn about the outside world, to see how other folks have it, to learn from a primary source about how things are going elsewhere. Where foreigners may run into difficulty is with Americans who keenly follow world affairs or who have done a bit of traveling. This latter group of Americans, who often get annoyed at some insult or jibe they've heard directed their nation's way, may make their resentment about that clear. However, it's easy to get along with these folks too. Wait until you know them a bit before you discuss politics or the world at large, and even at that point, wade slowly into the discussion. Then, when it's 2 a.m. and you're both solving the world's problems over three bottles of wine, you'll just be like one of the family.

9. There's Something for Everybody Here.
As readers know, many democratic Governments in the world have a uniform approach to the idea of governing. A simplisme description of this is as follows: Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, decides what was; what is; and what shall be to come. Then, these orders are carried out all over the nation through the bureaucracy.

In the United States, however, we are blessed with a doctrine of Government known as federalism. This means that while the Federal Government in Washington sets a lot of policies, the 50 State Governments (to say nothing of localities) can make their own policies too. This is why education funding varies from state to state, why tax levels differ from state to state, why laws and regulations differ from state to state.

It's actually rather neat, for two reasons. The first is that gives the people in each state a bit of leave to decide how they want to conduct their own affairs. The second is that if someone does not like how things are being run in, say, California, that person can freely move to, say, New Hampshire. This latter reason acts as a small "inherent check" against unpopular or controversial Government decisions. For example, Massachusetts is prevented from raising its sales taxes as much as it might like because nothing can stop its citizens from Politely Refusing (lit., "The hell with this.") to go along and doing their shopping in sales-tax free New Hampshire.

8. Our Willingness to Accept Immigrants.
A while back, we figured out that it was a good idea to accept people who wanted to move here. We realized that nearly all the immigrants to the United States were generally good people: hard-working, religious, pleasant, open to taking up the idea of what America is all about. The result has been good for pretty much everyone concerned. Immigrants are able to pursue, like so many before them, the American Dream: having their own home, an honorable way to make a living, and the freedom to make their own political, religious, and personal decisions. America, meanwhile, benefits greatly from their labor, their hard work, and the traditions they bring with them.

It's true that not everyone feels this way in America. The reason for that is because some folks here are concerned about their jobs, about their own living conditions, and they feel powerless to do anything about the changes they see taking place in life. They blame immigrants for this. That's not fair, of course, nor is it right. But the truth of the matter is that immigration strengthens American life -- it makes America more industrious, more intelligent, more productive, and more wealthy. That our Government has encouraged it -- tacitly or openly -- over the years is something of which to be proud.

7. The Right to Worship God as One Pleases.
Saudi Arabia has one (1) religion. The United States has something on the order of 3,000 different religious organizations, each offering different outlooks on life. This fellow here has done the yeoman's work in terms of compiling the data, which details everything from the Catholic Church's 116 denominations (no, we're not just the Roman Rite) to various New Age religions that have sprouted up in the last half-century.

The freedom that comes from letting people worship God as they see fit has largely been a good thing. There's virtually no religion-related unrest, and there's none of the indoctrination that often seems to accompany state-sponsored religion. If one wants religious education for their children, that too is easy and quite affordable for one to secure. And, while television may not convey this fact to the rest of the world, the United States is one of the world's most religious countries. The incredible and wonderful thing about it is this religious fervor is voluntary. Some religious people might try to sway a non-believer into their cause; but the wonderful thing is that there's no forcing the issue. Unlike how things are in some other nations we won't name.

6. Everyone Can Get Ahead With Hard Work.
The American Dream is still alive. The dream of owning a home, having steady work, and being able to raise your family the way you see fit is still reachable for all who want to pursue it. True, it may not seem that way to a lot of natives, but among the immigrants I've met in my day it still is. I've met people who, not ten or twenty years ago, were doing their best to get out of some of the world's most wretched nations. Now, they have their own homes, their own automobiles, and scads of material goods -- and most importantly, the freedom to enjoy those things as they see fit.

That's not to say everyone is going to get filthy rich overnight, or even get rich at all. But folks who are driven, who work their hearts out, can do something perhaps even more wonderful. They can set up a foundation, a base if you will, from which their children can prosper and live well. Their children, in turn, can (must) do the same thing for their own progeny, and so on down the line. America provides its families with all the groundwork they need so that this happy state of affairs can come about.

5. Checks and Balances.
Another wonderful thing about America is that the Government can't just do what it wants. Neither, for that matter, can Congress, or the judiciary, or the governors, or the state legislatures. Checks and balances have been put in place so that egregious or outlandish laws, or bad judicial decisions, or one of a thousand Government actions can be stopped. While the system is not perfect, we do think it so refined that no system of Government can top it in terms of preserving citizens' rights and ensuring stability.

Compare the United States to France for a bit. Both had revolutions in the late 18th century. Yet the United States' Government has continued in existence from the moment that President Washington took office. France, on the other hand, is now on its Fifth Republic. While the two situations aren't entirely comparable, history shows us that restrained Governments are generally more stable Governments. In 18th century America, those who wanted a strong federal Government and those calling for a weak federal Government did their debating at the point of a pen. In 18th century France, those who didn't agree with the revolutionaries were cruelly dispatched to the next world. I think our system was and still is better.

4. The Rule of Law.
People in America don't often agree with some rulings that our judges issue from the bench. This is primarily because we're a contentious and strongly-opinionated lot. But the amazing thing about the place is that people still respect those rulings. We don't have to force the issue with bayonets, we don't have to send in the soldiers to quell angry mobs in the streets. Even with their faults, one generally finds that courts are fair and impartial. Even better, if a party does not agree with the decision a court hands down, it can easily be appealed to a higher court.

3. Our Freedom to Dissent.
There is an old saying that Americans can violently disagree with each other on matters of state, but that the disagreement ends at the nation's borders. To the rest of the world, this theorem has it, we stick together. We present a united front. We get behind the President when issues of national importance are discussed.

This isn't true any more. We argue all day long about whether we should go to war, and even after we go to war, we'll still be arguing about whether we're doing the right thing. We'll criticize and gripe and moan and condemn each other, not caring what anyone else thinks about the matter. Yet, strangely, no one is punished for dissenting against widely-held views. No, really. People in the entertainment industry condemn the views of average Americans all day long, yet they aren't dragged off screaming into some miserable prison, now are they?

2. Caution When it Comes to War.
Here in the United States, we've often heard people from other nations condemn us with phrases like "imperialist hyperpower oppressor pig-dogs" and "soulless capitalist bastards." After a good bit of this, we started to realize that some folks abroad were disinclined to see why we've performed certain actions on the world stage. Some of these disaffected folks have even gone so far as to accuse America of taking these actions solely because it would strengthen our "hegemony."

Now look. Why do some people in the rest of the world thinks that America is out to plunder their ships, ravage their seas, burn their towns, and send forth hither swarms of officers to eat out their substance? It's as if they're nursing a grudge about the Spanish-American War, for Pete's sake. But not only is war our option of last resort, we don't even do any conquering when we've finished the wars. We even pay to rebuild the countries we defeat, which is a lot better than how most nations fare after they've lost a good fight.

And don't get me started on the whole hegemony bit. Some hegemony. We can't even keep the Canadians in line.

1. We Die to Set Men Free.
Originally, I was going to leave this without comment. But we've seen some eloquent observations on this as of late:

We in Europe have a relationship with the U.S. which has stood the test of time. Thanks in large part to American bravery, generosity and farsightedness, Europe was set free from the two forms of tyranny that devastated our continent in the 20th century: Nazism and communism. Thanks, too, to the continued cooperation between Europe and the U.S. we have managed to guarantee peace and freedom on our continent. The trans-Atlantic relationship must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security.

Jose María Aznar (Spain)
Jose-Manuel Durão Barroso (Portugal)
Silvio Berlusconi (Italy)
Tony Blair (United Kingdom)
Vaclav Havel (Czech Republic)
Peter Medgyessy (Hungary)
Leszek Miller (Poland)
Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Denmark)

  thus spake Benjamin on 29.1.03


So What's Lileks Know That We Don't?
Go look at the introductory picture/background for this week's Bleat. Just do it. Then, wonder to oneself whether things might be getting a bit serious.

UPDATE: Oh, but those were really cool. How does he do those images every week, anyway? I couldn't figure something like that out to save my life.

  thus spake Benjamin on 28.1.03


Dear Sweet Jesus
Okay, just in case you haven't heard something to ruin your day, I've got something for you.

Sherriff's deputies in extreme Eastern Oregon (lit., "Unorganized Territory") discovered five hundred dogs in a home theoretically occupied by an elderly couple. I say theoretically occupied because when officials arrived, they found 200 of the dogs inside the five room house. An additional three hundred dogs were apparently living around the grounds of the place. The Boise-based Idaho Statesman has the full story. (Actually, while I do think the writing of the lead story could have been better, they've got multiple stories on the whole affair. As they should).

