20 May 2011

Ben Stein is kind of a monster

There is an interesting layering of knowledge about actor/pundit/politico Ben Stein, which is probably because of his unusual career.

Almost everyone will know him - if not by name - from his famous roles in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and for his years-long association with Visine eyedrops. His droning repetition of "Bueller? Bueller?" is iconic.

A smaller number of people might also know about the game show Stein did for Comedy Central, Win Ben Stein's Money. The show, which was on the air for six years, had Ben Stein facing off against contestants in battles of knowledge. Stuck in Twenty-One-style isolation chambers, he would answer questions about history, science, and the arts. It showcased his immense store of facts: the bits of trivia he had on ready hand about obscure artists and hoary tales from history was very impressive.

If you are a certain kind of Christian, you might also know Stein from his movie Expelled. This movie alleged that proponents of "intelligent design" were being shut out unfairly from the academic debate. I was interviewed about the movie (I thought it was crap). You can read more about Expelled here, if you're so inclined.

But beyond his fame for his movie roles, his commercials, and his game show, there are some people who also know that Ben Stein writes political commentary still. He is a regular contributor to The American Spectator and Newsmax. Stein wrote speeches for Richard Nixon back in a former life, working from his background as a lawyer and economist, so you won't be surprised to hear that he's extremely conservative.

He is also reprehensible in his latest column about the accusations against IMF President (now resigned) Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was recently released on bail.

In his column, Stein makes a series of points about Strauss-Kahn. Some of them are disgusting.

First, let me mention that he's not entirely nauseating. A few of his points are on-target. He questions whether the former IMF chief was really a flight risk and points out that Strauss-Kahn had already surrendered his passport, so perhaps it was unnecessary to put him in Riker's rather than keep him under house arrest.

But he also goes way beyond those reasonable concerns into a level of massive and astonishing nonsense. He starts off with only some light idiocy:

1.) If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn't he ever get charged until now? If he has a long history of sexual abuse, how can it have remained no more than gossip this long? France is a nation of vicious political rivalries. Why didn't his opponents get him years ago?

Well, in point of fact it seems like there have actually been some previous problems, like when he was accused of rape by a journalist and when he was investigated by the IMF for abusing his power during an affair with a subordinate (he was cleared of abuse, but admitted the affair).

But even if he had a squeaky-clean record, does it really beggar the imagination to dream up scenarios where an immensely wealthy and powerful man covers his tracks?

2.) In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind

Tumblr user James Urbaniak found (rather easily) a long list of similar cases. But this is kind of an unreasonable demand. Ben Stein demands to know what other heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have been both charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes. That's an amazing short list of possible people. There are relatively few nonprofit international economic entities, and that small set of people is not likely to harbor many individuals who have been both charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes.

As it turns out, even that small subset of people does in fact have some similar cases. But Stein's logic is childish. He might as well change it to "can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities with hyphenated last names and a slight overbite that they manage with a plastic retainer on Wednesday and Saturday nights who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes?"

In other words, if you make the pool of "similar" people small enough, you'll usually manage to exclude any bad company.

3.) The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn "forced" the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He's a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it's anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?

Fuck you, Ben Stein.

Yeah, sorry. No real commentary on this one. Just read it and cringe.

6.) People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail? Putting a man in Riker's is serious business. Maybe more than a few minutes of investigation is merited before it's done.

He had a hotel maid who stole money, so that implicates all hotel maids. Their honesty is now under question.

This entire column is a travesty, a thick steaming morass of contemptible commentary left to rot before our eyes. I don't lightly throw this around, but it is misogynistic, in addition to be rather classist and almost devoid of any serious thought. Ben Stein is disgusting, and so is this column.

UPDATE: The Daily Show riffs on Stein.

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