A family member sent me an email which passed on a tidbit, one that has had some life on the Internet. Back in 2003, the actor and conservative activist Ben Stein ended a long tradition of name-dropping commentary ("Monday Night at Morton's") with a piece telling us what really matters. Apparently, in the aftermath of 9/11, Mr. Stein had a soul-searching moment about his life of privilege and summed up his findings in a farewell to his readership. At the age of 59, Stein had discovered that the real heroism of 'those who serve' (such as our troops) eclipses the narrow pursuit of celebrity and wealth. Ben concludes:

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.

Some of you may have noticed that I have a link on my blog to another site that (frankly) trashes Ben Stein for his role in promoting a ridiculous anti-science film called 'Expelled'? There are few people I'd like to see publicly dressed down more than Ben Stein. It is rather galling to have this fellow's feckless sentiments forwarded to me, and even more galling to realize that I largely agree with something that he wrote. Ah me, the perils of shared humanity! How can I dissent? I was raised on military bases. I share Stein's admiration for military people and military families, and it is obviously true that real heroism is not defined by celebrity or talent.

But this is rather like listening to a lecture from Madonna on why sexuality is sacred. It's nice that Stein has discovered that giving back is important, but, you know, the guy was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, has residences in Malibu and Beverly Hills and has spent most of his life name-dropping and playing the part of a minor celebrity. Am I'm supposed to be impressed that at this stage of his life, experiencing the suffering of losing a family member (which all of us will face sooner or later) he's discovered what really matters in life?

I'm also creeped out over the notion that Ben is now committed to a life given in service to others. Really, if Ben Stein really wanted to help me and others, he should stop attacking legitimate science, stop giving really bad economic advice, and stop defending the misconduct of the Nixon Administration in which he served.

By the way, no one should be surprised that Stein's idea of 'helping others' pretty much conflates with pushing his own political agenda. 'The Real Stars' became the basis of a book with Philip Demuth, whose content was summarized in a speech he gave before a conservative PAC back in February 2008 while promoting his ridiculous anti-science film 'Expelled.' At least Ben had the decency to donate the proceeds from this effort to charity. So, please, if you must buy something of Ben's, buy that book. But his views on the economy? Politics? Science? Donate those to a landfill, or (if you absolutely must) some charity that needs raw wood pulp.