By the way, it's not the first time the lady arrested in the case has had, um, Issues with hundreds of dogs roaming her property, as the Statesman reports in a sidebar.

What I don't understand about these types of stories is how things get to their awful and inevitable conclusion. Doesn't anyone, well, check up on folks like this? Didn't anyone see something a bit odd and say to themselves, "Gee. My neighbor next door has enough dogs to outfit every team in next year's Iditarod. Maybe that's not normal. Maybe I should tell someone in authority about this?" I can see how someone might get away with maltreatment of animals if they had, say, five dogs and weren't taking care of them properly. I can't see how someone could get 500 dogs onto their property without having someone along the way want to perhaps step in and, well, suggest that the local government get involved.


  thus spake Benjamin on 27.1.03


Non-Aggression Pacts and the Sunshine Policy
Many readers no doubt wonder why North Korea has of late demanded a non-aggression pact from the United States, and may question why the U.S. refuses to sign one. The Chosun Ilbo may have the answer in this story detailing Kim Jong-il's visit to the South a while back:

However, a Seoul diplomatic source stated, "Should Seoul request the US to accept the North Korean demand, it would amount to Seoul's acquiescing in Pyongyang's claim that South Korea is a colony of the United States."

  thus spake Benjamin on 27.1.03

North Korea's Weirdness Revealed
Many folks have said that the North Korean Government is not an insane regime, merely a crafty one. This makes sense even to folks like me. Then I read something like this, and I really begin to wonder whether anyone in Pyongyang is on the same wavelength as the rest of us.

  thus spake Benjamin on 27.1.03

NYT: Papers Agree to Pact on Collusion Allegations
All you newsweekly fans take a look at this.

  thus spake Benjamin on 27.1.03

The Future and the Past
I have to say that I've really been remiss lately. You see, Allison Barnes has posted a bunch of really top-notch posts over the past few days, and while I've read them and liked them and thought very highly of them, I hadn't made any mention of them up until now. I guess I was just looking for the right words and waiting for the Muse to hit me with some inspiration. Naturally, the muse hit on an idle Sunday morning, so here goes.

One entry is titled -- and this pleases me to no end -- "I love Ben Kepple." Now this is really nice! Then, after some nice comments about my response to a guide on Moxie's site about how a man should treat a lady, Allison asks: "How is it that there are so many charming single people out there with weblogs? For the life of me I can't figure out why some lucky soul hasn't snatched up either of those two."

Well, I can't speak for Mox, obviously. But I can speak for myself.

I suppose you could sum up my past romantic history as follows. When I was in high school I was unlucky. When I was in college, and publisher/editor of a major publication at the University of Michigan, I was too busy. When I was in Los Angeles and just starting out in life, I was not an attractive prospect for a variety of reasons -- not the least of which was I was hell-bent on getting out of Los Angeles. Finally, I've come to New Hampshire -- where I'm better off economically, slimmer, funnier, wiser, more well-adjusted, etc. In short, I'm finally ready to settle down.

But looking back -- there's always a "but," isn't there? -- I do wonder. I know you're not supposed to dwell on the past, that it's unhealthy and doesn't do you much good, but it does make me wonder what would have happened if I had done things differently. I wonder if I had missed out by not having more of a good time in college and not indulging in Los Angeles' various bacchanalia and not taking time out when I could have taken time out, but felt like there were more important tasks at hand with which to deal. For that matter, what would like have been like had I taken a job in Washington instead of Los Angeles? In those last few months of college, it was only a question of who got to me first. Eventually, I had offers from both cities -- but L.A. came calling before D.C. did.

Then you examine it all again and realize there's no point in crying over spilled milk. Such thinking, my brain reminds me, is merely reflective of the fact I'm getting old(er) and I have a heightened awareness that time is slowly slipping away from me. So it seems, anyway. Sure, people are getting married later nowadays; and sure, the older and wiser among my readership have told me again and again that I have Plenty of Time Left. Get married at 30; have kids at 40; retire at 70; die at 90. That's the smart ticket!

But Gad! it's tiring being alone.

I think that's why medical studies have shown that single people die a decade earlier than married folks. I think it's because they're tired of it all. They're tired of coming home to an empty house or apartment, tired of going years without affection; tired of bad television and boring pursuits and plans that never materialized. They're tired of having life happen, as Bradbury once had Captain Beatty put it.

Of course, there are a lot of tired Captains in Bradbury's stories. They're all hell-bent on searching for happiness and relaxation and calm in their lives, and they never find it. I hate to say it, but I see the beginning stages of that setting in with me. It's an unpleasant observation but a salient one, I think. And while one never wants to come off as desperate, I must think that maybe I come off as such when I'm out there. Do I try too hard when the rare opportunity presents itself to me? Am I so worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow screwing things up (again) that I don't spur myself into action when I should?

After 27 years of trying and failing you start to wonder these things.

I suppose that perhaps I am one of those unfortunates condemned to be what me and my friends self-deprecatingly call "good on paper." After all, you would think that there are bunches of advantages in my corner. I'm intelligent, reasonably sophisticated, sensitive but in a good way, have good work and good earnings potential. I drive a reasonably nice automobile. I have a reasonably nice apartment and what's more, do not share it with a loutish roommate. I have a good sense of humour. I am reasonably nice enough to have around at dinner parties and other social functions. I work hard; I like traveling; I'm spontaneous even as I'm reserved; I hold to the old standards of chivalry and respect and such; I do not make embarrassing comments in mixed company.

I could go on, I suppose, but you've more than gotten the point, I know. For despite all the above seemingly good qualities, I don't apparently have what it takes in person. We could go down a list here too: not sexy enough, boring conversationalist, etc. Not things I should think about, I guess, but like I said, you start to wonder, "Gee, what the hell is it with me?"

But ah well. About all I can do, I think, is keep searching like all those old Captains. Maybe, just maybe, I can break that mold.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.1.03


Cosmic Justice Report
* Bank ATMs fail across the country due to computer worm. The bank affected? Bank of America, AP reports. The story does not, unfortunately, ask whether customers were still charged $2 to see a teller.

* A Virginia man beats his wife's Shar-Pei with a loaded shotgun. The lesson learned? None, because the weapon discharged, separating the man and his guts. Unfortunately, the poor dog was destroyed at the widow's request.

* A Washington brain-cancer patient is arrested after pharmacists suspect she faked her Percoset prescription. Mmmmm. Percoset. Naturally, she's suing. Then again, if her story holds water, I think I would too.

* President Bush attends elite Alfalfa Club dinner. Now, that's fine and all, but why is it that elite clubs always have seemingly silly names? Further, as my audience undoubtedly consists of some folks who belong to elite clubs, could someone explain to me the rationale behind joining and paying membership dues to such an establishment? Wouldn't it just make more sense to eat out all the time with friends and drink a lot of wine?

* Small planes collide, kill 5 in Colorado. Now, I'm no pilot, and we don't know what happened here, but I've always thought it smart to leave this type of thing to the professionals. Therefore, I call upon all private-plane owners to do the patriotic thing -- ground their planes and buy first-class tickets on U.S.-based airlines. Not only is it probably cheaper, it could save your estate the trouble and expense of dealing wth the people's homes your plane destroyed as it crashed.

* Los Angeles to Adelphia: Screw you, pay us. At issue is the pay proposed for the company's new top two executives: from $6-$8 million each year for three years. Once unfriendly to business, always unfriendly to it.

* Iraqi citizens plead for help from UNMOVIC. UNMOVIC hands them to the Iraqi Government. Great. Today Baghdad, tomorrow Ptolomaea.

* Lastly, we note that the citizenry of Kenya is paying less in bribes to its elected officials. That's good ... I guess.

  thus spake Benjamin on 26.1.03

The Art of the Film
Nothing makes for a good bit of fun in the morning like watching your friends get into arguments over the state of the culture. Actually, Chris Weinkopf -- a close friend and former colleague back in our "salad days," -- didn't start the whole thing, so his most recent words about Art and Film are not so much an argument as a defense.

But there is no doubt that battle has been joined. For, you see, Mr Weinkopf found himself raked over the coals in the Claremont Institute's weekly newsletter, Precepts.

Spencer Warren has accused Mr Weinkopf and other writers committing the supposed sin of "aesthetic relativism." His prima facie evidence in this matter is a short article that Mr Weinkopf penned last year for The American Enterprise, in which Mr Weinkopf made the generally-true argument that Film and Art are mutually exclusive subjects:

But film leaves little room for abstraction—unless it’s forced, and nothing makes for worse art than forced abstraction. This makes film a lousy art form by definition. But it also makes it a perfect vehicle for entertainment, with its ability to reflect the real world or make fantasy worlds seem real.

Besides, Chris cheerfully admits he cares little about film anyway.

