Off the Florida keys.

The New York Times, with its unerring knack for finding the stupidest people in any non-New York venue it chooses to cover, finds a few in Kokomo:

“We hold onto a lot of traditional values,” said Brian L. Thomas, 39, as he bought a cup of coffee along the courthouse square here on Wednesday. “Saying you’re ready to change is probably not the best or only thing you would want to say around these parts. Frankly, we want it to be like it used to be.”

Many of the two dozen voters interviewed in this central Indiana manufacturing city of 46,000 expressed queasiness over the notions of change that both Democratic candidates have proudly pledged elsewhere. Though residents bemoaned economic conditions that have taken away thousands of factory jobs and given the state the 11th-highest rate of foreclosures, they also said they worried about doing things — anything — very differently.

“What are we going to change to?” asked Ron O’Bryan, 58, a retired auto worker who said he was still trying to decide which Democrat to vote for in the May 6 primary. “You mean change to some other country’s system? What do you think they mean?”

Jeremy Lewis, a 28-year-old window washer, said simply, “Old-fashioned can be in a good way.”

“We want it like it used to be” — that’s Indiana in a nutshell. They could put that on the license plates. When Ron O’Bryan still had a job in the factory, I guarantee someone in town was mourning the good ol’ days when you made your living the good way, on a farm, and spent the evenings shellin’ peas and drinkin’ lemonade.

Other things Kokomo has found amusing: Old Ben, the world’s largest “preserved” steer (photos here; he doesn’t look that big), and, of course, the world’s largest sycamore stump. Perhaps if Obama presented himself as an attraction — world’s first black presidential candidate to be a serious contender, maybe.

I’ll tell you one thing, however: All three of these guys got the Obama e-mail, and believe every word. Maybe spending all your time in North Carolina is a better idea.

OK. All this talk of celebrity sightings yesterday reminded me of a thread on Metafilter Monday, about “Expelled,” the latest attempt by the religious right to condemn Michael Moore’s tactics by aping them. The argument bores me, but I was struck by a few comments about Ben Stein sightings in the wild:

I once saw Ben Stein in an airport, wearing a suit and some kind of hipster foot apparel. There weren’t very many people around, and as a journalist who has met my share of very famous people, I generally know how not to behave around them. But as I’d been amused by Ben Stein’s Money — the game show that turned anti-Semitism into a laff ryot — I gave him a little nod and smile when I walked past him. He whipped his head away with an absolutely exasperated look, as if I’d been a paparazzo from TMZ. Puh-leeze.

For a long time, the editorial department in Fort Wayne paid for a subscription to the American Spectator, and I used to read it with a mounting sense of wonder. (It’s where I learned the word “poofter,” in fact; R. Emmett Tyrell turned homophobia into a laff ryot.) One of my favorite features was Ben Stein’s Diary, which was always exactly the same from month to month. Ben would go about his life, much of which at that time involved acting in commercials and making personal appearances based on being that-guy-from-Ferris-Bueller. He always wrote of his life as an ongoing delight, how lucky he was to fly first class and be fed delicious food from craft services, how people would come up to him in airports and say “Bueller…Bueller” and it was just so wonderful to have these great fans. Who could possibly object to people in public telling you they’d seen you in a movie? It was just so, so great to be Ben Stein, etc. etc.

Glad to know there was no end to his lies, either.

Another recurring theme in Ben Stein’s diary was his overwhelming love for his little boy, Tommy, whom he and his wife adopted late in life. He called him “my little angel.” Tommy was terribly spoiled, but it pleased Ben to spoil him; he liked being rich and being able to fill Tommy’s life with gimcracks and geegaws, and so he did. When I first read about “Expelled” it occurred to me that Tommy should be a grown man by now, so I wondered where he might have ended up. Hmmm:

Ben Stein writes in the current November/December 2001 issue of The American Spectator that “Our son, God love him, has basically stopped going to school…he’s surly, and desperately unhelpful…He has gotten so self-obsessed and self-referential, so utterly unconcerned about anyone but himself, he’s a walking time-bomb for self-demolition. So, he’s going to have to go to boarding school.”

