The Stubborn Problem Of Consumer Confidence

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index fell in May to a recent low, causing some to fear that we may be on the cusp of the dreaded “double-dip” or “W” recession.  Economists expressed surprise at the news.

The only thing surprising about this news item is that some economists are still expressing surprise that American consumers aren’t more bullish about things.  Seriously, what world do these guys live in?  Leaving apart the weird notion that you can gauge something intangible like “confidence” with anything approaching scientific accuracy, what has happened recently that would encourage anyone to feel more upbeat about the economy?

For those who live in ivory towers or in the canyons of Wall Street, here is what those of us out in the country are seeing.  We know people who are out of work and have been out of work for a very long time.  We know college graduates who have gotten their degrees from fine institutions and can’t find even an entry-level job.  We know that gas and food prices have gone up since last year.  We’ve watched businesses close.  We’ve seen houses in the area sold at foreclosure and other houses in the neighborhood that seem to have been on the market forever.

So don’t tell us that some arcane leading economic indicator should cause us all to be doing handsprings.  We’ll believe the economy is getting better when our nephew can find a job and the house down the block gets sold.  Until then, understand that we are going to be cautious, and careful — and don’t be “surprised” that we are staying that way.

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Game Of Thrones

Yesterday Kish and I decided to take a chance on HBO’s new dramatic series, Game of Thrones.  We watched the first episode with some trepidation, because neither of us particularly cares for the sword and sorcery genre.  I’m happy to report that our trepidation was totally unwarranted.  We have now watched and very much enjoyed the first four episodes of this sprawling, brawling tale.

The series is set in some unknown land in an era like Europe’s Middle Ages.  There are lots of plot threads.  A whoring king sits somewhat uneasily on his throne, the subject of plotting by his wife and her incestuous brother, the appalling son of his assassinated predecessor, and probably countless others.  The king calls upon his trusted friend to wade into the political cesspool of the capital city to act as his closest aide and advisor.  The son of the mad former king has arranged for his sister to be given in marriage to the warrior king of a barely civilized tribe, who is to lead the savages in a bid to topple the current king.  A gigantic wall lies at the northern edge of the kingdom, built generations ago to keep out the “white walkers” — winter-loving creatures who have become the stuff of fairy tale and bedtime story — and manned by a depleted army of celibate guardians.  Winter is coming, and winter apparently can last for years. The families of the leading characters all have back stories that feature death and betrayal.

There is a lot to like in this show.  The cast, led by Sean Bean as Ned Stark, the head of the Stark clan and the king’s new right hand man, is excellent top to bottom.  Peter Dinklage is especially memorable as the smart, cynical, sharp-tongued, yet apparently decent dwarf brother in the dysfunctional Lannister clan, who regularly clash with the Starks.  There is the usual dollop of violence, nudity, and sex scenes found in most HBO series, but also the authentic-feeling costumes, sets, and general production values that also characterize HBO productions.  The fantasy element, so far, has been played with a light touch.  We’ve particularly liked the role of the wolf cubs adopted by the Stark children and which now, barely tamed, have played an important and mystical role in the unfolding events.

We’re hooked!

It was Inevitable

What happened earlier today with the Tressel resignation is really no surprise to me, except that it took as long as it did for him to resign. As I mentioned in a previous post back in March, Coach lost my support when he signed the NCAA document on December 8th saying that he knew nothing about the tattoo parlor incident when he in fact had received details the prior April.

I can understand that initially Coach Tressel’s thoughts were that he wanted to protect the players and that there might have been an issue with confidentiality, but when you forward the e-mail about the incident to Pryor’s confidante in Pennsylvania and not to the athletic director of Ohio State, that’s a HUGE mistake in my humble opinion. Tressel should have come clean during the March press conference and he didn’t.

I am also bothered about the way athletic director Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee handled the situation once they knew about it. When Ohio State held the press conference Gene Smith should have said that the university was going to conduct a more broad and comprehensive investigation to determine if there were more rules infractions that took place. Maybe then the details of car deals and living arrangement benefits might have been uncovered.

For Gee to say to the media, I have no intention of firing Coach Tressel, I only hope he doesn’t fire me has to be one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard ! Has college athletics gotten so big that the president of a major university is afraid to reprimand his own coach ? I think that Gee was treating Tressel as if he was above the NCAA rules that every other school has to follow and I think this is inexcusable.

I hope I am wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the NCAA decides to open up a second investigation into the new allegations that have recently come out. I wonder how Buckeye fans are going to react when we are slapped with NCAA sanctions of one, two or three years of probation not to mention the loss of numerous scholarships. I am as big a Buckeye fan as the next person, but the next few years are going to be very tough for Buckeye Nation.

Disaster iN COLumBus

tornadoes in oklahoma, alabama and missouri. hundreds dead. Flooding all along the mississippi…Louisiana handed another RAW deal… and on this beautiful monday in Ohio, another implausible disaster….

