Ben Stein's Diary

Agony and Ecstasy

Dispatches from our hero's private oasis. From Ben's monthly print Diary.

By From the February 2013 issue

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Saturday
Hmmm. I slept in my office above the garage this morning. I have gotten into the evil habit of getting up in the middle of the night, reading some upsetting book about Hitler, and then finding that I am too anxious to fall back asleep in my usual bed in my bedroom. The book I am reading now is as good a book of European history as I have ever read. It is Hitler’s Central European Empire by Jean Sedlar. The author, who died recently, was the mother of my dear friend Eric Sedlar, who was married to my other dear friend Tatyana, who died this summer. Too much dying. The book is super smartly written—more than that, supremely brilliantly written, magnificently researched—but tells such sad truths about humans that it disturbs my rest. We humans are made of crooked, hating, hurting wood. “Flawed” is putting it mildly.

Plus, on a more micro level, my usual bed is a total mess. It has stacks of bills, many CDs still unopened, waiting to be played in my ancient compact disc player, many books about how to deal with anxiety, many Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and a big dog.

I found I needed a neater bed at five in the morning, so I packed up my dog and my fat old self, and I walked downstairs, through the dining room, the breakfast room, the kitchen, the laundry room, and then outside along a small (very small) pathway to the stairs to what we call the “Garage Mahal”—my office above the garage.

This all gives the impression that we live in an enormous house. We don’t. It is a normal home and it does not take long to traverse it.

When I get to my office, I am invariably happy. I like being in a room that is NOT littered with my own mess. I put my Mozart piano concertos on my ancient, barely working Discman and go right back to sleep. Usually, I awaken fairly happy.

This morning though, I awakened and started to measure what we as a nation have lost in recent years.

We have lost the freedom to speak in a candid and truthful way. This has happened largely over matters of race. We as a nation are totally right to want to avoid offending men and women because of their race. To use evil names to race-bait our fellow Americans is just an outrage.

But we don’t do anyone a favor if we pretend that all the races in this country are each the same as the others. Yes, of course we all have equal rights under law. That’s mandatory. But it’s a fact that black Americans are in deep trouble in terms of education, unemployment, work experience, family cohesiveness, drug use, and health. We do not do anyone favors by pretending that things are hunky-dory in the black community. They are not, and if we could honestly say that many of the problems of our schools, our prisons, our neighborhoods are closely tied to race, we might be able to at least start to think about them more clearly. It is just plain foolish to ignore people and say we do them a favor by ignoring them.

We really must examine what works for poor black people, in terms of making them more productive citizens, and do more of that. I notice, for example, that the military, by expecting high standards of behavior from people of color, usually gets it. No excuses. Just do it. I wish we could respect all races enough to tell the truth about what we need to do to help them have great lives.

Black people cannot just be swept under the rug. They are people and have feelings and needs and hopes and fears just like everyone else. They deserve respect, especially from the president, who does not give it to them.

I was also thinking about how we cannot tell the truth about science. We all admire study and discipline and the accretion of knowledge. But to pretend that science has all the answers about where life came from or where the laws of physics or motion come from is just fantasy.

We are all supposed to bow down and worship science, even though science changes, can be used for wicked purposes, and is often just plain fraudulent.

The Germans under Hitler were rated as great scientists by many, yet they insisted that science demanded that whole races be exterminated to better mankind. “Science” as practiced by the native peoples of this hemisphere often required human sacrifice. What do we think about that? For decades, science said that babies in the womb were basically the same as bowls of gelatin. Therefore they could be ground up like horse meat and no one would be worse off. Now, we know that babies in the womb can feel pain, enjoy music, behave almost exactly like babies outside the womb. When we kill them, we are killing babies just like the ones so many of us love in our own homes.

If we say that, we are called terrible names. But how far is it from human sacrifice?

Well, I thought about that for a while. Then I went back to sleep yet again. Then I did a few chores, decided it was too cold to swim, and then had some breakfast instead: a toasted bagel.

I really cannot get over that I can just open the fridge, take out a bag, get a fresh, delicious bagel, put it in a little shiny box and a minute later it comes out all toasty and brown. Then I can open the fridge again, get out perfectly fresh butter, apply it to the bagel, and enjoy it.