This distraught, clearly loving father writes that upon his return from a recent trip:

“Tommy is in his room sitting at his fancy computer…playing his goddamned Everquest, the worst thing that ever happened to him, a literal curse, a drug that eats away at every drop of energy and initiative. It’s a sort of online ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ and he loves it beyond description. He can stay on forever…He is simply a demon at it. And we are the demon facilitators because we are so happy he’s not using marijuana, we keep letting him play his evil Everquest.”

That was around 2001. In a 2005 entry, it appears Tommy has gotten over Everquest and moved on to drag-racing on public streets with his dad:

Tommy wanted to race again. We did. Again, I peeled, and he didn’t. This time he got way ahead of me. Alas, moments later a police cruiser appeared behind him with its lights flashing. The car pulled Tommy over and I followed them. But the police, staring at me intently, motioned to me to stay in my car. They then went over to Tommy. Then they came to me. “We’re just giving him a warning, because we know who you are and we like you,” said a policeman. “But you should talk to your son. He refuses to admit he did anything wrong.”

Well, he learned from the best, Tommy did.

Trivia note: Ben Stein’s Diary was among the sources plundered by White House plagiarist Tim Goeglein. I’d love to know which part.

Oh, and by the way, a letter to the editor in Newsweek this week:

In your April 14 Periscope interview with Ben Stein (“You Say You Want an Evolution?”), one of Stein’s responses contained a serious error: He said, “There are a number of scientists and academics who’ve been fired, denied tenure, lost tenure or lost grants because they even suggested the possibility of intelligent design. The most egregious is Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian, the editor of a magazine that published a peer reviewed paper about ID. He lost his job.” Sternberg has never been employed by the Smithsonian Institution. Since January 2004, he has been an unpaid research associate in the departments of invertebrate and vertebrate zoology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Sternberg continues to enjoy full access to research facilities at the museum. Moreover, Stein’s assertion that Sternberg was removed from a Smithsonian publication is not true. The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington is an independent journal and is not affiliated with the Smithsonian.

Randall Kremer, Director of Public Affairs
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.

Bloggage? Oh, a little:

Village Voice gossip Michael Musto dug up a SFW nude photo of Charlton Heston. Not a bad one, either.

WDET, our local public-radio affiliate, had a fascinating story last night on this guy, Orville Hubbard, Dearborn’s racist mayor. Never lost an election in his life, never met a non-white person he wanted to live next door to. A truly vile man, a politician to the bone. They played some sound recordings of the guy, which included a gem where he called Irish Catholics “the worst,” because “they’re so prejudiced.” You can listen here.

The Comics Curmudgeon gets off quite a few zingers in any given week, but his one about the Family Circus is the best.

And with that, pals, I’m off to work, the gym, Trader Joe’s, Target… The list is endless, but most destinations will be reached by bicycle. Envy me, world — I’m preparing for peak oil.

Posted at 9:26 am in Current events, Movies, Popculch |

22 responses to “Off the Florida keys.”

  1. Danny said on April 24, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Well, Miss cranky-pants, have a good workout.

    Me, I’m going in late to work. Taking a morning bike ride to La Jolla (aka Un-Grosse Pointe). Snicker.

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  2. alex said on April 24, 2008 at 10:19 am

    “We Want It Like It Used To Be”

    Best thumbnail description of Indiana I’ve ever seen.

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  3. Dorothy said on April 24, 2008 at 10:52 am

    “We Want It Like It Used To Be” = fingernails on the chalkboard to my ears. Anywhere, not just Indiana.

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  4. derwood said on April 24, 2008 at 11:26 am

    As my brother-in-law(who would rather live in the 1700s) says “back in the good old days”.

    I enjoy AC and indoor plumbing.

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  5. nancy said on April 24, 2008 at 11:31 am

    Douglas Coupland coined the phrase “vaccinated time travel” to describe those who wished to live in an earlier, simpler time, but only with all their current shots. And that is Indiana in a nutshell, too.

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  6. Jolene said on April 24, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Great phrase, Nancy. Last night, in a discussion of when “undecideds” made up their minds in the PA primary, Chris Matthews said that someone in PA had told him that most people there had made up their minds in 1957.

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  7. colleen said on April 24, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    Indiana, so proud of history because we live in the past.