Mr Warren, however, shot back with furious anger that Mr Weinkopf would dismiss the medium:

Chris Weinkopf, writing in a brief symposium, "Are Movies Art?" in last winter's The American Enterprise magazine, asserted that movie artistry "extends about as far as good pyrotechnics." What an extraordinary statement. So much for "It's A Wonderful Life", "Singin' in the Rain", the comedies of Chaplin and Keaton, the great foreign directors like Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Frederico Fellini, and so on. ... That they should be dismissed down the memory hole by even one writer in a distinguished conservative journal is extremely unfortunate."

Mr Warren also sniffs at Mr Weinkopf's choice of favourite films: "Terminator 2," "Die Hard," and the Star Wars Trilogy. In the same breath, he also made a crack that a former editor at The Weekly Standard also praised the latter two works. To further examine the consequences of this action, we now turn to reader Jessica Fletcher of Cabot Cove, Maine, for her analysis:

Mrs FLETCHER: "That was your fatal mistake."

Yes, indeed! J. Bottum, the Books & Arts Editor of that veritable publication, has rushed to Mr Weinkopf's defense even as Mr Bottum fired back a swift and merciless counterpunch.

As for where I stand, well, I side with Mr Weinkopf on this one.

That is not to say that there are not some beautifully-made films out there; films that everyone should watch to consider himself an educated man. However, I also think that out of the thousands upon thousands of movies made, the number of truly worthwhile "art films" would be fewer than fifty. As Mr Weinkopf notes, film is good at telling a story -- but that's about all it does.

That's why it can be so exasperating when ham-handed directors stupidly attempt to insert Greater Messages in their films (viz., "The Fifth Element") But it can also be highly entertaining when Messages of Reasonable Scope are presented. That's what's nice about "Star Wars" and "Die Hard" and all the rest -- good triumphs over evil, right bests wrong, boy gets the girl when all is said and done. Last time I checked, those films weren't about relativism -- and strangely, that may be why they are so popular among the American public.

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.1.03


German Spooks Write Cookery Book
You know, with the War Against Terror still paramount, you would think that Germany's secret agent men would spend their time fighting the Axis of ... no, wait a second ... terrorist types. Yet apparently they have still found time to come up with a cookery book. Reuters has the full story here.

Weirdly, the book also contains anecdotes about Germany's intelligence-gathering activities in relation to the recipes from different nations, although the claim is that some aren't true. Wouldn't this, I don't know, cause a bit of trouble in the long run? Because you know all the other spies are going to read it, and they're going to see their country on the list, and then they'll wonder what the Germans are up to now.


FILE PHOTO: In an undated photograph, East German agents Starker (left) and Siegfried have a laugh as they contemplate acquiring "The Colonel's" secret recipe of 13 herbs 'n' spices for Comintern.

But apparently this does not concern Germany's spy apparatus:

"We want to awaken people's curiosity and get them to identify with the service," said a spokeswoman for the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's version of MI6. The publicity drive could also help recruitment, she added.

Not with a name like Bundesnachrichtendienst, it won't.

The book, by the way, is called Topf Secret. Ha, ha! It's a German pun! It's ... hoo boy.

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.1.03

Commentary for the Good Guys
I was listening to one of the horrible Boston radio stations this morning and heard a comedian express a funny -- if rather true -- outlook on geopolitics. He compared the world to a giant station wagon, in which the United States was the driver and all the other countries were stuck in the back seat.

OTHER COUNTRIES: "We want nuclear weapons! We want nuclear weapons too!"
U.S.: "SHUT UP!"

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.1.03

Tomorrow's the Day ...
Ben Domenech is getting married! Well, we knew that, but I mean the ceremony's tomorrow. Go drop him a note wishing he and Caroline all the best, if you have not done so already.

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.1.03

Kepple Now 53rd Most Influential "Benjamin" On Internet
So Ken Layne's annoyed that he is only the 2nd Ken reference when a visitor to Google types in his first name. Gripe, gripe, gripe. Try typing in "Benjamin" and see what comes out of the bloody machine. I'm 53rd, for God's sake!

At first, I was kind of dismayed at this, because there are a lot of tough-to-beat folks on this list. I mean, you have Benjamin Franklin and President Benjamin Harrison, for instance. In terms of current Government officials, U.S. Rep. Benjamin Gilman of New York also ranks higher than I do. So does Maryland's Rep. Benjamin Cardin. And don't forget scientist Benjamin Banneker, either. Or, for that matter, composer Benjamin Britten; or 18th Century American painter Benjamin West, or Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo. Let's not forget Benjamin Netanyahu either.

But I'm also stuck behind a bunch of computer scientists -- at least four, from what I can tell -- and a bunch of inanimate objects, such as The Benjamin Hotel in New York. Let's not forget the very humbling No. 2 entry on the Google index, either -- Benjamin Moore & Co. Gad! I'm being upstaged by a paint manufacturer.

I'm keeping this in perspective, however.

For one thing, I'm still two spots ahead of someone who shares my first name, but who claims to be a "Hermetic magician." I don't know what this means. But as someone who believes that magic is the province of silly people, I am glad to see that my writing takes precedence over ... well, that.

For another, one of my second cousins, a bright young lad who lives in the Maryland Free State, is also named Benjamin Kepple. He has not, from what I can tell, established any Internet presence as of yet. However, when he does, I've a feeling he'll be right annoyed to know I got here first.

  thus spake Benjamin on 24.1.03

A Point of Honor

As luck would have it, I must fast Thursday evening due to some medical exams that I must take at an officially un-Godly hour on Friday morning. It would seem, then, to be prudent and timely on my part to not leave my blogging capacity to chance and instead pay tribute to St Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva; Doctor of the Church; and Patron Saint of Journalists. His memorial day is January 24.

I always had a liking for St Francis de Sales when I was in the process of my conversion to Catholicism; so much so that I chose Francis as my confirmation name.

Back in the old days -- like the 16th century, for instance -- the idea behind choosing a confirmation name was a bit more forceful than it is now. Back then, they would actually change the name of the person being confirmed, and often for less-than-spiritual reasons. If you named your kid Dakota or Gennifer or Aloysius, your child would be spared this unfortunate circumstance by a Church that knew better (and given the prior examples, maybe it wasn't such a bad idea).

Now, however, the focus is more (all) on choosing a name that "represents who you are, who you are becoming, and how you would like to reflect the spirit of God in your life." That's why I chose Francis; for if you click on that first link you can read about his life, and what an amazing life it was.

Sure, I could have chosen my baptismal name -- Benjamin -- and I'll admit that had a draw for me too. (As a journalist, I admire anyone who won't give up his spiritual beliefs, even if it gets him killed.) But to me, St Francis de Sales was notable: not just for his selfless devotion to his God and his Church, but for his tireless work to show others how good both those things were. Despite all the tough obstacles thrown in his path, the man would simply not quit. When people wouldn't listen to him speak, he wrote down his words and slipped them under doors. Instead of couching his language in jargon, he spoke and wrote clearly and simply. He eschewed the finer things in life to devote himself to that grand work. And, once in a great while, he'd pull a stunt to get his points across. (Stunts like riding a horse in full bishop's regalia through a village of rather angry folks who wanted his head on a platter).

Eventually, all that hard work and devotion paid off, as he single-handedly converted tens of thousands back to the Catholic Faith just a few decades after the Reformation. After he passed on, his writing and his life's work served as an inspiration to countless others.

There's a reason why St Francis de Sales is thought of as the First Journalist.

But leaving aside his inherent coolness, St Francis de Sales also serves as an inspiration to the faithful. He has left his writing to us, and from that we can draw much in the way of lessons about how to live our own lives -- even in this hectic day and age. What is striking to me is that his writing, and the records that have come down to us over the ages, show that he was a genuinely humble and nice man in an era when they were few such men. It has kept his message relevant, and perhaps as effective as it was when he originally wrote it. And it is a message that we need in this modern world:

"God desires that we should be saved. We too need constantly to desire what God desires. God not only means us to be saved, but actually gives us all we need to achieve salvation. So we are not to stop at merely desiring salvation, but go a step further and accept all the graces God has prepared for us, the graces constantly offered to us. It is all very well to say, "I want to be saved." It is not much use merely saying, "I want to take the necessary steps." We must actually take the steps. We need to make a definite resolution to take and use the graces God holds out to us. Our wills must be in tune with God's. Because God wants us to be saved, we should want to be saved. We should also welcome the means to salvation that God intends us to take....that is why general acts of devotion and prayer should always be followed by particular resolutions."

  thus spake Benjamin on 23.1.03


This ... (sneer, screw up face) ... England

"We seem to be in the sort of demoralized position that often ends in revolution or collapse, but it is hard to see what has led to it."

-- Peter Hitchens,
The Abolition of Britain

As an American, I have always had a great respect for the United Kingdom. It is the progenitor of this great nation, after all, and has produced some of the Western world's most keen leaders and intellects: Churchill, Shakespeare, Disraeli, Newton. Up until the Second World War, perhaps even into the Sixties, Britain remained a calm and steady partner to its cousin across the Atlantic.

