Ben Stein’s Diary

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.

Ben Stein's Diary

Marijuana Is a Cancer

By 6.2.15

Sunday–Last Day of May
Rancho Mirage. It is so unbelievably hot here it’s well, it’s unbelievable. That’s how hot it is. 106 degrees with no breeze at all.

I am not at all sure why we are even here, but the son of a close relative is visiting and he had expressed an interest in playing golf. We have a super course here at the Club at Morningside and we might have played a few holes but it’s far too hot now. It is heat stroke, sunstroke weather. Cruel.

As I drove our guest to dinner, on my disk of Civil War songs, what should we hear but the stirring strains of “Dixie.” Our guest, age 27, a family man who had gone to college in the deep, rural south, and who now lives in the deep, semi-rural south, had no idea of what the song was or what it represented. None at all.

Ben Stein's Diary

The Scary View From Sunset Boulevard

By 5.27.15

Monday–Memorial Day
Hmmm. Cloudy day today here in West Hollywood. I am sitting at a sushi restaurant on Sunset Strip with my dear pal, Phil DeMuth, world’s most reliable human. The food is fine and Phil’s conversation is brilliant, as always. He is a super-smart analyst of family life and intergenerational dynamics. He and I often talk of our fears for the generations now in school or recently out of school, and how little they seem to know. They especially know little end of their feelings of entitlement.

We often talk about that woman at Columbia who carried a mattress around with her for a long time to mark what she called a rape. That was her senior thesis. Yes. At Columbia, my college alma mater.

Yes, the NYPD found no evidence of rape. The school found no cause to believe there had been a rape. But some worthy faculty member had told her she could get academic credit for carrying around a mattress and repeatedly demanding that the man she said had raped her be punished.

Ben Stein's Diary

An Oxford Education

By 5.22.15

So… It is Thursday night and I am in Greenville. I just had an incredibly good meal at the Commerce Club in downtown Greenville. Tommy and his wife, the spectacular Kitten, were there, and my angelic granddaughter, Coco, almost 4. And my perfect wifey, and my pal Bob, and Tommy’s pal, Matt. We were on the 17th floor overlooking the upstate of South Carolina. The sky turned pink and gray and the fried chicken was outstanding. So was the service. Coco was in a rare mood. The Kitten told us a story. A few days ago, Coco came to her with a sheet of paper with some writing on it, not really saying anything.

“This is a letter to my school from my mother saying I don’t have to go to school tomorrow,” said Coco.

“But, I’m your mother, and I don’t remember writing that,” said The Kitten.

“I know,” said almost 4-year-old Coco. “That’s why you have to sign it.”

A born lawyer.

I had just come from a street fair on Main Street. Happy, happy, happy men and women. Music. Diet Pepsi. Really happy, cheerful, smiling, healthy-looking. This is a happy place. Don’t miss out on it. Happy place in a sad world.

Ben Stein's Diary

Partnering With Warren Buffett

By 5.11.15

A few years ago, as my wife and I flew from Spokane to Seattle, I found myself seated next to a dentist. He told me his story. He had started as a dental student buying — along with his father — small rental apartments and using his youth and skill and strength to renovate them.

Then he rented them out. He soon had a number of them. Yes, they took a lot of time, and for a period of time he was awakened by irate tenants whose toilets were blocked.

But, eventually, he had enough apartments so that he did not need to attend to these matters personally. He had managers and repairmen who dealt with all but the biggest problems.

The net of it was that now, in his fifties, he had a large number of apartments. He had given some to each of his children, and they now had rental empires of their own.

I was extremely struck by his story. It was a perfect story, or so it seemed, of how to establish oneself as a rich person.

But lately, many competing thoughts have entered my mind.