Ben Stein's Diary

Present Dangers

We need a new Committee, for starters.

By 11.25.13

Here I am in Mr. Tim Kerr’s Advanced World History class at Kent Island High School, visiting with the students. They are juniors and seniors and they look healthy and alert, This school is in Stevensville, Maryland, just over the Bay Bridge of the Chesapeake Bay.

It is a long story how I came to be here. Basically, I met a group of kids from the school at a Taco Bell and was impressed with them and their command of mathematics. So I called the principal, a man whose last name is impossible to spell, but his first name is John and he’s a great guy. John invited me over and so here I am.

I cannot recall ever meeting a sweeter looking, more solid looking, less disturbing looking, calmer looking kids. They looked like Montgomery Blair, 1962. Silver Spring, Maryland. The girls were neatly dressed. The boys were neatly dressed. Everyone looked confident. I was completely surprised at what a spectacle of reasonable charm the kids were.

We just talked about a few statistics like population, GDP, and then they had to go home.

I am still digesting what I learned there, but if I had a child of high school age and lived in the DC area, this is where I would want him to go to school. The building is bright, spotlessly clean, airy, and the kids are just what you want your son or daughter to be around.

Kent Island High School. A gem.

Then, as usual, on to Oxford. It was a perfectly spectacular sunset. I will attach a picture of the cross in the Anglican Church Columbarium there. It is a haunting sight and a good place to spend eternity with my big wifey.

As always, I walked down the main street to the Robert Morris Inn and had delicious cream of crab soup. The chef, Mark Salter, appeared and we had a long talk with him about life in Talbot County. Delightfully calm, picturesque, but too calm for me. I like a bit of excitement. But I guess if I had my dog there it would be swell. Wifey and dog and all would be complete.

The sun was setting a bright red as I drank my soup. Unbelievable how charming this town is: long may it wave. I slept all the way home. Bob drove his usual perfect driving.

Speech to a group of investors in Northwest Washington, DC. As always, I gave them no investment advice. I commented on the collapse of education and the decline of civility. But the men and women in the room were magnificently civil and intelligent. The question on my mind, and on their minds, was, “How do we get our young people, especially our majority (soon to be) nonwhite children to care deeply about learning?” Many of the men and women in the room were educators and they were in despair about their nonwhite students. Just hand-wringing despair.

We should all be worried about it. Soon, this country will be majority nonwhite and many of them are growing up not knowing much that’s useful. This should be a giant national priority—getting nonwhite children (and white children) to care about learning. We are raising kids who simply cannot keep this country afloat as a first world nation, who cannot maintain the ethical and political and cultural and business and government and scientific apparatus to keep America America. It’s worst among the nonwhites but plenty bad among the whites.

On the other hand, “...there is a lot of ruin in a nation...” and my evening with the Washington investors was perfect. I met many people who were friends of friends. I also met a man who used to own a publishing company called the Bureau of National Affairs. They especially publish business and government affairs newsletters. The joke is that your humble servant was an editor/reporter for the BNA back in 1966 and early 1967. I loved that job but my boss, a chain-smoking madwoman (just an opinion), forced me out because I complained too much about her smoking, and she was afraid I would steal her job. So off to the Department of Commerce I went and had a good time, then back to law school.

Anyway, the people at the conference were swell. Many of them urged me to run for President. I know it sounds like a joke. Maybe it was. It probably was. It doesn’t matter. I have no idea of how to make these difficult kids learn except (1) Rote learning, where memorization is key; (2) Assigning retired capable men and women to be mentors to the kids who really want them, (3) Assign the rest to a labor program like the CCC of Depression era days and make them learn a trade. Also make the ones in prison learn a trade.

It is all beyond my pay grade. I do know that throwing money at the problem does not help, and it never has. The lowest scoring kids are in the cities where we taxpayers pay the most per pupil.

But boy, those people tonight were and are nice people. Down to earth, kind, open faces, learned, courtly people. Makes me ecstatic to be around such lovely people. Washington, DC. Oxford. Stevensville. Wonderful towns. Sweet people. My job—meeting these people and talking to them—is the best job on earth.

Uh-oh. This part is not so great. I had to get up at 5.30 AM DC time (that’s 2.30 AM my time) to eat, dress, pack, have my pal and driver, the redoubtable Bob, drive me to DCA to catch a 9:15 flight to DFW and thence to Phoenix. The airport was mobbed with very unhappy looking men and women. Getting up early is great for some people who are better than I am, but not for me. Not for anyone who was at DCA this morning.

