Monthly Archives: October 2012

Remember When Interest Rates Were Positive?

“There’s got to be something we can do to get this economy rolling.”

“There isn’t, sir.  We’ve taken interest rates as low as they can go.”

“Don’t use ‘they’ to refer to interest rates.  ‘They’ should be used only in reference to people.  Use ‘these’ or ‘those’ or something.  Rework the sentence.”

“Yes, sir.  We’ve taken interest rates as low as these…um, those…the interest rates can go.”

“That can’t be true.  How low are the rates now?”

“Zero percent.”

“Zero!  So isn’t that igniting economic growth?”

“It is reported that more and more people are choosing to move in with their parents rather than start Fortune 500 companies.”

“But it’s cheap to get a loan!  Zero percent!  Why aren’t people going into more debt?”

“I don’t know, sir.  A lack of parking near the bank may be a problem.”

“Well, if zero percent won’t do, we’ll have to go below zero.”

“Below zero, sir?  You don’t mean—”

“Oh yes, I most certainly do.  Negative interest rates.”

“Negative interest rates?  But that would mean that people would have to pay for the right to deposit their money.  And people who borrowed money would be paid for the right to borrow it.”

“Exactly.  Now let’s see them try to not go into debt and spend.”

The newspapers dubbed it “Monetary Fallacy,” but after a few months it was hard to argue with the results.  Saving was at all time low, and spending at an all time high——and that was saying a lot.  Sales of flat-screen televisions over 60 inches quadrupled.  The number of new employees that were needed to carry those televisions from the register to the customers’ cars reduced the national unemployment rate by three whole percentage points.

And technology was not the only sector that was booming.  People took out loans to make additions on their houses.  Even people who already had very nice houses were finding deficiencies that they had not noticed before.  Suddenly everyone had to have a charging room, filled with outlets so that people could charge their phones and laptops and eyebrow trimmers.

“Oh, you don’t have a charging room?” went a popular conversation.  “Well then, looks like we’re hosting Thanksgiving this year.”

Because borrowers were paid to borrow money, some people quit their jobs so that they could borrow full time.  And thus even more positions were freed up.  Young people who had taken out thousands in educational loans to earn post-graduate degrees in esoteric areas like Tupperware Organizing could finally pursue their chosen field.

“Sir, you won’t believe it!  The unemployment is the lowest it has ever been!”

“Excellent.  And they told me I couldn’t do long division.  Tell me, what is it now?”

“Zero percent.”

“Zero?”

“Why yes.  Why are you making that face, sir?  Isn’t zero percent what you wanted?”

“Of course not!  If unemployment is zero percent, then what do they need policy wonks like us for?  How will I pay for my new charging room?”

“But sir, we can’t let the unemployment rate go up in an election year.”

“Well then, if we can’t let the unemployment rate go up, we’ll have to take it even lower.”

“Sir, you don’t mean—”

“Oh yes, I most certainly do.  Negative unemployment.”

“Negative unemployment?  But sir, how does that work?”

“Haven’t I taught you anything?”

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Filed under Economics

Remember When Debates Involved Debating?

When I was in ninth grade and it was announced that we were going to attend a debate by the two candidates for class president, I was surprised to hear that we even had a class president.  Until that moment I had thought our class was governed by an oligarchy of characters from video games who directed the teachers to make us read things like Beowulf.

So one day, instead of spending third period in math class and discussing how a line was equal to itself, we were corralled into the auditorium so that two of our peers could talk about how they were different from each other.

The two candidates stood at podiums on the stage – one on the left, and one on the right.  The candidate on the left, a very nice young woman who until then I had known only as the girl with the purple school bag, was the incumbent president.  The young man on the right – rumored to be a jerk but good at math – her challenger.

After the two candidates each made introductory remarks, displaying their talent for speaking in a monotone directly into a piece of paper, students were allowed to ask questions.  The first question was, “As class president, how would you create more activities for students?”

The left-hand candidate had the chance to speak first, and she said, “Thank you for your question.  Activities are a very important part of a student’s life, and I know that you’re hurting for some activities.  I know what it feels like to have nothing to do.  Last year my parents took away my television privileges because they caught me smoking a cigarette.  All afternoon I had nothing to do except stare at a blank wall.  Eventually my parents realized how important television was to me and let me watch it again, and all was right.  So I know what you mean, and when I’m class president I’m going to make sure that students have lots of activities.”

Then the right-hand candidate interjected, “But student activities declined by over twenty percent since you took office at the end of eighth grade!  When I’m class president, we’re going to reverse that trend.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “That’s not true.  You are not using accurate statistics.  You should do your homework.”

“I don’t need to do my homework,” he replied, “I’ve always been great at math.  I’m in the honors class.”

Then the teacher-moderator stopped the arguing and invited the next question from a student.

“What are you going to do about the quality of the school lunch?”