    When is a politician going to tell people who ask the “what are you going to to to get good jobs to the state” question that they need to move on from the idea that manufacturing will EVER be what it once was? Yeah, there will be some, but it ain’t gonna be “like it used to be” when a high school grad could get a job on the line the week after graduation and afford new cars and nice houses and a motorcycle and a boat. It’s GONE. Not coming back. And the abysmal HS dropout rate in IN isn’t helping….if we’re going to have higher paying “brainy” jobs, people are going to need more fancy book learnin’ than they’re getting now.

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  8. Jolene said on April 24, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    No kidding, Colleen. Dropout rates are bad everywhere. I live on Eisenhower Avenue. I could deal if I just had to spell it for people when I give my address, but, very often, I find I am talking to someone who has no idea that the name is connected to anything or anyone. It could just as well be Maple St., for all the meaning it has.

    I seem to be complaining a lot about other people lately. Sorry about that.

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  9. MichaelG said on April 24, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Well, who else you gonna complain about, Jolene? Nobody complains about themselves. It’s like feeling sorry. If I don’t feel sorry for myself, who will?

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  10. John c said on April 24, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    I’m smiling thinking about perhaps my favorite Monty Python bit, the Four Yorkshiremen.
    “There were a hoondred’nfifty oov us, livin in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.”
    “Cardboard box?”
    “You were lucky! We lived in a brown paper bag in a septic tank!”

    I’m pretty sure I can recite it from memory, from “We were happy in them days, tho we were poor.”
    “Because we were poor!”
    to ..
    “Now you try and tell the young people of today that, and they won’t believe you.”

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  11. Hattie said on April 24, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Well, I’ve got an antique body. It’s a true product of the good old days.
    Anyway, Nancy, I enjoy and admire your writing . Above all, I love the way your mind works.

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  12. David said on April 24, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Are you single-speeding yet, Nancy? Or, I daresay, fixed gear riding, all the rage in NYC, San Francisco and Cambridge. This from the NYCBikesnob blog:

    Speaking of strippers, the explosion of fixed-gear mania has turned the city into one giant strip club, in that everywhere you look there are pretty things hanging off of poles. Fixed-gear riders upgrade their bicycles constantly, festooning them with color and costly baubles, and walking down the streets of trendy neighborhoods is like walking along a sidewalk lined with lush, blooming shrubbery. So what opportunist wouldn’t want to pluck off a piece of fruit? I’m not sure when every urban fixed-gear bicycle I saw suddenly had Phil Wood hubs and a Chris King headset, but it’s definitely become the case over the last few years. If your bike’s going to be spending its life hugging poles in an urban environment, skip the expensive stuff. For the price of one of those hubs you could buy another cheap bike and be in compliance with my rule #1.

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  13. Catherine said on April 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    God help me, my must-click-through moment of the day was that Charlton Heston photo. Everything after is a fog…

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  14. Dexter said on April 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Orville Hubbard knew Henry Ford and shared opinions with him.
    Dad left the farm in Indiana and sought employment in Detroit . He found a rooming house and hit the bricks searching for a job. He was having no luck when the owner of the rooming house spoke to him . He knew Orville Hubbard, and arranged an appointment for my dad to meet the mayor. Dad went to the meeting and left with a letter from the mayor to take to the Ford employment cattle call.
    “Anyone here have a special trade or documents?” , the foreman boomed out.
    Dad showed the letter and was immediately ushered into a general foreman’s office.
    “Where did you get this letter?”
    Dad explained the simple tale.
    “This letter is good as gold almost any day but today we hired all we need…come back tomorrow and we’ll set you up.”
    For some reason Dad never went back to “Ford’s”. He landed a job on the way home from that interview, but he liked to tell that story.
    As I began to read the papers and found about Orville Hubbard, I was dismayed that the guy who went overboard to help a farm boy in the big city was himself a man of questionable opinions.

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  15. nancy said on April 24, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Charlie Gunrights was quite the tasty morsel back in the day, wasn’t he?

    That’s quite the story about Orville Hubbard, yet another demonstration that even bad people aren’t bad 100 percent of the time. At least, not to other white people. (I’m making an assumption, Dexter.) Ironic that Dearborn is now heavily tipped into the swarthy zone. If Orville’s spinning like a lathe, well, he needed to lose some weight.

    Not single-gearing it yet, but in a few minutes I’ll be picking Kate up on our vintage five-speed Schwinn tandem. Which, I understand, is all the rage in NYC.

