Ben Stein’s Diary

Ben Stein's Diary

I Love South Carolina

By 6.24.15

A few humble thoughts on race, violence, and South Carolina.

The crimes of Dylann Roof were spectacularly horrible. To murder in cold blood nine men and women who were praising the Lord is unfathomably evil. There is simply no excuse for it. The moral power and restraint of the Charleston black community is historically magnificent. Nothing less than that. The love and forgiveness of the victims’ families is breathtaking, one of the great moments in human history.

And while I don’t think that the rebel battle flag flying over the statehouse in Columbia had anything to do with Dylann Roof’s horrible crimes, the flag has to go on government property. For black citizens, taxpayers, voters, soldiers, war widows to have the flag of an army that fought to maintain their ancestors in chains, as less than human, is painful and cruel. That flag has a place in museums and homes and restaurants but not on the statehouse lawn.

Ben Stein's Diary

Wedding Bell Bliss

By 6.23.15

June 23, 1968 was fantastically hot, as is usual for D.C. in the summer. I was living in an adorable rented house on Benton Street, NW, in what is called Glover Park. I got up, put on my white tie and tails, or morning coat or whatever it was, and drove over to Arlington to Fort Myer to go to the chapel. I believe my friend Joel Block drove me to the event.

I was nervous. Extremely nervous. I was 23 and I was getting married. True, I was getting married to the most beautiful girl in the world, but marriage is a big step.

It is a terrifying step. Just want to let you know.

The chapel was well air conditioned. There were a lot of flowers. My grooms were my brother-in-law, Melvin, my pals Duncan Kennedy, now a superstar law professor at Harvard Law School, Joel, Marvin Goldberg, who had been my friend since kindergarten, Calvin Kline, still a close friend, and I do not recall who else.

Ben Stein's Diary

The Patron Saint of Kindness

By 6.22.15

What I don’t understand about my wife is how anyone in a world of such evil and selfishness can be so good. Yes, as my sister says, “Your basic human is not such a hot item.” My sister is so right.

But when my dog died, Alex gave me her dog. She had two, but she gave me her favorite, Ginger, a magnificent German short-haired pointer. Who gives away her dog — even to a husband — who is living in Malibu while she is living in the Hollywood Hills? What kind of human is that?

Wives are supposed to be wildly jealous and angry when their men flirt. But Alex is so confident in her position in my life that when I flirt or stare, she laughs, and when other women ask me for money, she cares if they are in genuine need and if so, insists I give it to them. She has no anger in her. My father once said of fellow economist Paul McCracken that he had no anger in him and no meanness of spirit. So it is with Alex. Like her father, she simply has no time in her life for anything but kindness.

Ben Stein's Diary

The Blessings of Father’s Day

By 6.22.15

It is hot here in Beverly Hills. I flew in from Dulles last night on Virgin America. It is a great flight in terms of leg room, but the food was criminally bad. Just stunningly awful. Who eats food like that? Rice pilaf? In the USA? What?

I am still reeling about the shootings in Charleston. I did some calculations, along with my trusty friend Bob. Dylann Storm Roof (the “storm” is a phony to show he was a Neo-Nazi) murdered nine faithful black Christians in about two hours last Wednesday. It is a national tragedy and should be.

Every ten hours — roughly — black Americans kill nine black Americans, on average, day after day, and again, these are rough calculations. That’s every day. This in no way lessens Dylann Roof’s sin. But it shows how sorrowful is the condition of Black America. Why is it so bad? Because black male children grow up without fathers in the home. Tragedy.

Ben Stein's Diary

‘We Just Have to Stay Prayed Up’

By 6.19.15

I learned about the killings in Charleston Thursday as I was driving around the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, across its flat gray endless horizons. At first, I could not believe it was possible. This is 2015, not 1964. I know and love South Carolina and spend much of the year in Greenville. I have never seen more harmonious race relations anywhere.

But it was true. A deranged 21 year old with a brutal paranoia and a brutal gun had killed nine people just as they sat and prayed.

Little by little the news filtered out. As is always the case, he did not have many friends. His parents were divorced. He spent a lot of time playing video games. He had drug problems. Recently, he had reportedly been put on a potent opiate called Suboxone often used to get people off illegal street drugs like spice and bath salts. I know the subject well. 

