Coffee Station Candy

On the day after Trick-or-Treat night — that is, today — you can always count on finding Halloween candy by the office coffee station.

IMG_3492And all of us know, too, exactly how the internal spousal conversation that produced the candy cornucopia went.  “We bought too much candy, again.”  “I don’t want it around the house — I’ll just eat it.”  “Take it to the office and get rid of it!”  And across America, from sea to shining sea, huge amounts of leftover Halloween candy was tastefully displayed by the office coffee pot and then gobbled down, surreptitiously, by legions of famished co-workers.  Watch out!  If you’re not quick on your feet, you might miss out — or lose a hand reaching for one of the coveted pieces of chocolate goodness.

On our floor, I think we went though four different collections of leftover Halloween candy that included Butterfingers, Reese’s Cups, Whoppers, and other high-end chocolate confections.  I particularly liked this bat-themed, Scooby Doo character bowl, which perhaps lasted for five minutes before being emptied.

Up For A Sale

Last night, a “Coming Soon” sign went up in our front yard, announcing to the world that we will be listing our house for sale in a few days.  We put it out just in time for the trick-or-treat block party, so we could let all of our neighbors know at the same time.

IMG_3491We’ve had 19 wonderful years on our little cul-de-sac in New Albany.  They began when our kids were both little tow-headed tykes under 10, when most of the lots around us were unsold and undeveloped, and when the newly planted trees around our lot were scrawny little things.  The years rolled by, the boys grew up, the empty lots around us filled with houses, and the houses filled with families.  Now Richard and Russell are adults and our North of Woods development is a mature neighborhood with towering trees and the happy sounds of children playing.  It’s hard to believe, but Kish and I have now spent one-third of our lives here.  That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.

Through it all, this frame house has been the dependable physical center of our family.  We bought it when it was being built and we had the chance to add the features we wanted, and we’ve been the only family to live here.  It’s never given us a single problem.  As empty nesters, though, we don’t need a four-bedroom house any more, and we’ve concluded that it’s time to hand this happy home off to another family with young kids that is looking to become part of a terrific, family-friendly place with great neighbors.

As for Kish and me, we’re intrigued by the thought of returning to the more urban lifestyle we had when we lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. back in the 1980s, to a smaller place that better suits our two-person, two-dog group.  After 19 years, we’re ready for a new adventure.

The LeBron Effect

The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers open their season tonight, playing at home against the New Your Knicks.  When I was driving home from work tonight, one of the local radio stations announced that it would be carrying the game.

“That’s odd,” I thought.  I don’t think any station carried the Cavs games last year.

And then I remembered:  LeBron is back.

If you ever wondered about the impact of one player on a team, a franchise, and a city, consider the LeBron Effect. When LeBron James announced that he was returning to Cleveland, it energized the city and the Cavaliers franchise, produced huge ticket sales and set the roster dominoes to falling.  Now the Cavs have a changed lineup and a changed attitude — and so do their long-suffering fans.  My friends up in Cleveland say that the Cavs are by far the toughest ticket in town.

With LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, the Cavs expect to contend for an NBA championship — which would be the first championship a Cleveland sports team has earned in 50 years.  Those expectations are a heavy burden, but LeBron James is used to the pressure.  It’s all just part of the LeBron Effect.

Quantitative Ending

The Federal Reserve Board has announced that it is ending its Quantitative Easing (QE) program.  Monetary policy and Wall Street finance decisions like this one typically make the average person roll their eyes and groan about abstract concepts that don’t seem to affect them — that is, until the failure of poorly conceived financial instruments threaten to bring the American economy to its knees and produce a recession or depression.

So what is QE, exactly?  It began in 2008 and was designed to try to bolster the sagging economy by injecting money and increasing the availability of credit.  A helpful New York Times piece explains QE using charts.  They show that for the last six years, the Fed has been buying bonds — lots and lots of bonds, to the point where it now owns $4.8 trillion of them.  And it hasn’t limited its bond buying to its traditional market of presumptively safe U.S. treasury securities, either.  Instead, it has bought huge sums of mortgage-backed securities, too, to the point where about 40 percent of the Fed’s total portfolio consists of those instruments.  And although the Fed has announced that QE is ending, that really just means that the Fed has stopped buying.  It has no plans to do any selling and will continue to own and hold that $4.8 trillion of bonds.