Then I hear that the United Kingdom has decided, in its provincial wisdom, to summarily expel my dear friend and colleague Sasha Castel from its shores. Her fiance, the esteemed Andrew Dodge, has returned to the United States along with her. Why exactly Her Majesty's Government decided to inflict such a Kafkaseque nightmare on Ms Castel (and by extension Mr Dodge) we do not know, although it apparently boils down to A) she has a blog; B) she has a blog and 3) she loves Andrew very much. We observers here in America, a nation which welcomes productive immigrants to its shores, do not understand this.

We are vexed. No, we are wroth. No, strike that too. In reality, we have been given the "green light" to what we in American term "opening a can of whoop-ass" on your sorry, bureaucrat-choked Government. Your spoiled throne of kings, your wretched isle. Your earth of degeneracy, your seat of liars, your anti-Eden, your workers' paradise. Your fortress built by England for itself, against production and the hand of God; you sad breed of men stuck in your little world. Your moldy stone fouling the silver sea may serve you as a wall, or as a moat defensive to a council house. But against what, eh? Against the force of more enlightened lands? That wretched plot, that scourge, that Hell, that ... (sneer) ... England.

Now note carefully that I italicized the word Government in the above paragraph. For clearly my complaint is not with the English people, whom I have always liked and continue to like. The above words do not apply to the English people; they apply to its Government, which is apparently doing a fine job of wrecking what used to be, by all reports, a rather pleasant place to live (tax rates aside). Everyone knows the above words which I mercilessly parodied; they come from King Richard II, Act II; but not many people know the lines that come after it. You know, where John of Gaunt rakes Richard II over the coals. "Thy death-bed is no lesser than thy land; Wherein thou liest in reputation sick."

So what led to this state of affairs; the question which Mr Hitchens put forth in his excellent book? That I do not claim to know; but what I do know is that Her Majesty's Government has done quite a disservice to Ms Castel, and it annoys me greatly that she and Andrew are stuck in what one might reasonably call a Kafka-esque nightmare of immigration law and petty bureaucracy. I would hope that, if such a thing can be reversed, that the undertaking would be taken post-haste. To be blunt about it -- we Americans are good at being blunt -- this was a serious wrong, and an outrageous one, and it reflects extremely poorly on a country whose reputation for justice and honesty precedes our own. I do hope that HM's Government will take the steps necessary to ensure that reputation is maintained for future use.

It's a crazy world out there, and it might just need it.

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.1.03


Thirty Years On
I was so busy yesterday that I was too tired to post about the 30th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision. I do, however, think that my thoughts posted just before the court decision's 29th anniversary still hold. The link below will direct you to the full post:

"So why, then, do I oppose it?

It is not just because we are willfully ending a human life. I can come up to you and say, "Well. We know that human life begins at conception. Therefore, willfully ending that life with malice aforethought is tantamount to murder, or at least manslaughter. Q.E.D." But that ain't gonna change your mind one bit. Not if the paramaters for debate are different, not if we have different views on human life, and not if I cite sources which have no meaning to you. I can pull out the Holy Bible, and argue like an old Spanish padre in a movie that THIS is my Authority. If you don't recognize it, that Rock upon which I stand looks to you like a hill of sand before an oncoming tsunami.

It is because of how we end it, and why we end it. It is because of what it does to us and what it does to the child."

-- BJK
"An Early Reflection"
16 January 2002

  thus spake Benjamin on 22.1.03

Oh No! It's Time For ...

An occasional feature at The Rant

Today's letter comes from Vancouver, Wash.:

Dear Dr Curmudgeon:

I was over at Moxie's site today and noticed that it featured a guest entry by one "Right-Wing Texan," in which the gentleman wrote sort of a guide to understanding women. I thought the guide was quite well-written, and full of common-sense advice, and I have always conducted myself in a similar fashion when I have gone out with girls. However, this Saturday will mark the 68th Saturday in a row that I've spent at home alone. Should I act differently?




I don't know, Bob. But what I do know is that this entry didn't tell us anything that civilized people didn't already know.

It's good advice, but let's face it -- it's advice that really worked well back when Eisenhower was in office. That's not to say you should change how you act now, don't get me wrong. Following those rules will be very helpful for you. It's just that you're going to find it rather more difficult today to find someone special, if someone special really exists for you, and as such you should be quite patient.

Really patient, I might add. Based on your letter and our subsequent introductory phone call on my radio show, I would say the chance of that ranges from "highly unlikely" to "about the same as you winning the Indianapolis 500."

But perhaps I'm too harsh, Bob. If Bob really is your name, and not, as my assistants claim, "Roger from Ypsilanti."

You see, the trouble with RWT's advice was that it was aimed at only one of four key sub-classes of men, namely homo sapiens jerkianis. I shall endeavour, in the short space that follows, to explain the difference between four major sub-classes of the male gender and how they operate. I shall further attempt to explain why no women are interested in you.

The four major classes are as follows:


(Homo sapiens jerkianis)
(see related subclass homo sapiens dementis; lit. "men who wear face-paint at sporting events")

These sad wretches are usually characterized by a lack of interest or knowledge of the finer things in life, including well-regarded literature, fine wines, and discussions about theology and politics held late at night over a good meal. Instead, like the barbarian tribes of ancient Germany, these individuals consume large quantities of beer and take great interest in sporting events, especially at establishments where one can consume large quantities of beer and have access to dozens of televised sporting matches. Oftentimes, this inebriated state leads them to make lewd and inappropriate comments towards women -- an exacerbation of such males' already-jerkish traits, if you will.

We don't fully understand why some women, especially some quite attractive women, continue to find such men all that and a bag of chips. We do, as Dr. Allen Konigsberg might say, have a theory. We believe that the general social upheaval which took place in the Sixties and Seventies has led to an incredible lowering of the standards to which some women hold men. This, we think, explains the advent of cultural happenings such as wide lapels, pleather jackets and pants, brown corduroy suits, and the mullet.

We should note that patronizing sports bars is not prima facie evidence of jerkishness, and that many men (including one archetype not discussed here, Homo sapiens averagejoesium) frequent these places without showing telltale signs of this malaise. Still, there is no denying that this alarming trend has continued to assert itself in modern-day American life.

Numerous sociological studies have confirmed that the general intelligence quotient of the jerkianis population is dropping at an alarming rate, largely due to the influence of suggestive music, bad film, and vapid television. We fear that by the year 2025, such men will be incapable of expressing themselves in any way except through loud grunts and short bursts of a degraded language that barely resembles English. Indeed, this phenomenon is already becoming apparent in recent years, at certain locales near large state universities ("fraternity row") and in some suburban areas.


Homo sapiens alphanorum

These energetic, hard-charging individuals sacrifice many outside activities in pursuit of their careers. We generally approve of this behavioral pattern among men, as studies have shown it leads to the preservation of the nuclear family unit and is responsible for a considerable amount of the nation's (male) productive output. Unlike our former type of man, the alphanorum class includes a high percentage of educated and sophisticated urban professionals, including doctors and lawyers. However, while it may seem strange to the average productive citizen, we know that the danger exists for an alphanorum male to change into an afflicted substratum of the class, namely alphanorum arrogantis.

Again, we do not know why some women find the arrogantis substratum attractive, as these men show a tendency to act cocky in public and look down upon those of lower financial or personal station. Further, statistics have shown arrogantis males are three times as likely as normal alphanorum men to engage in personally inadvisable behavior, such as arguing over the checkbook, refusing to help with the dishes, and throwing up in the boss' pool during a key work function. A minority among the scientific community have suggested that Terence and Rengels' "Coach Handbag Theory" may account for some of this (viz., The Journal of American Sociology and Social Engineering Today, p. 523-78, 1999). However, reasonable scientists have since concluded that Terence and Rengels' work only applies to a scant minority (<1%) of women.


Homo sapiens lonerae

While some men classified in the two former subclasses may show signs of this trait, the pioneering work of Calcedas and Martin ("Rebels Without a ... Oh, to Hell with You and Your Stupid Peer Review Board Anyway," The American Journal of Psychiatric Care and Referral, p. 823-78, 1994) suggests that some such men have Issues with a Capital I. Some side effects of this, which are certainly --and indeed, often-- reversable in later life, can be seen in the teenaged years. These include an obsession with "fantasy role-playing games" and "pin-up" calendars, for instance.

The proper course of action for the lonerae class has long been debated among the scientific community. However, we now encourage them to get out more, have a gin with dinner, and relax a bit. Studies have shown that being oneself and finding girls with similar interests, instead of pining over some vapid cheerleader type, are great ways for such persons to take the edge off and enjoy life more.


Homo sapiens seeminglymostoftenattractivetowomenintheirmidtwentiesorolder
Reports published in the major media (viz., "Despite Expensive DInner Out and Witty Repartee, L.A. Journalist Fails Again to Get Second Date," The New York Times, May 22, 2000) have shown that many educated, urbane, sophisticated men often get shot down for dates yet fail to see why exactly that is. Especially if the man in question is a young twenty-something journalist who lives in New Hampshire and is still recuperating from three horrible years in Los Angeles, in which he went out with a number of incompatible young women.

