Ben Stein's Diary

Bees on Vacation

Ben's magazine entries from scorching Sandpoint.

By From the September 2013 issue

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Wednesday
SANDPOINT. Something is definitely wrong with the weather. It is killingly hot, and has been day after day after day. Just murderous. It has been between 95 and 100 degrees all week. The day starts out cool and pleasant, but by early afternoon, it is overwhelmingly hot. 

Our condo is well air conditioned, but it still gets a bit warm in my bedroom, which is fairly far from the compressor. 

I got up about ten, made breakfast, and set out to pay bills. I arranged them neatly by date due and started going through them. I HATE DOING THIS. I hate the money gushing out of the Ben Stein system and into various insurance companies, utilities, car companies, credit card companies, and mortgage lenders. I know that by the principles of double entry bookkeeping (the only word in the English language with three consecutive double letters, o, k, and e, although I guess we have to include bookkeeper) I am no poorer after writing the checks, because I am “merely” erasing simultaneously a liability and an asset. I STILL HATE IT.

As I was paying bills, I got a call from a dear friend who is being roughly handled by a government regulatory agency. He is a great, super-capable guy and my heart breaks for him. I will surely be writing more about him in the future. He wanted encouragement. He feels bewildered by the way he’s been treated and he should. His services to the people he helped were immense. I think that when the full facts are on the table, he will be exonerated, but in the meantime, he is in a real pickle. It is just heartbreaking how the power of the federal government can come down on anyone, and suddenly that poor soul is in real trouble.

As Conrad Black, Nixon biographer, press baron, and smart guy, observed, “When you are taking on the federal government, you are taking on the most powerful entity in the world.”

At about four, I went out to mail the rotten bills I had paid. The heat was stupefying. Just amazing. Then, I went to the drug store to buy some Tums for my wife, and then to the Safeway to buy some water. Same thing everywhere: The heat was just dazzling.

As I was driving around, I listened to the BBC on the XM radio in the car. Mr. Obama was saying we had to build things in the U.S. We also had to have better education and more efficient government. Amazing. Just amazing. He has nothing to say. Eight months into his second term, and he has absolutely nothing to say. He is uttering the same meaningless platitudes he’s been uttering all of his political life. He might as well be a clockwork politician. He simply has nothing new to say at all.

The only new things, from his last term, have been disasters: There was Obamacare, which is falling off the tracks like a derailed train, like a poorly built rocket that topples over before it’s even launched, a pitiful Rube Goldberg device that never should have been so complex. (RN had a far better idea for national health care. It was basically to find the people who were too poor to buy health insurance and then buy it for them. There would also be special measures for very rural areas, but his idea was compassionate and basic. I wrote the message delivering it to Congress 40 years ago—and Ted Kennedy quickly murdered it.)

Mr. O’s other big idea was encouraging the Arab Spring, which has turned into a total and utter mess. I am not sure what he could have done worse than abandoning Mubarak, who had been our loyal pal in the Middle East for decades. He could not have handled Libya worse, and the lies and failures about the murders in Benghazi were scandalous.

Now, as the slow-growth, fragile economy enters its fifth year, Mr. Obama has simply the most platitudinous exhortations. “Let’s tell the world America is open for business,” he said in a speech today.

So now Mr. Obama is the friend of business? Now only he can tell the world to buy American products? This is really getting funny. 

I could not listen to Mr. Obama any longer, so I came home and rested. Then Alex, Tim the boat genius, his wife Penny, and I went over on my boat to Ivano’s del Lago in Hope for dinner. It was a bad night. We sat outside and the sun was very much too bright. Swarms of maddened bees buzzed all around us, stinging diners near us. My father was deadly allergic to bee stings, and I have had bad reactions too, so I was truly scared. 

Panicked, I would almost say. No, genuinely panicked. The killing heat, the sun, and the bees were terrifying. I was crazed. We finally went inside where, miraculously, there were no bees. What a relief. But, wow. Those bees were a horror show.

We drove the boat back in the dusk. Whenever I stood above the windshield of the boat, I got slapped in the face by a swarm of bugs. There are entirely too many insects in this world. I heard on NPR that we will soon be eating food made of insects. Yuck. Or, maybe, just revenge.

I lay in bed thinking of those bees. I had not realized how terrifying they were. If the KGB could put me in George Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984, with the thing I fear most in the world, it might very well be a very hot room with blinding sun and swarms of bees. Wow, do I hate them.

Thursday
I AWOKE STILL feeling shaky about the bees. I slept very late, then slept some more, just laying in bed listening to Mr. Buffett’s trains and thinking about Mr. Obama’s tirades against inequality and about the need for the rich to pay more taxes. He’s really gone full scale into his preferred mode, City College of New York circa 1938, YCL, which is where his mentors came from. 

But, of course, he surrounds himself with the richest of New York finance and Hollywood billionaires and Chicago slumlords. He takes in the huge bulk of money contributed in million-dollar or more chunks in his elections. And, he’s now on record (gossip record) as saying he wants to be the first billionaire ex-president. His adorable daughters go to one of the most elite, expensive private schools in D.C. There are no poor people around him. Not any.

Of course (once again) he is showing as a “revealed preference” exactly what almost everyone in this country feels: It’s great to talk about equality, but hardly any of us really wants to be just “equal.” The blacks want preferences in schools and jobs and they get them. The poor want to be rich. The rich want to stay rich. “Equality” is a code word for “take away something from someone else and give it to me.”

