Ben Stein Watch: October 28, 2007

If last

week’s Ben Stein column was a reversion to mean, a bad column following

a vaguely reasonable one, then this week’s is a momentum trade. You thought

that Stein couldn’t get any worse than he was last week? Well, you weren’t being

imaginative enough. It’s true that it would be hard for him to be more wrong

than the was last week. So instead he has managed to file 860

words of utter gobbledegook: nonsense masquerading as syntactically-correct

English. (It might have been easier for him just to write "colorless green

ideas sleep furiously", and leave it at that.) Yves Smith gets

to the point:

I assume this piece is meant to be humorous, because it certainly can’t be

taken seriously. But Stein’s not a skilled enough writer to pull it off, so

it comes off as being merely unhinged.

Stein devotes most of his column to an idea which is so "painfully

silly," in the words of Dean Baker, that I can’t even bring myself

to summarize it here. Dean has a go at finding a kernel of meaning amidst the

gibberish and poppycock: he’s a stronger man than I. If you wanted to be really,

really charitable you could consider Stein’s column to be a reworking

as reductio ad absurdum of Michael

Kinsley’s famous 2004 column on social security privatization. Except that

Kinsley’s column makes sense, and Stein’s, well, doesn’t.

Amazingly, however, Stein has managed to retain the same ABA formula for his

column that he always uses: he starts off saying something utterly uninteresting

about his personal life, he then gets a bunch of economics wrong, and then he

repeats what he first said about his personal life. Last week we were told that

Taco Bell is tasty; this week we learn that Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho is "beautiful

and yet empty". Stein says he’s going to buy a home there, which does raise

one interesting explanation for this week’s column.

Any sensible person, on reading this column, will react to Stein in much the

same way as they would to that muttering crazy person on the subway: by giving

him a very wide berth indeed. So maybe Stein’s just trying, with this column,

to ensure that no one else even thinks about moving to his particular pocket

of North Idaho. It might be a fair trade: if all of us promise we’ll never visit

Lake Pend Oreille, might Stein promise to never again write for the New York


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