Why should we care about any of this?  Some people say that, through QE, the Fed just created money out of thin air.  Of course, it has been decades since the “gold standard” applied and dollars could be exchanged for actual gold, and since then dollars and other currencies basically have only had the value that investor confidence places in them.  During the six years of QE bond-buying, inflation has remained under control.  And, in some respects, QE seems to have worked — borrowing costs have declined, the stock market has bounced back, and there has been some job growth since the dark days of 2008-2009, although the economy obviously remains weak.

My views about QE boil down to two thoughts.  First, QE illustrates the enormous extent to which our current form of government places a lot of trust and power in institutions like the Fed.  How would the Founding Fathers react to an unelected board independently making the decision to buy trillions of dollars of financial instruments as part of a specific effort to manipulate the economy?  Second, QE also reveals the puniness of the average American in the face of massive economic forces that are wholly beyond our control.

Many of us have tried to manage our personal financial affairs prudently, with an eye toward building a nest egg that will allow us to some day enjoy a comfortable retirement.  We are like the ants in the tale of the ant and the grasshopper, toiling and husbanding a portion of our earnings while the grasshoppers among us fiddle in the summer sun.  The risk for those of us who are following the path of the ant is that inflation begins to erode the value of what we’ve saved and reduced its ability to allow us to enjoy our golden years.  Has QE increased that risk?  So far it apparently hasn’t, but the jury is still out.  Like ants, we just hope that we don’t get crushed.

Our Lone Political Sign

IMG_3490I don’t think we’ve ever — ever — put a political sign in our yard.  Usually, Kish and I agree to disagree about individual candidates in significant races, so we don’t have a strong consensus view that would support a bold move like a yard sign.  (Of course, the fact that we live on a cul-de-sac that doesn’t get through traffic probably means that omission hasn’t made a significant difference in the results of any major political races.)

But when the people supporting the fire department and EMS issue asked if we would put a sign out in support of those essential municipal services, it was a no-brainer.  Kish and I might disagree on some things, but supporting the Fire Department and emergency medical services aren’t on that list.

A Chillingly Realistic Portrayal Of Sibling Relationships

Yesterday I read a news story that reminded me of the most chillingly realistic portrayal of sibling relationships I’ve ever seen on network television.

The story was about a man named John Spinello, who cannot afford needed oral surgery.  There’s nothing remarkable about that — except that 50 years ago Spinello invented the game “Operation.”  The news story was that the inventor of “Operation” can’t afford an operation.

You no doubt will recall “Operation,” one of the greatest game inventions ever.  Players drew cards and, using tweezers, had to remove humorous plastic pieces — like a piece of bread from the “Bread Basket” or a bucket from “Water on the Knee” — from a guy lying as if on an operation table.  If the tweezers touched the electrified sides of the slot where the plastic piece was placed, a buzzer sounded and the guy’s red nose lit up.  (Removing the pencil from “Writer’s Cramp” was the hardest.)

The strikingly accurate depiction of sibling relationships, of course, was found in the famous commercial for “Operation” — shown below — where a brother and sister are playing the game.  The clumsy brother hits the metal side and gets the buzzer while his sister howls with laughter.  She successfully removes the wrench from “Wrenched Ankle,” taunts the brother with it, and says, with an air of crushing superiority, “ha, ha, ha!”

In our house, the little girl’s “ha, ha, ha” became part of the family lexicon — because the Webner kids, like the children in every family, knew intuitively that a large part of life was figuring out ways to torment your siblings.  Whether it was playing unfair practical jokes, smirking in the background while they got disciplined, devising mean-spirited nicknames, telling kids in the neighborhood an embarrassing story, or setting things up so that your sister always got the dirty tramp on the game “Mystery Date,” pranking your brothers and sisters was a crucial part of growing up.  The “Operation” girl’s “ha, ha, ha” captured the whole process perfectly.

The Real-Life Death Star

Saturn has 62 moons.  One of them, called Mimas, looks familiar to anyone who’s ever watched the original Star Wars:  it’s a dead ringer for the Death Star.

Mimas is weird in other ways, too.  It’s the smallest round moon ever discovered.  It has an apparent impact crater so large that it looks like it should have shattered the moon into tiny pieces.  And Mimas accountably wobbles, too.  In fact, it wobbles so dramatically that scientists are stumped about how the pronounced wobble could possibly be caused.  The competing theories range from some large stone under the surface of the impact crater, to a core that is unaccountable shaped like a rugby ball, to an underground ocean that is sloshing back and forth even though Mimas is so cold that it’s hard to see how liquid water can exist.  And so, the scientists argue.

Let’s see — the smallest round moon known to anyone that looks exactly like the Death Star.  Isn’t the real answer obvious?  Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi!  You’re our only hope!