The right-hand candidate said, “Thank you for your question.  For years we have been under the oppression of the school lunch.  There is a central authority that decides for us what we should be eating, and it isn’t good!  When I’m class president, my plan is to create a marketplace of lunch vendors, so that students can decide for themselves what they want to eat.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “Privatizing the school lunch might be nice if you get a big allowance.  But for middle-allowance students, a school lunch marketplace is only going to make an expensive lunch even more expensive.  The answer is to make the existing school lunch taste better.  And I’m going to do that as class president.”

“And how are you going to do that?” asked the teacher-moderator.

“Oh, you want me to elaborate?” asked the incumbent.  “We were told we wouldn’t have to elaborate.”

I couldn’t take it anymore.  It was time to ask these candidates a question that was relevant to our lives.  Activities?  School lunches?  These things were not important.  No matter who won this election, we would still have to go to class.  We would still have to get changed for gym.  We would still have to read Beowulf.  Before I knew it, I was standing at the microphone, clearing my throat, and asking my question.

“What exactly does the class president do?” I asked.

The candidates looked stunned for a moment.  I could hear some laughter behind me, and I sensed that I had asked the single question that everyone had wanted to ask.  My heart filled with such joy I felt close to tears.

And the next thing I knew, I was being escorted out of the auditorium while another student asked a question, and the candidates were articulating their five-point plans for implementing a more convenient schedule of late buses.

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Filed under Current Events, Politics

Remember When I Started This Blog?

Today marks exactly two years since I started this blog.  So to celebrate, I’m re-posting the very first post I ever posted here.  I read it now and feel that I have come a long way.  I hope you’ll agree.  – MK

Do you remember Beavis and Butthead, that cartoon on MTV?

I do.

It was spring and I was in ninth grade.  A friend of mine quoted some dialogue at the lunch table one day.  I watched the show that night and thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life.  It was on at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., I believe, and I started taping an episode every night on the VCR.  The characters spoke to me.  I too was a young man who saw the world divided into things that were cool and things that sucked.

One time my mother watched the show and forbade me from watching it anymore.  I had to watch and tape in secret.  I figured out how to tape the show without the television being on.  I would bring the tape to a friend’s house and we would watch it and laugh and I would think to myself, “This show is never going to go out of style.”

The two main characters spent a lot of time watching television.  Whenever an image of fire came on to their screen, they would shout, “Fire!  Fire!” not in alarm, but in excitement.  I too was excited by images of fire at that time.

Parents were outraged.  Educators were disappointed.  Congress got involved.  The “Fire! Fire!” got edited to “Fight!  Fight!” which did not make any sense.  Until that time I had thought censorship was something that happened only in places like the Soviet Union.  Now I knew the truth.

A few years ago while I was cleaning out some old boxes of stuff, I found my tape of Beavis and Butthead.  It was marked with a simple “BB” so that my mother would not know what it was.  I dusted off the VCR and popped in the tape.

You know something?  It was still funny.

Heh heh.  Huh huh.

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Filed under Sappy Reflection

Remember When News Was News?

By now I’m sure you’ve all heard the tale of two weddings in Philadelphia and the ensuing brawl and tragic death of the uncle of one of the brides.  In fact, I’m sure you’ve more than heard of it – likely you’ve seen the video, over and over again.  I know I did.

Or perhaps you’ve been more focused on the fans at the Kansas City Chiefs football game, who cheered when quarterback Matt Cassell left a 9-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens with a concussion.  There’s so much news out there it is hard to choose how to spend one’s time.

Last night I watched a cable news channel in hopes that the resident analysts would direct me to the most important stories.  I happened to tune in to the middle of a report about a man who had left a teaspoon full of cereal in the cereal box, and put the box back in the cabinet, not considering the fact that he was taking up valuable cabinet space with an amount of cereal that would satisfy not even the smallest mouth.  The show had lined up a panel of experts to discuss the event.

“This is further evidence of the fragmentation of the American family,” one expert said, head neatly fitting in to the box allotted to it on the screen.

“Well, I think the problem is that the husband just assumes his wife is going to take care of it,” said a second.  “Clearly the kitchen is still seen as a woman’s domain.  We have a long way to go.”

“I take offense to that statement,” said the third expert, a little taller than the others, and who kept ducking to stay within the confines of the box.  “This isn’t about gender wars.  This isn’t about family, either.  This is a conspiracy by bowl-manufacturers in making us think that a teaspoon of cereal is not a serving.”

The fourth box on the screen was reserved for the host, who said to the camera, “What do you think about this guy leaving a teaspoon of cereal in the cabinet?  Email us your comment to the address at the bottom of your screen.  We want to hear from you.”