Equality at the starting gate? Yes, absolutely. Equal justice under law? For sure. But rejiggering government policy to make lazy, shiftless people better off and take away from hard-working, clever people operating within the law? What’s so great about that except satisfying the envy of the poor and ordinary?

Of course, raise taxes on the rich if the government really needs the money for basics like defense. But take it away just to satisfy envy? Take away incentives to create, to produce? Why would we want to do that?

And how can that possibly square with the president’s love of unions? Unions exist to create inequality: more for them, less for other people in the same line of work. Fine with me. I love the unions I am in.

But for Mr. Obama to keep talking about “equality”? That’s a pipe dream intended to excite the envious. If Mr. Obama really believes in it, let’s see him just retire on his pension in 2017. Hahaha.

In our own little experiment in equality, Alex and I and our guests, the Vissers, ate at Pizza Hut tonight. The food was excellent, service great, but some noisy kids were screaming near us. Their parents were making zero efforts to keep them quiet. That defines trash. 

Then, to see Pacific Rim, a monster movie with every single cliché in the book, just absolutely the most cliché-ridden movie ever made. But the special effects were good and I enjoyed it.

“‘Equality,’ I spoke the words, as if a wedding vow, ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” So sang Bob Dylan long ago. How clever he was. No, I don’t know what it means. I do know that equality is like “infrastructure,” “post-racial,” and “fixing education.” Just sales talk. Just sales talk to fool people into thinking that politicians do much besides advance their own interests. Well, they’re human. That’s what humans do. Usually. There are exceptions.

Friday
HOT AGAIN. It’s getting to be insane. I slept very late, then took the Vissers, our good-looking friends from Alberta, out on the boat to Bottle Bay. As always, Tim Farmin came along for the sole purpose of keeping me from doing anything foolish.

Our meal was amazingly good, and only one horrible yellow jacket menaced us. The food at Bottle Bay gets better and better.

Then, a long nap, and then a walk through the evening landscape of Sandpoint. The air had cooled down to bearable. Mike and Nancy Visser and I had Italian food at Ivano’s. Super good.

We spent a lot of time playing with my new Android, trying to get lyrics of songs like “All The Young Dudes” and “Get It On” (by Mott the Hoople and T. Rex respectively).

Then home to watch a movie called Our Nixon about (of course) Richard Nixon. It featured largely the Super 8 mm home movies of Bob Haldeman, Dwight Chapin, and John Ehrlichman. The first part, showing the neat, buttoned-down Nixon aides going purposefully about their business was superb, and I loved it. Of course, it brought back many memories of my father at the White House and of my own brief stint there. How familiar and evocative it was of glory days for my Pop.

The latter part, about Watergate, was amateurish and totally one-sided. They never, never, never talk about the truth—that Nixon was the greatest peacemaker in U.S. history, that he had to fight to get his program of peace with security through a hostile Congress and media, that McGovern waged a vile campaign against him in 1972, that his transgressions were infinitesimal compared with his achievements. They just said the negative trash that the media usually says.

At the end, the producers had some simply wicked mockery of John Ehrlichman doing an ice cream commercial. Talk about hitting a man when he’s down.

“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” said Joyce.

“History is more or less bunk,” said Henry Ford.

They could have done so much with this material but just wound up with the same old lies.

Maybe not lies. Maybe it’s this simple: If you tell only the bad parts of a man’s life, no matter who he is, you can make him seem bad. If you tell only the good parts, he looks good. There again, maybe it is all lies.

I do know this: I am writing this sitting at my desk in Sandpoint looking at the moon laying down a track of phosphorescent moonbeams on Lake Pendoreille, and we have peace and no more threat of world nuclear war, and it’s thanks to Nixon. I know Israel exists today because of Nixon. I won’t forget it and neither will my wife or anyone who knew all the sides of Richard Nixon, the Peacemaker. 

Saturday
I GOT UP early and read a gruesome column about the unspeakable brutality of “Whitey” Bulger and his colleague, a monster named Flemmi. They were both murderers and pedophiles whose cruelty knew no bounds. Yet somehow one or both of them worked for the FBI. How could that have happened? Will the FBI take in anyone as an informant? Even men who molest their own daughters and then viciously kill them?

After reading the article, I went to sleep and had terrible nightmares of lawsuits. I got up terrified (notice how often that word comes up in my writing), and lay in the guest room until I fell asleep again. I could not really even start to relax until I realized that I was and am married to the finest human being on the planet, a shimmering goddess of kindness, empathy, and beauty.

No one on earth deserves a wife this fine, least of all yours truly.

But as I lay next to the sleeping saint, I thought more about the movie, Our Nixon. Although it is wildly incomplete (“wildly,” another favorite word), it has some excerpts from the tapes in which RN comes across as heartbreakingly sensitive. In one particular episode, RN has just given a speech on the war in Vietnam and he muses with Haldeman about why so few Cabinet members have called to congratulate him.

“Sir, you told the White House switchboard not to put through any calls,” says Haldeman.

“I did?” Nixon asks. “Well, I’ll fix that.”

On another occasion Nixon wonders why so few of his inner circle have called him and this time there’s no talk about blocked phone lines. And yet Nixon was extremely beloved by his staff. He was painfully insecure about his standing in the world, painfully insecure about whether he was loved. And yet, to those who love peace, he is still a saint. 

“What a piece of work is man.” Brings two generations of peace to the world, saves Eretz Israel, and then is humiliated for basically nothing by other men. What a piece of work. 

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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.