I sullenly boarded my flight, sat next to a friendly, ultra thin young man, and had a fight attendant offer me some garbage called a “strada” (Italian for “street”....), tasted like street sweepings, slept all the way to DFW.

My beautiful pal Tracy from American Airlines met me at the gate, took me to TGIFridays for some ribs, and then it was off on another AA flight to Phoenix. Slept the whole way. Glorious. Sleep. I inherited that from my Pop. He could sleep anywhere and so can I. If it were not for the nightmares I would just sleep all day. My nightmares are usually that I am pitching a script or a TV movie idea and no one will buy it. Or that I am sitting by the phone waiting for a call to be in a movie and no one calls.

I am so glad I am not dependent on Hollywood any longer. I love that.

I am so glad I have a bit of savings. I am so glad we own our home in Malibu outright and can always live there with the mice and the ants if we have to. But I hate the ants like CRAZY. They creep me out with their onslaughts. “Leiningen vs. The Ants.” How many of us remember that horror story of a Boer farmer or maybe a German in Africa attacked by endless hordes of ants? I think he finally burned them all up with gasoline.

Well, I got to Phoenix, woke up, no nightmares. rode far into the hills of Scottsdale to the Four Seasons, got to my room, slept, then greeted the fantastically successful people of the Aerospace Industries Association, and learned about their businesses. It is unbelievable how capable these people are. Just men and women who have built immense businesses covering multiple services and products—thousands of products and services—and employ millions of people (literally millions taken together).

These people are at a level of achievement a billion miles beyond me. A trillion miles beyond me. But they were all humble, delightful people. We had dinner and I sat with a woman whose husband ran an immense company and next to man who runs an immense company.

I loved them. The woman in particular had a super sense of humor and a happy smile. She and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Frisby, have a brave Army officer son in Afghanistan. THESE PEOPLE ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH. I LOVE THEM TO PIECES.

In my speech, I mostly talked about the idiocy of the sequester’s cuts in defense. We live in a dangerous, unforgiving world. How we can economize by refusing to defend our very existence defies logic. What good does it do us to save pennies and risk the nation?

And how can we send our young people to fight and offer up their lives for us without the best possible equipment? How miserable of us. It’s immoral.

Back in the ’70s when Carter was starving the military, we had a great group my father helped to found. It was called the Committee on the Present Danger and worked to get the word out that we needed a strong defense. It seems to me it had high panjandrums like Cap Weinberger and George Shultz and my Pop in it and many others. It was very helpful for Reagan in the 1980 election. We need a new Committee on the Present Danger right now. If some younger, more energetic people will start it, I will be on it.

After my speech, we all hung around and talked about what a disaster the defense policy is, and then I went home and slept.

But I am scared. If we are not man and women enough to pass on this great America to our children, what will become of this greatest event in man’s history, this beloved America?

The AIA people impress me a lot but we have work to do. Defense is more important than the deficit. It’s not even close.

Now, here is something truly interesting. I see on line that it is now considered a “hate crime” to possess —even in one’s living quarters, not publicly viewed — a Confederate flag. Some students at a university in California were supposedly expelled for doing that.

I don’t get it. No one in this country supports slavery. No one thinks it’s anything but disgusting for one human being to own another. So, obviously a Confederate flag in one’s living room cannot mean anything other than an interest in the greatest national tragedy in our history, The Civil War.

To add to that, the Confederate flag is still the centerpiece of some state flags. But still, it is considered a hate crime to have in one’s possession this interesting, antique historical relic.

Yet in today’s dormitories, it is commonplace to see flags of Jihadist movements that kill civilians, pledge to wipe out the Jewish state, and threaten mass killing to America. It is the most ordinary sort of students’ thing to have up photos of one of the great killers of our hemisphere, Che Guevara, aide to Fidel Castro, head of the most repressive state in the Western hemisphere for decades.

So, today’s students can fly the ensigns of modern terrorism — but cannot even have as a curiosity the flag that brings for interesting discussion of the Civil War. (It’s probably a flag many of their forebears fought for, as well.)

I have been red hot against racism all of my life I have suffered from it as Jew for all of my life. But what’s going on in making owning a basic, harmless historical artifact a hate crime while allowing, even encouraging the flying of the banners and signage of true modern war criminals — that’s just pure Orwell.

Anyway, I flew back to LA today after a long visit to my friend X in prison in Arizona. Truly depressing.

“And for each unharmful gentle soul, misplaced inside a jail…and we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.” Bob Dylan.

On the airplane between Sky Harbor and LAX I sat next to a beautiful young blonde woman telling me stories of her teenage sex experiences. Really, I could not make her be quiet. Now that she’s gone, I miss her.

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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.