When I think of the work that the farmer has to do to get the wheat, that the utility has to do to get the electricity, that the coal company has to do to get the fuel to run the generators—it’s all a miracle.

This analysis does not even include where the steel comes from, where the eggs come from, where the tile on the counter comes from—or where I come from.

Then, there’s the real miracle: that at any moment, my big wifey will smell the bagel and come downstairs wanting one. Then, I get to spend part of the day with God’s greatest gift, big wifey, with her beautiful face, her smile, her perfect voice, and her charm.

Just the most modest breakfast is filled with miracles.

Lunch later in the day with “M,” a dear pal of many decades who recently lost his wife to natural causes at about age 63. He is permanently depressed and I can see why. He rarely told his wife how much he loved her and now hates himself for it. It is vitally important that you stop doing whatever you were doing just before you picked this up and go to or call up those close to you and tell them how much you love them. That is a matter of life or death.

I do almost everything else in my life wrong, but I do constantly tell the people in my life that I love them and how crucial they are to me.

I did get that little part right.

Now, I have to rest. I am VERY tired. If I do not wake up from this rest, please take my word for it that I love you, too, Spectator readers.

Sunday
Once again, here I am in my Garage Mahal. I am happy because I have my dog, Julie Good Girl, next to me. She does not like having her picture taken, but imagine a white- and brown-spotted German Shorthaired Pointer of perfect dimensions, and that’s Julie. I really cannot believe my blessings at having this dog next to me, in a big, bright room, in peacetime, with the temperature just right and the air just right in terms of a small breeze, and my computer across the room.

It is PERFECT.

When I think of how the great masses of mankind have suffered and lived in extreme poverty and misery over man’s span on earth—and then I get to live like this—not in extreme luxury, not on a yacht, but better than that: next to my Julie Good Girl.... that is a blessing.

What shall I do today? I have to prepare for my trip east to the Richard Nixon Centenary Dinner at the Mayflower Hotel. That’s the day after tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing Julie and David Eisenhower, Tricia and David Cox, Aram Bakshian, the DeMuth brothers, Wlady and Joanna. It will be swell.

I have to gather notes for a speech I plan to give to some GOP House members about the deficit. They won’t like what I have to say: We need a lot more taxes and we need fearless aggressiveness in cutting spending. But, as I say, as I have said a million times, we are racing toward default otherwise. We are soon going to have a $20 trillion national debt.

This doesn’t count the debt owed to ourselves for Social Security and Medicare. It counts in some ways the debt we owe to foreign nations because we run such an immense trade deficit. If you add in all of our debts, it’s a bleak picture indeed.

I think I will just stay in bed here in the Garage Mahal with Julie until I expire. Outside, life is too frightening.

But outside, there is also Sandpoint, Idaho, and Lake Pend Oreille, and I am already itching to get back there and zoom around on my boat. I am also itching to walk around town and cruise around on my bicycle and say hello to all of my friends.

Maybe this is the way it is when world situations are collapsing: People just stay in their own little corners and hide with their Julie Good Girls.

Maybe tonight I will go see Skyfall again. I have seen it at least nine times now and know every word, look, and gesture. It is by far my favorite action movie. It is clear to my wife and me by now that Judi Dench, who plays the British spymistress, “M,” is really the villain (not the same “M” I had lunch with yesterday). Javier Bardem is no hero, but he is a very impressive character. The movie really is about relations between and among mothers and sons. Did you know that Ian Fleming, who wrote the original James Bond books, called his mother “M”? He did. It explains a lot.

Wlady told me long ago that possibly the only thing that lasts is old crushes. And who is the original crush?

As I mosey back to bed, I never forget, not for a moment, that my sleep, my rest, my dog, my liberty are all protected by men and women in uniform, by military, by police, by firefighters, and some not in uniform, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and by the teachers, too, and prosecutors and prison guards (I guess they are in uniform) and by parents and nurses and doctors and probation officers. I don’t just get to lie here with Julie by fate. Someone is making it happen.

I am grateful.  

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.