We have a theory, however. We believe that if these young men would actually eat right and exercise more, thus losing the remaining paunch on their overtaxed, formless physiques, they would prove quite attractive to many young women. Especially if they would remember to stop griping about economic issues on their first date. Many women find discussions of currency exchange rates and the Japanese deflation crisis incredibly boring. However, we ask that any women in their twenties who are interested in that type of thing, and who would enjoy good conversation about everything else under the sun with a decent and friendly writer based in Manchester, N.H., to e-mail bjkinnh - (at) - aol - (dot) - com.

Provided that Dr Curmudgeon has not offended all of you, that is.

However -- Bob -- or Roger -- or whatever you're calling yourself, you are a different story entirely. Indeed, we don't know why you even bothered calling into our show today. I mean, really. You shouldn't change how you act on dates. You should, however, work on finding someplace other than your parents' basement to live. I mean, you're like 38 or something. And we read that complaint of yours about how your last date wasn't impressed that you "splurged" on the "dollar menu" items for her. We do, however, think you would make an excellent case study for our next published paper.

That's all for now! I'm Dr Curmudgeon. Until next time!

Dr. Curmudgeon is a professor at the University of Southern Michigan. His radio show, Ask Dr. Curmudgeon, and his syndicated column, What Are You Griping About Now? Dr. Curmudgeon's Advice Bag are distributed nationwide.

  thus spake Benjamin on 21.1.03


Death Takes a Holiday
Unbelievable. There are about 100 entrants in Amish Tech Support's Dead Pool -- I'm not one of them, in case you were wondering -- and not one of them has received any points thus far this year. Not one!

This could be Sign No. 29,765 that God exists and has a sense of humour. Other great signs, of course, have previously included the presidential aspirations of William Jennings Bryan and the acting career of Emilio Estevez. But who's counting?

  thus spake Benjamin on 20.1.03


Readers! Come Back!
Oy vey. I get sick -- end up hospitalized for emergency surgery, no less -- and my hit count drops to record lows. No! That's not what's supposed to happen! Not at all! I mean, sure I haven't posted anything all that interesting lately, but that's because I haven't had the energy to do it. Time, yes. I've had the time. Just not the energy. Really. I will be back to normal soon, God willing.

  thus spake Benjamin on 20.1.03

More on NK
While surfing the Internet lately, I came across a very helpful and useful site for anyone interested in our present contretemps with North Korea. Namely, it is an index of all the North Korean stories -- in English -- from The Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea's most-respected daily newspapers. The index has stories on everything from the North's network of concentration camps to its recent switch to euros (from US dollars) as its medium by which to settle foreign accounts.

I don't know where else, for instance, one could find out that the value of the North Korean won has collapsed against the greenback. With rates expected to hit 700 NKW to the dollar, this gives the average North Korean an income of between $36 and $54 per year.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.1.03


Game Over
International inspectors find proof of Saddam's programme to build nuclear arms, reports The Telegraph of London in today's editions. One notable quote from the article suggests that the inspections may wrap up quickly, with the smoking gun having been found:

In an off-guard moment at the end of an exhausting week, Hiro Ueki, an UNMOVIC spokesman, suddenly gave a wry smile: "Make no mistake. We will be here on January 28. But I'm not sure where we will be on January 29."

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.1.03

It's Officially Cold As Hell
As of 2 a.m. on 19 January 2002, Manchester is reporting a temperature of twelve degrees below zero. Incredibly, this is one of the warmer temperatures in the Granite State at the present time. Fortunately, the wind is calm here in Manchester, but up north the wind chills are reportedly some place south of 30 degrees below zero. Thirty below! Can you imagine it!

You know the cold is bad when it doesn't matter whether you express things in Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Yesterday, the papers reported that the air temperature was in the minus-twenties up North, and I have to admit that I didn't believe it. That's until I went outside this evening/morning. Christ Jesus. The cold was lacerating, blood-curdling, unmerciful. I think the fact it was dark made things even worse. The worst thing of all, of course, is that I'm stuck dealing with this crap until April.

  thus spake Benjamin on 19.1.03

Oh, Hell No!

  thus spake Benjamin on 17.1.03


Granite State Officially Civilized, Kepple Reports
Trader Joe's found at N.H. - Mass. line, just a wee bit south of Nashua. You know I'm going as soon as I can.

UPDATE: Have just downloaded NH's "Fearless Flyer." Oh, boy, this is sweet. I am so there.

  thus spake Benjamin on 17.1.03

Daisy, Daisy ...
Say! A "grass-roots anti-war group" has remade that old "Daisy" ad from the 1964 Presidential race. According to the Associated Press, ", founded in San Francisco in 1998 ...

Oh. Frisco.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.1.03


Bad News All Around
Nothing like a little bad news to ruin an otherwise good day.

The first spot of bad news is that Iain Murray (The Edge of England's Sword) has been fired from his position in Washington. The second spot of bad news is a report that Andrew Dodge, whom readers may recall from Sasha Castel's site and with whom I was corresponding not just five days ago, has been detained by UK immigration authorities. The reason for that, as we understand, is that there were minor paperwork errors in his visa application.

Here's hoping we'll all keep these folks in mind over the coming weeks.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.1.03

Casting the First Stone
Gee. It seems the Hollywood types who don't want you to own SUVs ... own SUVs. The preceding link comes courtesy of WorldNetDaily, a fine on-line magazine which takes particular glee in pointing out the habits of Hollywood's most vocal and most spoiled "celebrities." You can read an AP digest form of this here.

Singled out for attention is Arianna Huffington, the brains behind the now-infamous advertising campaign linking SUV driving, and as such SUV owners, to terrorism. WND reports in almost breathless tones that Ms Huffington has traded in her SUV for a hybrid Toyota Prius, but "still makes her home in a 9,000-square-foot estate in the elite Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles."

Now, I don't know if that's entirely fair to Ms Huffington, unless she's traded up houses and I don't know about it. Having actually been to her home in Brentwood once -- this was for a wedding, a few years ago -- I can say that it was not overly lavish or gauche or even all that estate-like. If it was 9,000 square feet, as the story proclaims, it certainly didn't seem like it. Perhaps it was just one of those homes which looks smaller than it is in actuality. While it was very tastefully decorated and had a beautiful yard to go with it, it was not something that struck me as really over the top. There are plenty of such monstrosities in California, and this wasn't one of them.

Anyway, while I can't fault Ms Huffington for her taste in decorating, I can fault her for this latest stunt of hers, which is appalling and gauche. We shouldn't be surprised at it, either. Somewhere along the line in the past couple of years, Ms Huffington has turned into a flake.

Not just a flake in ordinary terms, either. That would be forgivable. No, Ms Huffington has become the Delia Deetz of the conservative movement, if you will; a person for whom intellectual pursuits are an enjoyable side hobby and a way to look important to the rest of her set. Yet none of these people, apparently, has had the presence of mind to say to her, "Arianna, dahling, you are a flake. You have always been a flake. If you're going to write bad columns and annoy people, you should take care to do so with some eye to mainstream popular opinion."

Well, that and presenting facts in their true light. For example, Ms Huffington writes in her Jan. 6 column that our Government gives SUV buyers massive tax breaks:

Of course, Washington continues to do its part by holding SUVs to lower fuel efficiency and air pollution standards than passenger cars. Our politicians have even refused to close a deeply misguided tax loophole that rewards buyers of extra large -- and extra wasteful -- SUVs with extra large tax breaks.

Think of that: at a time when our leaders should be touting the importance of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, the people being given a financial incentive to purchase a new vehicle are those buying fuel-chugging SUVs.

"I was surprised," said Karl Wizinsky, a health care consultant from Michigan who just bought a giant Ford Excursion even though he admits he doesn't really need it, "that a $32,000 credit on a $47,000 purchase was available in the first year. I mean, it is a substantial credit." Yes, it is. And it's created a substantial -- and artificial -- demand.

Oh, really? Now that's odd. I knew that Washington gave small tax credits to folks who bought all-electric or other "clean" automobiles. Still, I was unaware that SUV buyers could get a tax credit for two-thirds of an SUV's purchase price, payable to the average Joe on the street who bought one. Had I known this, I would have bought one forthwith.

On the other hand, this might refer to the standard practice of depreciating vehicles for business use (see IRS Publication 946, "How to Depreciate Property") and the differential between depreciation for a standard passenger automobile and a light truck. Because some SUVs weigh more than three tons, they may be classified as light trucks and as such may gain tax advantages. Not a credit, mind you, but a deduction.

These two things are not the same; and passing off a Buick as a Bentley isn't fair pool. No matter how much you polish the hood.

