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.

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!