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Ben Stein's Diary

There Is No Weather Here

By 9.1.14

Sunday
Here we are back in L.A. In Beverly Hills, to be specific. The weather is glorious. Maybe a bit too hot but the air conditioning takes care of that. Both wifey and I have had some respiratory thing. It has laid her low and it makes me a bit tired. I bring her take out Mexican food and frozen yogurt from little places in gay West Hollywood. That’s how she stays alive.

I have been working on my bills and taxes. Boring, maddening work. How anyone who spends as much as I do has avoided bankruptcy is a miracle.

Today, I worked like a myrmidon on a speech for some super-smart engineers, then went to a little café on Sunset Plaza all by my little self to have some calf’s liver. It was heavenly, although contemplating the idea of eating a calf’s liver right now makes me feel sick to my stomach. How did I do it? Crazy.

As I sat out on the sidewalk and watched people go by, people of all races, speaking many different languages, looking menacing in many different ways, I felt a super-powerful wave of missing Sandpoint. I have been back from Idaho for one week now and I am ready to go back for good.

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Current Wisdom

Current Wisdom

By From the July/August 2014 issue

The NationIn a grisly interview with Mr. Jon Weiner, Miss Sandra Tsing Loh (this is not a typo) discourses on the wonder and sadness of her plumbing:Jon Weiner: This is the only menopause book I’ve ever read. Are there others?Sandra Tsing Loh: The literature of menopause is the saddest, the most awful and the most medical of all genres. You’re sleepless, you’re anxious, you’re fat, you’re depressed—and the advice is always the same: take more walks, eat some kale and drink lots of water. It didn’t help. But there is one excellent book. It’s a big one—the Gravity’s Rainbow, the Infinite Jest of menopause books: it’s The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup. However, it is more than 700 pages long, so any woman with a very short attention span and no focus—which is a menopausal woman—will not get through it.(June 2, 2014)New York Times
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Presswatch

Church and State

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Jill Abramson overflowed with praise when the New York Times promoted her to its top editorial position. “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion,” she said in a June 2011 interview with her own paper. “If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”Abramson probably meant to sound humble, but she instead came across as arrogant, like a new pope boasting about his infallibility. Someone at the Times must’ve been embarrassed, because the quotes appeared only online in the initial report of Abramson’s appointment. They had been excised by the time the next day’s paper rolled off the presses. For Times religionists, that presumably created a theological quandary: If the Times says it only on the website, is it still ex cathedra?
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Hot and Bothered

Apocalypse Not

By From the July/August 2014 issue

Many of my friends on the Left can’t understand why so many people on the Right disregard the doomsday scenarios about global climate change. My response is always the same: If the science is beyond dispute, then why do liberals routinely cherry-pick their data and exaggerate their conclusions?Consider the Obama administration’s heralded National Climate Assessment, which was released in May. The president put on his Chicken Little outfit and gave a primal scream, warning that the research proves that global warming “is a problem that is affecting Americans right now. Whether that means increased flooding, greater vulnerability to drought, more severe wildfires—all these things are having an impact on Americans as we speak.” Head for the high hills before it’s too late! 
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Odds & Ends

Odds and Ends

From the July/August 2014 issue

John Derbyshire’s ambivalence in pursuing the “Ghost in the Machine” puzzle (“Chasing Down the Ghost in the Machine,” TAS June 2014) may be due to the fact that it may forever remain an ultimate mystery. But he is right to sense that it entails something of prime import. If, as some neuroscientists claim (slipping unconsciously beyond physical science into metaphysics), we are mindless mechanisms completely determined by our brain activity, then we are not free, responsible agents. (See Michael S. Gazzaniga’s book Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain.) Criminals are no more responsible for their crimes than an automobile that breaks down. Who we “choose” to love and marry, the art we “create,” the scientific hypotheses we “construct,” etc., are all causally necessitated by brain mechanisms totally beyond our conscious control. Reasoning, valuation, and conscience are all logically “unscientific” remnants of a primitive age.
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The Continuing Crisis

The Continuing Crisis

By From the July/August 2014 issue

As May takes a powder and summer begins, a delightful collection of anthems from the Mussolini era is now available over the Internet under the Italian title “iMussolini.” Such stirring and seldom heard songs of the epoca as “Cara al Sol” and “Caro Papà” are available, and they just might be put to good use by President Barack Obama. His administration is moving steadily in the direction of Friendly Fascism as he promises to rely evermore on government by presidential decree, thrusting aside cumbersome institutions such as the House of Representatives, the Senate, and even the federal judiciary. He promises to wave his presidential wand over the environment, immigration, and racism in public life. On CNN, John King reports that even Democrats are calling the president “detached,” “flat-footed,” and—stealing a page from The American Spectator—“incompetent.” Well strike up the band! Wait until the popolo minuto hears the Marine Band break into a rousing performance of that old fascist hit “Ciao Biondina.” Incompetent, indeed!
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About This Month

Here Comes Summer

By From the July/August 2014 issue

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” our president told the graduates of West Point on May 28. Not bad for someone who five long years ago thought his country no more exceptional than Greece. He came up with other uncharacteristic howlers, too: “America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.” “Our military has no peer.” “Our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth.” He bragged about trouble spots where under his leadership America has made a huge difference, most notably Ukraine. He praised Ukrainians for voting in the millions on May 25. “Yesterday, I spoke to their next president,” Obama added, without naming him. Perhaps he didn’t catch his name on CNN, or was afraid to be provocative. A week later he had a chance to meet him in Kiev, but that would have been doubly provocative. So it had to be in Warsaw, with fingers crossed. Now the Vistula, Poland’s largest river, is great in its own right, but Mr. Obama would have been better off had he caught a glimpse of the Dnieper.

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Enemy of the Week

The New Ice Age

By 8.29.14

As a great strategist once said of another, “What did he mean by that?” Two hundred years ago, the “that” was a reference to the expiry of the sly Talleyrand. Today it merely expresses wonder at our president’s frank admission that any strategy he may have had toward Isis has been put on ice. Nothing new there, of course. Our guy is the President of Cool, a position reinforced a day earlier when he turned down an opportunity to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. There would be no pouring of ice water on that cold heart of his — lest the ice kelvinize and talk of absolute zero ensue, not something one risks at a time of falling numbers. Still, for someone with a near blind belief in science, it was a strange form of denialism.

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Buy the Book

Otto Confronts Slava

By 8.29.14

Slava Gelman emigrated to America from the Soviet Union when he was only a child. Though the rest of his family lives in South Brooklyn, he barely sees them; he lives alone in an almost empty apartment on the Upper East Side, where he desperately attempts to strip himself of his Russian Jewish roots. He does these things because he believes he will eventually be published in Century, the New Yorker-esque magazine where Slava works as an assistant for what seems to be their version of Andy Borowitz.

But one morning, Slava gets a call from his mother: his grandmother, who he loved best of his family and who he has barely seen for the past year, has died. She died alone in her hospital room, at a time when, even a year ago, Slava might have been with her. Though he is on the cusp of finally achieving publication at Century, it no longer matters; the person for whom he wanted that success is gone. He abandoned her for nothing.

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Campaign Crawlers

The Case of the Excited Republicans

By 8.29.14

By now word has reached even the remotest Florida precincts that incumbent Republican governor Rick Scott has won the right to run for a second term by trouncing two primary challengers who were unknown and weaker than Obama’s foreign policy.

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