It's this truth-bending from Ms Huffington on the one hand, and outright hypocrisy from the assorted B-listers on the other, that makes this whole campaign so downright aggravating. It's bad enough for these intellectual lightweights to lecture the American people on automobiles and geopolitics. It's even worse when those same lightweights are so stupid they get caught in hypocrisy's maw just days after their initial pronouncement is made. But what is unforgivable is that they have no shame about the whole affair.

Consider how Chevy Chase's "people" responded when some annoying muckracker meekly pointed out that Fletch owns an SUV: " 'They only use it when they have to attach the horse trailer or when they're carrying a lot of kids,' a representative says."

Horse trailer?!

And what's this "only use it when" business? Does this mean that Mr Chase has more than one flashy automobile? No wonder that folks like Rachel Lucas, whose Web log I recently came across, is blunter than I am in her assessment. She writes: "I hate these people. I mean, I hate them the way I would hate a severe case of syphilis.

* * *

As readers of The Rant know, I'm the type of fellow who appreciates the good things in life provided they aren't screwed up along the way.

To take one example, a martini is properly made with two parts gin to one part vermouth. It is shaken, not stirred, and it is garnished with olives. If one wishes a dry martini, one puts in rather a lot of gin and a few drops of vermouth. If one wishes to be a bit odd and substitute vodka for gin, it is a sin but still barely acceptable. In any event, a proper martini is made without artificial flavoring. There is no introduction of some exotic spirit or weird food coloring, and most certainly nothing to do with apples, chocolate, hot peppers or worcestershire sauce.

Despite such reasonable and cardinal rules for making a martini, people who should know better have screwed it up. One cannot go to a trendy nightspot in any major city without seeing grown men swallowing "sour apple martinis" or other such adulterated swill. Gad. It makes one want to vomit.

I think these Hollywood types are doing to SUVs what they did to the martini. They are doing their best to ruin a fine class of vehicles. But I have a theory as to what's really driving this campaign. Not based on facts, let's make that clear; but it's just a hunch. That hunch is this:

An SUV no longer has cachet, you see. There are few things that do these days. A plasma television set, or a particularly nice sedan, or a trip to Ibiza; they are all so very mass, as some would say. So what if Gwyneth Paltrow drives a Mercedes-Benz SUV? Tens of thousands of her compatriots do as well. So what if some Hollywood producer has installed a plasma television at his manse in Hidden Hills? Guess what: some plumber saved up for a bit and installed one at his three-bedroom house in Cicero, Ill.

The nation's economic engine is so powerful, and so robust, that there are few things beyond the reach of even the upper-middle class, the so-called mass affluent. Combine that with America's proud political traditions, and suddenly one realizes that about all these celebrities have is fame and a bit more cash than most. For my money, I don't think the Hollywood types can stand the fact that the common people, the average Joes who pay a few bucks for a movie ticket or a compact disc, are on the same level as they are. If not better!

They'd rather, I think, enjoy life were things a bit more unequal and a bit more unpleasant for the common folks. They'd enjoy it more if the plebians had to shuffle around the cities on bicycles -- provided they were still being chaufferred around in limousines. Of course, for most Hollywood types, that is how they see the world, because they can use their "star power" to get everything they want on a silver platter. So it's a big shock for these third-rate minds when the world at large condemns them for expounding on issues they know little about.

So feel for the poor little darlings as they bleat and whine about sport-utility vehicles. Feel for them as the more intelligent among us, the policy wonks and the budget analysts, the people who have to get up in the morning, embarrass them and humiliate them in front of an enraptured nation. It's not that they're wrong, it's simply that the average man can't understand their genius!

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.1.03

When a Dollar Ain't Worth a Dollar Anymore
In a caper of Virgil Starkwell proportions, a California bank robber turned down $600 in $1 bills, taking a few loose $20 bills instead.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.1.03

Collegiate Commentary
It's been a long while since I've read what passes for mainstream opinion among our collegiate daily newspapers, but whilst Googling this morning I stumbled across a column from some fellow at Tufts University. As an indication of the existing gap in knowledge, skill, and outlook that exists between writers in college and those who live in the real world, I offer the first paragraph of this work as evidence:

I never watch television. In fact, the only reason I have a television in my room is so that I can watch movies. And I rarely even use it for that purpose. This past Saturday night was one of those rare times that I turned my television on. I wish I had not.

Got news for ya, buddy -- I wish you hadn't either.

  thus spake Benjamin on 16.1.03

A Time to Kill
George Ryan, the now-former Governor of Illinois, has created quite the furore over his decision last Saturday to commute 156 prisoners' pending executions. Down in Florida, Mark Byron calls the process "gubernatorial nullification;" while in Virginia, Ben Domenech charges that "there is no justice in Illinois today." Meanwhile, on the ground in the Land of Lincoln, Illinigirl says that "while this may be constitutional, it just doesn't seem fair in my estimation."

No, it's not fair. That we can say for certain. With one swift stroke, Gov Ryan has perverted the course of justice and brought anguish again upon all those who knew the victims behind those cases. It was a cowardly and desperate political maneuver, and one that will not serve the ex-governor well when history comes to write up his legacy. What modern-day da Montefeltro bent his ear, I wonder?

Other writers have done an excellent job in pointing out that Gov Ryan's legacy was the only thing driving his decision. The best I have seen so far comes from Ben Domenech, who writes: "This was a crass political act designed to create an instant fanbase/legacy for the embattled Guv, who could soon be in prison himself on corruption charges."

Yes, that it was. It was a sweeping and grand act from Gov Ryan, a small and petty man whose years in office were characterized by small and petty statements and acts. Even his alleged corruption was small and petty: the case swirling around him involves bribes for drivers' licenses, a state of affairs which only received attention when people died because of it. Gov Ryan, who was once secretary of state, is alleged to have received campaign contributions from this slushery.

Yet the stench of small-time graft wasn't all that stuck to Gov Ryan over the years. Whether it was trying to pass off proposed tax increases as "user fees" or kowtowing before Castro, Ryan's tenure in office was a shambling, directionless mess. Little of anything was accomplished, whether or good or for ill. On Saturday, something was accomplished. Whether that something was for good or for ill depends on your point of view.

Personally, I thought it was a damnfool way to go about things. As Mr Domenech pointed out in his excellent essay -- it really is good -- continuing a moratorium made sense. I also would have preferred it if the state had simply made it policy not to carry out any more executions in future. Such a power play over the will of the judiciary would not have been new for Illinois. Instead, Ryan's gross maneuver caused hundreds of people -- on the outside -- to suffer renewed pain.

There are times to kill, of course. War is one of them; punishing treason is another. When it comes to murder, though, I'm not convinced that executing killers is the best course of action for us to take.

It's not because some folks on Death Row might be innocent. It stands to reason that some are, but human justice has never been perfect. It's not because the death penalty supposedly isn't a deterrent, either. As Mario Puzo had one of his characters note, we know that people we execute won't be around to kill anyone else. And it's not that I don't think that murderers deserve to face the gallows. There is no denying that they do.

But as a Christian, I hold to the quaint belief that all of us will eventually face a final judgment: a judgment where the potential punishment is far worse than anything this world could dish out, and from which there is no appeal. Obviously, we don't know what exact form this punishment would take -- some of us might believe in the lake of unquenchable fire, while I myself would like to believe that some other vision of the underworld is more spot on. But no matter which way you look at it, the end result is the same. Those who are bound for Hell will eventually have their tickets punched.

However, I also think that even the most wretched among us are capable of repentance, to turn from the blackest evil and live out their days doing some small acts of good. This is not to say that we should make this penance pleasant, or that every condemned man would embrace the idea.

But I do think they should be given the chance to try.

  thus spake Benjamin on 14.1.03


Built to Last
Interesting news out of Pennsylvania today. I've received word that the centuries-old home of Andreas "Andrew" Kepple, the progenitor of House Kepple, is still standing on its original property. The house, a two-story log cabin that you can see below, was built sometime in the 1790s.

While I do not know much about whom I believe would be my great-great-great-grandfather, we do know that Andrew Kepple was born in 1732, in Alsace. During his life, we see the first instance of the well-known Kepple family ability of "getting out while one can."

Knowing that to stay in Alsace would eventually mean his descendants would deal with the turmoil of 1848; the defeat of Napoleon III in 1870; living through French occupation after World War I; suffering under the Nazi regime; and living through another French occupation, only to end up within spitting distance of the European Parliament building, Kepple fled Europe for the greener pastures of America. Owing to the primitive nature of commerce and industry at that time, Kepple then pursued what used to be the American Dream: he bought 210 acres of land in Pennsylvania and became a farmer.

By all reports, he died happy.

UPDATE: Oooh. Apparently Andrew's full name was J. Andreas Kepple. The J, as one might expect, stands for Johann.

  thus spake Benjamin on 14.1.03

Would the Last Person Left in North Korea
Please Turn On The Lights?

Want to see how Communism destroys a nation's economic and industrial base? Just look at this image of the Korean peninsula, taken recently from satellite photos. Look at which side has electricity, and look at which side doesn't have it. And when we say doesn't have it, we mean doesn't have it.