So, it’s a story about kids and guns, about drugs, about hate — he told his victims he was killing them because they were black and were raping white women. It’s just a horrible story. I thought about it all day as titanic lightning and thunder storms barreled through the Eastern Shore and across the Bay.

Ben Stein's Diary

A Shortage of Pity

By 6.15.15

Night after night, I see on the news horror stories about immigrants seeking to leave Nigeria, Eritrea, Somalia, Chad, Niger, all over Africa, wanting to come to Europe. They are willing — eager, so eager they will pay for it — to take dangerous old boats across the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Italy. There, they hope to have a more materially sufficient life.

Who can blame them? They live in miserable conditions in Africa. Their nations are underdeveloped, socialist, buccaneering and corrupt. Their chances of a plentiful life are slim. Whatever their countries are doing, it’s not working. The African refugees are the rough equivalent of the sad but highly motivated men and women and children of Central America who risk death trying to enter the USA illegally.

They are the same in some ways as the heart-rending immigrants from Syria and from Myanmar.

Ben Stein's Diary

Don’t Compare Nixon to Hillary, Mr. Thomas

By 6.13.15

A few days ago, a Mr. Evan Thomas had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal attempting to compare Mrs. Clinton with Richard Nixon, as if being anything like Nixon is like being the devil. It is a totally mistaken approach in almost every way. Yes, they are both human beings in politics. Yes, they feel and felt antipathy towards the press. Yes, they are both fallible.

Ben Stein's Diary

Having No Decency

By 6.12.15

Last night, I was in Malibu filing and writing checks to charities and watering my pitiful jacarandas, which just refuse to grow. I slept for a long time with my dogs, Julie and JoJo. I could hear the waves crashing on the sand far below. A mild breeze blew in the screen door of my bedroom. The popcorn tasted deliciously salty and buttery. It was great.

As it happened, it was truly great because I had wanted to stay out there all night. After all, my wife was out of town at one of her charities in Boston. Nothing urgent was happening at our home in Beverly Hills. I could sleep in Malibu and hear the waves all night.

But some urge made me pack up and set out for home in town anyway. Ha! No such luck! As it happened, there had been a fatal crash at PCH and Latigo Canyon. Some poor devil was going the wrong way at speed down PCH and now is deceased. So, the Sheriffs had closed down PCH for at least three hours. Back I went to my little fifties modern home in Trancas, ate some already broiled chicken, and watched the fabulous American Heroes Channel — used to be called the Military Channel.

Ben Stein's Diary

Beverly Hills Poetry

By 6.8.15

There is a brilliant line in an early Bruce Springsteen song that goes something like this: “The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all. They just stand back and let it all be…” Is it from “Jungleland”? I think so.

I think of this as I go through my little life in Beverly Hills. A few days ago, I was at a four-way stop two blocks from my house. On my right was a white Porsche. Right in front of me was a black Bentley convertible, the required vehicle to be cool as of summer 2015. To my left was a black Rolls Royce sedan. I was in an 8-year-old Caddy with two dogs sleeping in the back. Except for me, not one driver was over 30.

On each street corner was a gardeners’ truck loaded with rakes and blowers and lawnmowers, and leaning against them, exhausted brown-skinned men, sweating, straining, loading branches and leaves and trim into immense sacks.

Ben Stein's Diary

The Truth

By 6.4.15

So. Another breathtakingly hot day here in Rancho Mirage. It just sucks the life right out of you. I swam twice and paid a visit to some friends, and then I came home to read the newspapers.

Usually, I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes I also read he Desert Sun. Tonight, I was jolted by a long, raving review in the Times — well written as their reviews always are — of a play about the horrors of apartheid in what was then called the Union of South Africa. Apparently, it’s mostly a series of scenes of an insightful, articulate black psychologist and journalist channeling Hannah Arendt and interviewing a former torturer and killer/bureaucrat for the white supremacist apartheid regime. He’s in prison for at least two life sentences plus a century or two. He doesn’t have enough remorse.

Apartheid was a horrible story. Just something thoroughly wicked. I am not sure how completely different it was than conditions in 1948 Alabama or Louisiana, but it was very bad. I am happy that there is a fine stage play about it and I want to see it.