I changed the channel to another cable news program.  This time the event was a birthday party gone awry.  The parents of the little birthday boy had served soft drinks as refreshments, and several of the guests had been raised in homes where the only available beverages were water and freshly squeezed guava juice.  One of the kids had filmed the entire thing with his cell phone, and now millions of viewers were treated to a grainy video of children being served soda.

This show had adopted the round table format for its experts.  The nutritionist called this behavior “appalling.”  The child social worker also said it was “disturbing.”  The famous tort litigator – plugging his new book, “Holding Party-Throwers Accountable” – eagerly set forth several theories of liability.

“The key question,” the attorney said, “is whether the parents will be seen as acting with malice in serving the soft drinks, and not merely negligence.  If its malice, it will mean big dollars.  If negligence, just dollars.”  The host of the round table ran the video clip again, and all agreed – myself included – that the parents’ faces were malicious as they poured cola into little plastic cups for little hands.  Disgusted, I turned to yet another cable news channel.

At first I did not know what I was watching.  It was another video, this one of a man, sitting on a couch, holding a remote control, and starting straight ahead at something, likely a television.  He looked vaguely familiar.  He had the same pullover fleece and flannel pajama pants that I was wearing at that exact moment.  And even the couch on which he sat his slovenly mass looked just like my couch.  Perhaps he had been my classmate in high school.

The analysts were breaking down this man’s body language and discussing the ongoing epidemic of people not getting enough exercise.  One of the experts started to say that with all the cable news programs available these days, showing clip after clip of ordinary people who do not know they are being filmed, it was no wonder that they can’t pry themselves away from the screen.  Then a large monster emerged from the left side of the screen, devoured the expert in one bite, and the network went to a commercial.

I changed the channel to find another cable news program.  They’re always going on about how people don’t get enough exercise.

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Filed under Current Events

Remember High Top Sneakers?

When I was in fifth grade it was decided by a committee of my teacher and my parents that I could graduate from Velcro sneakers to footwear with laces.  At the time these canvas sneakers that went high up on the ankle were very popular.  It was like all the kids wanted to pretend they were in the 1950s and helping Marty McFly get back to the future.

The canvas sneakers that I bought were turquoise in color, and after the newness of the sneakers wore off I indulged in the custom of writing on your sneakers.  Along with laced sneakers, I had also graduated to pens instead of pencils, which was good because it is hard to write on canvas sneakers in pencil.

Most other boys my age who wore the same style of sneaker had written on their sneakers “I love” and then the name of their girlfriend, or “I” and then the shape of a heart and then the name of their girlfriend.  I, being far too absorbed in my quest for the lowest common denominator, had no time for girlfriends, and so wrote on my sneakers “I love toxic waste.”  Somehow my parents, who had paid for the sneakers, did not appreciate my use of irony.

The following year ushered in the reign of the Nike Air.  This was a sneaker made of leather but with a little plastic bubble in the side that was allegedly filled with air.  I was sure that the sneakers would make me float and deliver me from the clutches of the gangs that roamed the hallways of the middle school kicking the backs of students’ feet while they walked.  Oh how I was disappointed to find that the Nike Airs respected the law of gravity, although the gang members were impressed by my insecure obsession with fitting in.

And then came the Reebok Pump.

Yes, my first understanding of the word “pumps” in relation to footwear was not high-heeled women’s shoes, but rather sneakers that had an inflatable pouch inside the tongue.  There was a bright orange rubber button at the end of the tongue that one would push repeatedly, particularly during class, to inflate the tongue, giving a more snug fit and greater basketball dunking capability.

The price of the sneakers was even more impressive than the inflatable tongue.  At well over $100 a pair, perhaps even as much as $200, the Pumps were as unattainable for me as Z Cavaricci pants.  I remember writing my Bar Mitzvah speech on the Exodus from Egypt, while fantasizing that I would receive enough money to buy a pair of Reebok Pumps and Z Cavariccis, and then stroll the hallways at my school and earn the kind of superficial respect of my peers that you see only in B-movies from the 1980s.

But the Reebok Pumps were not all fun and games.  There were reports of people who pumped the Reebok Pumps so much that they cut off the circulation to their feet, which then had to be amputated, and replaced with Prosthetic Pumps.

And there were reports of people being mugged for their Pumps.  How difficult it must have been to deflate and untie one’s sneakers at gun point, and then have to hold the gun while the mugger put on the sneakers and pumped them.
For me, however, the Reebok Pumps remained a fantasy.  At first I told myself that the price was too high, and that I was much better of selling my family’s cow for beanstalk beans than a pair of sneakers.  But I think the real reason was that I did not see myself as a pumper of sneakers.  In fact, it turns that I am not even a fan of high-top sneakers at all.  Today I walk the Earth in a pair of low-top loafers that can be removed easily at the threshold of my home lest the freshly swiffered floor be smudged.  The shoes are dark brown and non-descript, and say absolutely nothing about their wearer except that he loves toxic waste.

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Filed under Fashion