Actually, this is a recent but clear deterioration. In 1986, South Korea was much the same, but North Korea was lit, even if just around Pyongyang and Sinuiju. In 1996, the only light came from around Pyongyang. Now, of course, there doesn't seem to be any light left at all.

  thus spake Benjamin on 12.1.03


The Kepple Doctrine
Think Locally -- Act Globally. That goes double after reading this bit of anti-nuclear nonsense.

  thus spake Benjamin on 12.1.03

Injustice, Thy Name is Tennessee

"For a game to be decided on a call like that is ludicrous." -- Bill Cowher

I hate Tennessee. Not only that, I think I about tore an abdominal suture in that second half and OT. GAD.

Now, I don't begrudge Tennessee for winning; don't get me wrong. It's just the team is a traditional rival of the Steelers and so I hate seeing them win. But Pittsburgh's pass defense was so bloody pathetic that there was no way they would have stood up in the next round, and the only reason the Steel Curtain got so close to victory was because Tennessee played like a bunch of yokels.

Still -- for the love of God! to decide the game on a penny-ante running into the kicker call is ludicrous, as Mr Cowher said. It's just ludicrous.

Since many Continental visitors may have no idea about the game to which I'm referring, I have provided helpful subtitles below. It will hopefully explain the very real similiarities between American football and rest-of-the-world "football." While I realize that certain concepts don't translate perfectly, I have put their approximates in quotes following the American terminology.

Anyway, it's overtime ("extra time") and Evil Tennessee ("Germany") is driving towards the goal line ("goal"). Due to bad planning, Valiant Pittsburgh's ("Any German Opponent") defenders let them advance down the field. It eventually results in a field goal attempt ("penalty kick.") It's a short kick; about 31 yards ("31 meters, give or take a few furlongs") and they're about to kick.

Cunningly, Pittsburgh calls a time out ("when the guy on your team fakes injury and holds his head, supposedly due to agonizing pain") right as the play is about to take place. However, the kicker ("striker") still gives it a shot. It goes through the uprights ("into the goal"), prompting the stadium personnel to pre-emptively set off the fireworks ("as if that guy who shouts, "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!" shouted that, along with all the fanfare, after the referee had called the play dead").

Hence, you can see that because of this slip-up, it would be cosmically just (*no local expression*) for the kicker to miss on his second attempt. He did, much to the wild excitement of the defenders and horror of the offensive squad ("like missing an open net"). But then, because a Pittsburgh player accidentally ran into the kicker from Tennessee ("Minneapolis"), they were given yet another attempt to make the field goal. They do so. Tennessee scores. The game is over, with Tennessee defeating Pittsburgh 34-31 ("one-nil").

Yokels celebrate. Grim-faced industrial workers cry in beer.

Gad. It's just such a disappointment.

  thus spake Benjamin on 11.1.03


After that first quarter, I don't know what they put in the Gatorade to get Pittsburgh back in action. Yet the Steel Curtain is only down 1 point after 30 minutes -- Tennessee 14, Pittsburgh 13.

Give 'em hell, Steelers!

  thus spake Benjamin on 11.1.03

Damn You, Tennessee! Damn You All to Hell!

Above, Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair prepares to throw for yet another first down an interception to the unstoppable Pittsburgh defense. Gad.

I hate Tennessee. I especially hate Tennessee when they're beating Pittsburgh, 14-0, at the end of the first quarter.

UPDATE: Say. What's this? A fumble with Pittsburgh recovering?
3rd UPDATE: You suck, McNair.

  thus spake Benjamin on 11.1.03

A Temporary Hiatus
I'm going to be away from the blog for a bit. Due to bad planning, my body decided on Monday that it was going to develop appendicitis.

After emergency surgery on Tuesday and hospitalization through this afternoon, I can proudly say that I am now at home and well on my way to recovery. However, it's going to be a while before I actually get back on my feet and certainly some time before I get back to blogging. I'm doing fine, but I can't move around much and the area around the incisions still hurt a bit.

During my absence -- expect me back in a week or so -- take a gander around the archives, check out the links on the list to the left, and have a bit of fun!

  thus spake Benjamin on 9.1.03


Reality Bites

And lo! Kepple looked upon the television networks' offerings for 2003, and he saw that they were crap. And the multitudes in Hollywood said to one another, "The stuff we greenlighted this year is crap. Come, let us produce cheaper crap for our overlords, so that we may cut down on the expense of hiring writers and paying SAG-scale wages." And they had reality shows for concepts, and craven fame-seekers for contestants. Then they said to one another, "Come, let us create reality shows so cruel that the contestants will flee to the land of Shinar, and be scattered over the earth in shame.

-- The Book of Kepple (27: 2678-2681)

As a journalist, I suppose I should thank Heaven for Entertainment Weekly magazine, because the poor ink-stained wretches over there did the dirty work of actually watching five NEW reality television shows for me. Or, at the very least, they wrote about them based on promotional materials, but the point is the same: it distills the gist of these programmes without forcing intelligent people to watch them. The only downside is that the magazine has such a supine posture in its evaluations, as evidenced by this sentence: explains why you need to watch ''Joe Millionaire,'' ''The Surreal Life,'' and three other outrageous new series. And that's just the teaser.

Well, then again, maybe outrageous is an accurate description.

But yes, there are five new reality television shows coming down the pike, each more cruel and capricious than the last, and EW's Liane Bonin breathlessly reports on all of them. The trouble is that since Ms Bonin works for EW, she has apparently turned off her bullshit detector, and as such her work must be fact-checked and run through my traditionalist and reactionary mill.

First up on this cavalcade of banality is "Am I Hot?", a program which supposedly aims to seek out the nation's two "hottest" people. The review tells us that viewers will get to see self-important and narcissistic people, with flawed physiques, walk around in public wearing skimpy outfits. They will be criticized and mocked mercilessly. As time goes on, this pool of applicants will be whittled down until two final winners are chosen.

Like many of the shows this television season, this programme takes one sinful but pleasurable idea and ruins it. Being of Slightly Tepid attractiveness myself -- and that's on a good day -- I will admit that part of my inner self would take much glee in seeing self-important people have their egos crushed in front of a panel of impartial judges. Still, my higher brain functions rightfully note that to watch this program would be to indulge in self-conceit, the most dangerous sin out there. So that alone means "Am I Hot?" shouldn't be watched, just because it caters to viewers' pride.

Of course, it also caters to viewers' lust, a much lesser sin but still a sin nonetheless. For one can surmise that the end run of the show will feature attractive applicants. What I don't understand is EW's conclusion that "best of all, the equal-opportunity-ogling factor makes this mandatory date-night viewing." Dear God. I don't know about the rest of you, but the last time I checked, doing any sort of ogling was a good way to get oneself smacked silly -- either by the object of one's eye or by one's best girl. ABC, by the way, is to blame for this.

Then there's "High School Reunion," which the WB managed to scrounge up from the people who forced "The Bachelor" upon us. This time around, 17 former classmates from a Chicagoland high school take a trip -- or are shanghai'ed to -- Maui. Wacky hijinks and zany antics ensue. Also there is a cute blonde.

I suppose this might be interesting to some people, if those people were afflicted with some Al Bundy-type disorder in which High School Represented the Best Days of Their Lives. Gad. Personally, I'd rather eat glass than hang out with a cross-section of the people from my high school, who were generally as dysfunctional as one could expect from a group of teenagers stuck in Kalamazoo, Mich. Sure, there are a few I'd probably buy a drink, but other than that, the prospect of facing down rabid wildebeests seems preferable to spending time with the gang at Loy Norrix High School. Yet these simpletons are voluntarily electing to spend time with their old peers.

As one might expect, the show spews forth more pride and more lust, although a lot more of the former than the latter. Sure, one might delight in being able to pour sand in the cleverly concealed bottle of hair spritzer which the former prom queen brought along. But that's just not a good or healthy thing.

Next up is "The Surreal Life," yet another WB program. The idea behind this one is that a bunch of washed-up Hollywood "stars" spend all of two weeks in a house together. I put "stars" in quotes because the people in question include Vince Neil (ex-Motley Crue drummer), Emmanuel Lewis (of "Webster" fame), MC Hammer, some woman who used to appear on "Baywatch," and other people. Like Corey Feldman. Yes, him.

This is, so far, the least offensive of any of the shows listed. Actually, I'd go so far as to give it Style Points for inventiveness and originality, although it's just an extrapolation of The Odd Couple Principle. However, anyone who actually watches it all the way through might be committing the sin of sloth. Watching one episode, and an episode near the end, would probably be enough.

I will confess to this, though: it's only because of the people on the show that I issue that warning. Regular readers know of my Inverted Sense of Celebrity. So I'll admit I'd be on this like white on rice -- if there were different folks involved. For instance, can you imagine having Eleanor Clift, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton, and say six other folks forced to share living space for two weeks? Now THAT would be entertainment!

