Tuesday, March 15, 2005
On this day:

Ben Stein in B'ham

I made it down to Birmingham this evening for Ben Stein's speech at Birmingham-Southern College. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision on my part, but I've been a Ben Stein fan ever since I started reading his Diary in the American Spectator while I was in college, and I didn't have any other plans, so I figured - what the heck?

The speech didn't disappoint. Typical Ben Stein...funny, positive, and uplifting. He touched on politics, economics, the war on terror, the media, and Hollywood. If I had boil it all down to one theme, it would be this: "One of the keys to happiness in our society is to be grateful for living in America...take full advantage of its opportunities...and quit your incessant whining!" Pretty good advice, I thought.

While he was down front shaking hands and signing autographs after the speech and Q&A session, he got in a pretty heated discussion with a guy who I guessed to be a junior or senior at BSC. The young fellow said that Stein had understated the extent of poverty and homelessness in America, rattling off statistics about poverty levels, numbers of homeless, etc. It was obvious that he had missed the point of Mr. Stein's lecture entirely. No one denies that poverty and homelessness are problems, but as Stein responded - there are very few people in this country who go to bed "involuntarily hungry" at night. You can cite poverty levels all you want, but as any economist who's worth his weight will tell you, government-published poverty levels are misleading at best. 90% of those living below the poverty line in America have color TV sets, 74% have microwave ovens, and most have at least one automobile. Stein's point was that it should be a cause for celebration that we live in a country in which even the poorest citizens are able to afford such "luxuries." Unfortunately, that's not a lesson you're likely to learn on today's college campuses, and that's why folks like Ben Stein are so important, and why it was such an honor to shake his hand.