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  16. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 24, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    ‘Ceptin’ this; ’tweren’t never the way it us’t to be. The way it used to be is how we recently decided we like to remember that it was.

    Hoosier note — you can trace a chunk of this pathology back to James Whitcomb Riley, author of a wonderful dialect pome titled “The Bear Hunt,” and an awful one that took on a life of its own, “Lil’ Orphant Annie.” Riley, from upscale Lockerbie Square on the east side of Indianapolis, helped to pioneer the myth that the pioneer days were twilight idylls of charm and belongingness . . . but don’t look too closely at Annie’s backstory.

    Of course, Riley on his best day couldn’t turn out an epic narrative like “The Four Yorkshiremen,” with the immortal refrain “And ye know what? We LIKED IT . . .”

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  17. Cosmo Panzini said on April 24, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    Nance– Somehow you must find and post the video of Ben Stein in the crowd of Richard Nixon’s staffers as the beloved ex-prez addressed them right before leaving the White House for the final time. I found it….amusing. Jolene– Word, baby. That Eisenhower thing. Once in a conversation, Eisenhower’s name came up, and a couple people looked a little vacant, caused me to ask them if they knew who he was. Nope. Oh, alright, he was a WWII war hero and president during most of the Fifties. You know? Nope, that was before I was born, one of them said. I guess they don’t make history books like they used to.

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  18. Dexter said on April 24, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Yes, if Dad had had a thatch of red hair and a ruddy face old Orville would have run him out of the office. Dad must have impressed Orville with his Anglo looks. I tell people there’s a Norman Rockwell painting that looks as though Rockwell used Dad as a model. HERE it is.
    “Dad” is the sailor with the twinkle in his eye here.
    Last year NYTimes did a feature on the single gear bicycle explosion. Nice lookers. I still use fixed gear coaster brake bikes to exercise Princess Labrador Retriever. People warn me I am going to get tangled up in Black Lab and fall, but I have perfected the technique and have not fallen off for three years now. She’s an old dog now and we are in perfect harmony on our walk/rides.
    My ride today will commence as soon as Pandora stops playing “I was so much older than that, I’m younger than that now.” I have XM radio, but free Pandora is better…I love that music genome access.
    Yes, I have a couple lighted bicycles…here it’s a whopper of a fine if the police are in that sort of mood and catch us riding sans illumination. One of the bikes is also a vintage Schwinn 10 speed that I rehabbed . It has a huge round generator powered light on the front.

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  19. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 24, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Dorothy, my apologies, but i ran through Gambier today after two days of sleep-over science camp with my 4th grade grimy young fellow, and snagged some Penguin Classics from the bookshop and a chocolate muffin for the Little Guy, who was agitating enough to keep me from sticking my head into your office door and saying “hi”, for which i feel quite guilty.

    Maybe when Jamie Lee is in the neighborhood?

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  20. Dorothy said on April 25, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Ahh Jeff what time were you there?! I was actually in the bookstore twice yesterday, minutes apart. Because I purchased a pocket calendar and then had to return it. I didn’t notice it was an academic one (DUH!), and it only started with June 2008. After my second visit a friend flagged me down and I sat on a bench with her for 10 minutes or so before heading back to work. This was around 3:00.

    Isn’t Middle Path just mind boggling-ly gorgeous this week?!?!

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  21. Jim said on April 25, 2008 at 8:55 am

    That is an excellent description of Indiana. “Why can’t it just be 1950 again?”

    Back in my Indiana newspaper days, I remember talking with a state legislator about Hoosier attitudes. He said whenever a new proposal came up, the first question would be, “What other states are doing it?” Innovation is an unappreciated notion in Indiana.

    If you look on almost any ranking of the 50 states — doesn’t really matter what category — Indiana is usually hovering right around 25. “Don’t wanna be last … but don’t wanna be first, neither!”

    And we LIKE it that way!

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  22. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 25, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Middle Path is/was gorgeous, and we walked down a bit of it at 2 . . . but the Nintendo DS was calling, calling us home.

    Hoosierism — last i heard, people still bragged that Fort Wayne and/or Muncie were used as test markets for food and consumer goods because . . . we’re so average! Yes, this is usually said with immense pride. Nuttin’ wrong with it, just . . . why would we be proud of it?

    Yet we are. (Foam-finger: We’re 50th percentile! We’re 50th percentile! We’re . . .)

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