Heck, it might even work with bloggers, when you think about it.

Meanwhile, ABC returns with "The Will," a particularly gruesome show that ranks up as second-to-worst of our five shows. The idea behind the show is that an elderly but cruel personage, having amassed a fortune "above $1 million" yet apparently lacking in proper estate-planning vehicles, would force his relations to compete for his belongings while he or she is still alive.

The old saw about avarice is that it's a self-perpetuating sin: it corrupts the soul so that a person never feels like he has enough wealth or material goods in this world. That said, I can't condone any television programme that could potentially tear a family apart the way this show could. Think about it: if one sub-unit of the extended family does very well, and amasses say 70 percent of the fortune, while the rest of the family is forced to split the remainder, this would only create problems. Having seen in my day what greed has done to ruin some people -- I remember one police case where a woman's relative allegedly murdered her for far less than $1 million -- I find a show like this not only morbid, but morally reprehensible on both a spiritual and temporal level.

The final horrible show is on FOX, and I speak of "Joe Millionaire." Here's the plot: Boy is inheriting $50 million. Girls line up to meet boy and vie for his hand. Boy turns out not to have $50 million, but really works as a general laborer making $19,000 per annum. To prove how paltry this sum is, consider that even most journalists make more than this right out of the gate, even at tiny papers.

Gad. Where does one start listing the faults of this show? From pride to lust, I don't know if there's a vice that's left out. It's not merely that it's dishonest, it's not merely that it's degrading, it's not merely that it's sensationalistic -- it's just so cruel. I hate the idea that someone is going to be embarrassed on national television and have their heart broken at the same time.

I also don't like the fact that it stereotypes women as a bunch of gold-diggers. That's not to say there aren't some of those out there, but come on. Perhaps it's simply because I'm a romantic at heart, but I think the legions of honourable women out in the blogosphere would agree that money does not make the man. I would think clever wit and charm, along with nice eyes, would carry the day.

(I have to think that -- it's about all I've got going at present.)

  thus spake Benjamin on 6.1.03


Luke ... I Am Using a Stock Scream in All My Films
So has everybody else, apparently. Right now I am attempting to download the low-bandwidth version of this file, containing clips of all the movies that have used a particular stock scream dating from the Fifties. You know, the scream that sounds awfully familiar in a variety of movies? How cool is that, eh? (link via Asparagirl).

Look, it's Sunday night, I'm entitled to sit back, do nothing, and blog while I watch old Woody Allen films. Deal with it, people.

  thus spake Benjamin on 5.1.03


Dude. I'm going to ... Maine
File this one to the "That's Typical File." I write an essay bashing Maine over the head, and what happens not 48 hours later? I get an invitation to head on over to Maine for a spot of lunch this coming weekend. This is an odd coincidence, but as my hosts are exceedingly nice, pleasant, and decent people, I'm looking forward to the trip.

Of course, I am taking reasonable precautions in leaving the Granite State for parts Down East, don't you worry about that. For one thing, I'm not going to get involved in any drinking bouts with local types when I'm over there. That's for two reasons. The first is that, even among moderate drinkers, I'm known as a lightweight. The second is that Mainers, as a group, can apparently drink anyone under the table. While I don't have many problems with that per se, what does bother me is that some Mainers seem to think they can drink and drive too. According to the Portland Press-Herald, 113,000 have been arrested for driving under the influence in the past 10 years. That's not a lot of people, perhaps, in absolute terms; but rather a lot when one considers that Maine only has 1.2 million residents.

I will also make sure to secure a pair of Maine license plates for my automobile. While I am only going to the southeastern coast, a refined and civilized part of the state, I am also aware of my inability to make the necessary exits and turns on major thoroughfares. The last time this happened to me, for instance, a wrong turn on the I-95 South meant that my 45 minute trip through New York stretched to 2 hours and 45 minutes. This three-hour tour, I might add, eventually led me through all four outer boroughs of New York City.

So, why would this incapability to follow directions warrant Maine license plates? Easy. I have it on good authority that many folks in Maine don't care for we yuppified flatlander types from a certain nearby state. One wrong turn and the next thing you know I'd be in Millinocket, or Van Buren; lost in the wilderness, forced to scavenge around in the woods for food and shelter. Then, as the sun sank below the horizon at 2 p.m., I'd find myself beset by a pack of wolves. Any momentary advantage I could secure through my faculties and the fact they'd never seen humans up close before would be lost once they realized I was not carrying a firestick. We haven't even gotten to the point where Kathy Bates chops off my feet. I don't care if King set it in Colorado, he probably just forgot to switch "Colorado" to "Maine."

Anyway, if I have the license plates, and I act as if I'm mute, I might be able to pass myself off as one of the locals.

I have also pledged to not make any smart and very loud remarks about how wonderful New Hampshire is, how lucky I am to live in the Granite State, or make any drunken promises to help seize the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Now, I am kidding about all this, of course; I hope all my readers realize that. I know that some of them may even be from Maine. But I'll admit there are a few things nagging me. For one thing, why is the ex-governor leaving for the South right after he left office? I mean, come on.

A full report of my Venture Into Maine (working title: "The Kepple Maneuver") comes next week, barring bad weather or a change of plans.

  thus spake Benjamin on 5.1.03

Canadian Judge: Toke Up, And Good Day
I had a great comment right on the tip of my tongue, really I did ... I just forgot what exactly I was going to write. Criminy.

  thus spake Benjamin on 4.1.03


More Good News
I was over reading The Chosun Journal this evening -- if you are interested in North Korea, you ought to spend rather a lot of time there -- and happened to look down at the staff biography page. I was not only amazingly heartened to find that students are behind this wonderful site, I was very pleased to find the Journal's editor, Edward Kim, also maintains a Christian Web page.

Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about Mr Kim's site is what I see as its spirit of ecumenism. In reading it, I did not gain the sense that Mr Kim was writing or linking from a Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox point of view, but simply from a Christian one. As if this was not enough, the site is regularly updated and beautifully designed, which are two cardinal virtues in this Internet Age. I would strongly encourage readers who care deeply about their Faith -- or even those who are simply exploring Christianity -- to visit it, and visit it often.

  thus spake Benjamin on 4.1.03

Report: Seven Million Koreans to Starve
Jasper Becker reports from Beijing that seven million North Koreans could starve with the end of Western food aid. Some critics, noting that the report appears in The Independent and its UN-WFP source, may be inclined to dismiss it or otherwise discount it. They do so at their own peril -- Becker is a damn good correspondent. Besides, with the Government food ration down to 270 grams per day -- it's not even rice, mind you -- it is not inconceivable that one-third of North Korea could perish.

In his report, Becker rightfully notes that two million North Koreans have already perished due to famine in that wretched despotism. I think we can surmise where most of those deaths have taken place: the ill-favoured provinces, especially in the north and northeast. Given that, we can surmise where many of the deaths will come when the North's ruined food distribution system is left to its own devices. They won't be in Pyongyang and they won't be among folks wearing officer's uniforms, I can tell you that.

Some looking at this situation may wonder why the U.S. is with-holding food aid when so many millions are risk; it is something that I too have thought long about. With so many people at risk, shouldn't we take the chance that North Korea might just do the right thing this time around?

But as difficult as it is to confront, we can't ignore the fact that folks on the ground have told us time and again that they simply won't. For instance, in the late Nineties, Medicines sans Frontieres told us that the DPRK's food distribution system would routinely divert aid away from those who needed it most, no matter whether they were children or adults, pregnant women or elderly men. Scholars at The Brookings Institution tell us that unless we have standards in place to ensure food goes to where it is needed, it will end up in the elites' pockets. Finally, take it from the source if you must -- high-level DPRK defector Hwang Jang-yop warns that economic aid without monitoring simply strengthens the North's hand. If you don't believe him, take it from former North Korean intelligence officer Yun Seong-su.

So while our hearts may tell us that we should continue our food aid, we should think with our minds. We ought remember that it wouldn't matter if we sent one bushel or one million bushels of grain and rice and other products in assistance -- we would only continue to prop up a bankrupt and evil regime that has proven time and again it cares for one thing only: the survival of its leadership. Until that leadership, for once in its existence, sees the light, we should withhold the aid until we can see with our own eyes that it reaches the starving and the weak.


Of course, there is a deeper question behind this; hypothetical, to be sure, but one I am sure the policy experts in New York and Washington are considering. That is: North Korea has approximately 22 million people. If a full one-third of them were to starve to death, in the second great human tragedy of the 21st century, what does that do in terms of weakening Pyongyang? Would it have any effect at all on that evil regime? Would it cause a flood of Koreans to attempt crossing the icy Tumen River in hopes of a better life (!) in Communist China, giving all they had in this world to the corrupt bureaucrats on both sides of that waterway? Or would such a happening be so catastrophic that North Korea was pushed to the point of no return?

Were I living in Seoul, I imagine that question would keep me up late into the night.

  thus spake Benjamin on 4.1.03

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