TRESSEL RESIGNS!

no one will die, no one will have to live in shelters, or wait in line for potable water, BUT for Ohio State fans this latest disaster CERTAINLY hurts the most.

What do I think? Well, for starters, in 5 or 10 years or whenever the NCAA is finally reduced to the scrap and manure that it deserves to be, Tressel will be viewed as an innocent victim in the f*cked up system of college football, and college sports today. In any other aspect of society where people use their skills to make so much money, they would DEMAND their fair cut of the profits. To extrapolate the situation here, in the bluntest terms, Tressel was fired because some of his biggest star athletes, who came from poor backgrounds, sold memorabilia they earned themselves. Tressel covered it up, yes, but to protect his own players. Should a coach be held more accountable to the NCAA and compliance departments than to his own players? I think not, and you wouldnt expect that from a coach at ANY OTHER LEVEL. The bottom line is these athletes dont get paid, but make MILLIONS of dollars not only for their universities, but for TV networks and corporate sponsors. Problems similar to the OSU controversies of late will only increase in frequency until the clear hypocrisy in college sports is righted. When the time comes where the athletes who risk their lives to entertain us get the compensation they deserve, people will look back at the Tressel resignation (read: firing) and say “wow, that guy got screwed.”

Tressel was meant to be the OSU coach until he was in a wheelchair, hell, until he was in a hospital bed with an IV in his arm on the sideline beating the SH!T out of michigan for the 30th time. But thanks to the NCAA and Gordon Gee, and the idealistic, fantasy vision of college football, Tressel is unfairly disgraced and ripped from the legacy that was rightly his.

Goodbye, Coach Tressel, And Good Luck

Shocking news on this Memorial Day — the Ohio State University announced this morning that it has accepted the resignation of head football coach Jim Tressel.

This news is immensely sad.  Coach Tressel not only has been a highly successful coach, but also seems to be a good person who has done a lot for local charities and organizations.  It is tragic — in the Greek sense of the term — that Coach Tressel must leave a position that he seemed born to fill, under a cloud of suspicion and the steady drip, drip, drip of troubling news about NCAA investigations and other issues involving the Ohio State football program and its players.  The scuttlebutt is that the University strongly encouraged Coach Tressel to resign, which just makes the story that much sadder.

I don’t know the truth about the Ohio State football program’s compliance with NCAA rules and regulations under Coach Tressel’s stewardship.  When the results of the ongoing investigation are announced, there will be plenty of time for contemplation and consideration of those issues.  No one person is, or should be, bigger than the institution.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel saddened by the story of a man brought low, whose legacy will forever be tarnished by a scandal and his own apparent lapses in judgment.

I wish Coach Tressel and his family peace, and good luck.

Happy Memorial Day!

It’s Memorial Day, when every red-blooded American male’s thoughts turn to grilling.  Last night I broke out the ancient Weber grill, filled it with the remnants of last year’s charcoal, doused it liberally with fluid, lit the ceremonial fire ablaze for the first time of the summer, and engaged in the crucial grill scraping ritual.  I then took a healthy swig from the sacred malty adult beverage to commemorate the occasion and raised my face toward the warmth of the sun.  Soon the patio air was filled with the heady combination of charcoal smoke and sizzling meat.

Last night’s grilling featured cheeseburgers, brats, and some chicken thighs marinated in a mustard-vinegar sauce I prepared using odds and ends from our spice cabinet.  The brats and the chicken were both the products of Ohio farms, in keeping with my interest in local sourcing.  With all due modesty, I must confess that the meats were grilled close to perfection, and the chicken marinade was tasty indeed.  We also had Ohio sweet corn with butter and a gigantic fruit salad that I had filled with as much Ohio produce as possible.  We ate out on the patio as the evening sun filtered through the trees in the backyard.

Happy Memorial Day to all!  May your grilling adventures today be merry and bright!  And, as always, thanks to our veterans and the men and women in uniform whose sacrifices allow us to enjoy this holiday.

Brick Walkway Blues

Our house has two brick walkways and a brick patio.  I prefer the look of brick to the look of cement.  I like the darker appearance and the more old-fashioned feel that you get from brick.

These positive attributes come at a cost, of course.  When spring rolls around, you just have to reconcile yourself to the reality that, at several points during the spring and summer months, you will have to weed the cracks between the bricks — because those tiny slivers of earth seem to be the most fertile ground imaginable.  Is there some magical property of brick that encourages the growth of grass and unwanted plants?  And, in deference to Penny, we can’t really apply powerful herbicides.

All weeding sucks, of course, but weeding the cracks between bricks is like weeding, squared.  It is a precise operation where you have to grasp the weed at its base next to the brick and then gently pull straight up to try to get the roots, too.  Gardening gloves don’t really work because they are too bulky.  This delicate bare-handed process always results in fingertips and palms scraped against the roughness of the brick, as well as an aching back and sore hamstrings from being hunched over during the endless series of careful extractions.

When you have finally finished, the walkways and patio look great, but you know it is just a matter of time before you are going to have to do it again.  Such are the burdens of the brick walkway owner.