Saturday, July 18, 2009

I love Ben Stein (not that way)

Ben Stein's final column --

For many years Ben Stein has written a biweekly column called 'Monday
Night  At Morton's.' (Morton's is a famous chain of Steakhouses known
to be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the
globe.) Now, Ben is terminating the column to move on to other things
in his life.  Reading his final column is worth a few minutes of your

Ben Stein's Last Column...

How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World?

As I begin to write this, I 'slug' it, as we writers say,  which means
I put a heading on top of the document to identify it. This heading is
'eonline FINAL,' and it gives me a shiver to write it.  I have been
doing this column for so long that I cannot even  recall when I
started... I loved writing this column so much for so long I came to
believe it would never end.

It worked well for a  long time, but gradually, my changing as a
person and the world's change have overtaken it..  On a small scale,
Morton's, while better than ever, no longer attracts as many stars as
it used to. It still brings in the rich people in droves and
definitely some stars. I saw Samuel L. Jackson there a few days ago,
and we had a nice visit, and right before that, I saw and had a
splendid talk with Warren Beatty in an elevator, in which we agreed
that Splendor in the Grass was a super movie. But Morton's is not the
star galaxy it once was, though it probably will be again.

Beyond that, a bigger change has happened..?  I no longer think
Hollywood stars are terribly important. They are uniformly pleasant,
friendly people,  and they treat me better than I deserve to be
treated. But a man  or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing
lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a
shining star we should all  look up to.

How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in
insane luxury really be a star in today's world, if by a 'star' we
mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?  Real
stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches
or getting  trained in yoga or Pilates and eating only raw fruit while
they have Vietnamese girls do their nails..

They can be  interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me
any longer.  A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division
who poked  his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit , Iraq .  He
could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.  Instead, he
faced  an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent
people of the world.

A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to
a road north of Baghdad .  He approached it, and the bomb went off and
killed him..

A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S.
soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of
unexploded ordnance on a street near where he was guarding a  station.
He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it  exploded. He
left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in
Baghdad .

The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish
weddings on TV but the  ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even
after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and
stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.

We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of
our magazines...  The  noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on
military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships
and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they
live and die.

I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such
poor values, and I  do not want to perpetuate those values by
pretending that who is eating at Morton's is a big subject.

There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament...the
policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no
idea if they will return alive; the orderlies and paramedics who bring
in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for
surgery; the teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into
caring for autistic children; the kind men and women who work in
hospices and in cancer wards.

Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the
World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse. Now you have my
idea of a real hero.

I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that
matters This is my highest and best use as a human.  I can put it
another way. Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor
as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or  Martin Mull or Fred
Willard--or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a
writer as Fitzgerald.  Or even remotely close to any of them.

But, I could be a  devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and,
above all, a good son  to the parents who had done so much for me.
This came to be my main task in life.  I did it moderately well with
my son, pretty well with my wife and well indeed with my parents (with
my sister's help).  I cared for and paid attention to them in their
declining  years.  I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into
extremis and then into a coma and then entered immortality with my
sister and me reading him the Psalms.

This was the only point at which my life touched the lives of the
soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York .  I came to realize
that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that
it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me,
to help others He  has placed in my path. This is my highest and best
use as a human

Faith is not believing that God can.  It is knowing that God will.

By  Ben Stein

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