Ben Stein's Diary

A Full 20 Minutes

It was a great Christmas among wolves.

By 12.30.13


Dinner with C., a childhood friend who went on to become an extremely famous journalist and political commentator. He is precisely on the other side of many issues that are life or death to me, but he’s an old pal and I had not seen him for years. He was one of the seminal influences on my youth, with his smoking and his guitar playing. No one ever thought he would amount to much, but he became for a time a household word. We have stayed in touch for decades and while I abhor many of his views and beliefs, he is in some ways simpatico.

He came over to our home in Beverly Hills and I showed him photos of my sister from our childhood. He had always liked Rachel and I had always liked one of his two sisters. That was probably in about 1957. Time has passed. It is just beyond words that one day Dwight Eisenhower was President and John Foster Dulles was Secretary of State and then you blink your eyes and Barack Obama is President and John Kerry is Secretary of State.

“Twenty minutes,” my wonderful friend, Sid Dauman, used to say. “That’s all life is. Twenty minutes.”

C. was in a voluble mood. He asked very intelligent questions about the photos and about our house in general. 

Like most people our age, he’s worried about money. We talked about my real estate and how some of it has done so terribly (specifically in Idaho) and some has done so well (in West Hollywood). None of it has done anywhere near as well as just holding an index fund would have done.

“Productive assets,” Warren Buffett always says. “That’s what you want.” I didn’t do it as well as I should have and now I have a stunning amount of houses, almost all of which sit empty, and a chunk of productive assets in the form of stocks and L.P.’s. There has been some psychological imperative at work here that has not been quite rational. It has to do with seeking a place to hide, I would guess.

C. and I talked of neighbors and friends who have died or who have Parkinson’s Disease or who are senile. Time is a cruel mistress. Time is running out. Money is running out. It’s all terrifying but then we have a 12 step program that helps us to fight the fear. “It’s either the 12 steps or the 12 gauge,” as I like to say.

We had delicious sushi at Yoshi Sushi in West Hollywood. We talked about real estate an astonishing amount. Maybe all old Jews talk about real estate. I guess we do. Then we parted, I felt sad that I so rarely see him. Let’s hope that changes soon. He lives in the East, though, and his world is the world of liberal billionaires. Mine is the world of German Short Haired Pointers.

I took a nap and packed and then Alex and I drove off to Rancho Mirage. We started way too late and even though we ran into no traffic at all, we did not get to our house until very late. Then, of course, I had to deal with the Vesuvius of e-mails I get every day. Then many ultra-fattening snacks and then watching the Military Channel, my very fave, my real thrill, and then watching “Cops” and then to swim under the stars and then to bed.

My routine every night is to sit and watch “Cops” while I take fiber. Very different from my younger days of Johnny Walker Black and Marlboros and then bed.

I am fascinated by “Cops” for many reasons. The police are so super polite and thoughtful to the arrestees. They really come across as friends as well as arresting officers. They are incredibly muscular and when a suspect gets difficult, the policemen’s muscles are almost terrifying.

I keep wondering at how many of the arrests are for drug possession and/or sales. Is it really a sound economic decision to risk prison to sell small amounts or even large amounts of drugs? These suspects are just not real smart.

But I do love the cops themselves. They have amazing senses of humor and get in some sly digs as they arrest men and women.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Alex and I always say a prayer before we go to sleep and also read from our 12 step books. What great books they are and how they have changed our lives.

A very close friend in a 12 step program involving alcohol often says, “It’s not about keeping the drink out of my mouth. It’s about keeping the gun out of my mouth.” I have had cause to resort to this salvation many a time. If you are in need of saving from yourself, in need of an escape from a life leading to misery, insane asylums, prisons and death, the “Easy does it, turn it over, winning by surrendering program” truly works wonders.

I slept well with my Julie and my fireplace. Paradise.

Here is what I got for Christmas: not having to be in Auschwitz; not having to be beaten to death by Lithuanian death squads with iron bars; not having to be a prisoner in a Japanese prison ship; not having to be galley slave in Roman times; not having to fight in sub-zero cold against Communist hordes in Korea; not having to be in a leukemia ward; not having to be homeless on skid row in downtown L.A. That’s not all. I got to not be tortured and executed by an opposing ethnic group in South Sudan; not being sold into slavery in Brazil; not being hanged for having been born Jewish; not having to be gassed by insecticide by Nazi “scientists.”

And I got the best positive gifts any human could have: my handsome, witty son, my adorable and fast growing granddaughter, Cora, my staggeringly beautiful daughter-in-law, Kitty, my brilliant sister Rachel and her hubby, Mel, my girlfriend, Julie Goodgirl, my dear friends Phil and Al and Sally and Barron and Steve and Michael and Bob and Wlady and John and Aram, all of the great people I work with on TV, especially Jimmy Kimmel, and the ultra-handsome Vissers of Calgary, and my agents, Marcia and Lois, and my makeup girl, Renae,

and my doctors and pharmacists and our faithful housekeepers Rosa and Jennifer and our property managers, Carla and Jacqueline.

I get to have the greatest material thing anyone on earth can have: an American passport.

And I got to wake up on Christmas Day with the finest being on the planet: my wifey, an authentic saint who walks on water.

It was a great Christmas.

A fabulous day. I went to a gas station to get my car’s smog gear checked. Passed with flying colors. Went to the DMV to get my car registered. A pleasant clerk told me I had already paid and did not owe any more money. A beautiful middle aged woman with a beautiful daughter with blue hair told me she was a hard-working Republican.

Then I ran into a hilarious Israeli woman art dealer. She inquired about whether she might show me some fine abstract expressionist works.

“No. I only like highly representational like Lichtenstein or Warhol,” said I.

Incredibly, this woman then tried to talk me into liking the kind of art she likes instead of what I like. Talk about a waste of time. Usually Israelis are a bit more sensible.

A rest and then off to see The Wolf of Wall Street. It was overpoweringly crude and vulgar. It was really on many levels a work of pornography. But it was also hilariously funny. The second wife of the protagonist — a stock swindler — is played by a gorgeous Australian actor named Margot Robbie. I am not sure I have seen a better performance since Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show. She was cheap, sexy, kind-hearted, brave, vulnerable. As Bob Dylan would say, “Just like a woman.” The scene where she asks for a straw for her cocktail at an elegant restaurant is maybe the best short comedy scene I have ever witnessed in a movie.

Leonardo DiCaprio is great. The guy who plays the FBI agent who brings the swindler down is off the charts good. This movie is not a super classic like Gatsby 2013, but it is magnificent.

When it was over, my wife and I applauded. No one else in the room did. A bearded man in the row in front of me told me I had laughed too loudly. God help him. I was polite and apologized. Many years ago, I would have wanted to kill him, but now I am a different person.

There was WAAAY too much vulgarity, cursing, swearing, sex, nudity, porn in the movie and it’s not for everyone. But it is very funny.

Naturally, not one scene is used, nor one tear shed, for the poor people who were robbed of their life savings by the swindler protagonist. That’s drama.

Oh, by the way, much of the movie is about a sleeping pill called a “Quaalude.” These were wildly popular long ago when I was a youth and how I loved them. If the “patient” fought sleep after taking the pills, he got a fabulous high from them. I wrote a book about a real life couple I knew who were addicted to Quaaludes. It was called ’Ludes. It was made into a screen gem called The Boost starring James Woods and Sean Young. I was brazenly robbed of screenplay credit because of my political views, or so I believe, but that’s Hollywood. Political piggies.

I feel extremely lucky that I never got really hooked on ’Ludes. They were awfully good. You cannot get them now for love or money. Lucky for me.

After the movie, wifey and I went to dinner at Pacifica and had fish under the stars. Not too bad.

A fascinating talk with my brilliant pal, John R. Coyne, Jr., about V. Putin and what a job he has done in restoring the prestige of Russia. Without a booming economy, without a military anywhere near ours, Putin has made Russia a major power that constantly trumps our aces that Obama is too naive and conflicted to even play. John summed it up in words I will try to recall. “He is truly of the country of Russia,” John said. “He is one of them.” Not an outsider or aloof like Mr. Obama, not at all ashamed of his country’s horrifying past and brutal present but a real son of Russia and rules accordingly. A worrisome but impressive guy. We could learn much from him. His now ex-wife will never say she’s ashamed of being a Russian.

Meanwhile, I have to go to sleep. First I will read “The Mourner’s Kaddish” for all my loved ones who have died, and then I will sleep by the fire like an old dog.

Monday very early
I am compelled by the day’s news story from the New York Times’ Cairo Correspondent (perfectly enough, now resident in Vermont) about the Benghazi Massacre at the U.S. Consulate/CIA station on 9/11/12. The report, by a man named Mr. Kirkpatrick who seems pretty reasonable and well dressed as he appeared on Meet the Press, says that the attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans was not orchestrated by al Qaeda in Pakistan. Instead, it was launched in part by a street mob angry about that video about Mohammed, but the killing was done by Islamist terrorists. These guys had gotten heavy weapons from Qaddafi’s abandoned arsenals under the cover of NATO air operations. We thought they were our friends because we had helped them defeat Qaddafi and we thought they would protect the consulate.

All of this, say the Democrats, “proves” that Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton were not lying when they got on TV for weeks after Benghazi and said the attack was not the work of al Qaeda, but a “spontaneous” street riot.


1.) The Cairo correspondents of the Western press have not gotten a single thing right about anything about the “Arab Spring” since it started. They misunderstood every aspect of how it was all an Islamist coup attempt everywhere from Tunisia to Syria.

Why should we believe they have the story right now?

2.) The New York Times is an arm of the Hillary 2016 campaign. Of course they will defend her. They work for her in every meaningful way except being paid by her. Their “impartiality” about anything about Hillary is a poor joke.

 3.) Nevertheless, on TV, Mr. Kirkpatrick, who really does come across well, said the attackers with the guns were largely Islamist terrorists who might have called themselves anything. They might even have called themselves Al Qaeda.

This would certainly excuse the GOP saying they were al Qaeda. Certainly it would not make any normal observer think it was all the work of a street mob.

4.) Mr. Kirkpatrick says he got his story by interviewing the killers. Surely he knows they would not confess to being in any part al Qaeda. That’s how they would get a Predator drone in their colon. Why would he trust killers and men with a fine motivation to lie? And how did he get to them at all? What kind of magician is he?

5.) But, let’s assume his story is completely true. Let’s assume it was anti-Qaddafi Islamist killers who murdered our Ambassador and that these killers were thought by us to be our friends in a staggering mistake of intelligence.

This still makes Mrs. Rice and Mrs. Clinton untruthful in their assertions that the killers were a spontaneous street mob. (Street mobs don’t have quad mounted anti-aircraft cannon, which were used by the killers in Benghazi.)

It makes their failure to understand what was going on in Libya abject.

Finally, the late Ambassador repeatedly said he was about to be attacked and begged for help from Mrs. Clinton. He got nothing. Not one atom of ink in the Times coverage today excuses that.

This story makes Mrs. Clinton’s and Mrs. Rice’s stewardship of foreign affairs not just inept but appallingly incompetent and does zero to add to their claims to candor.

The thought that Mrs. Clinton will soon be President is breathtakingly worrisome. Even the Times cannot cover that up.

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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.