half-life /haf-lîf/ n. 1. the time required for half of something to undergo a process: as  a. the time required for half the atoms of a radioactive substance present to become disintegrated  b. the time required for half the amount of a substance ... to be eliminated by natural processes*

- From Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary

{Musical accompaniment: Beethoven's Egmont Overture**}


Like the half-life of radioactive fallout, the stock market has reached its "half-life," as the Dow is now half of its 52-week high of 13,191.50***. Yesterday, the Dow closed at 6,594.44.

I recently heard one economist utter, as he threw up his hands in a form of surrender: Heck, we're in unexplored territory here; we're making this up as we go!

My fear is that he may be right.

What if no one has a solution to our financial crisis? There are no economic models to go by. No relevant computer models to run. No textbook solutions to consult. No examples to cite. We are, truly, in unexplored territory.

People point to the Great Depression of the 1930's as past history from which to glean economic insight as we attempt to dig our way out of this fiscal hole (actually, the Panic of 1907 might serve as a better example). But the playing field is different today. And we certainly don't have the demand of a World War economy to bail us out.

Let's face it, our 21st-century economy is a house of cards. Everything is smoke and mirrors. Hedge funds?! Mortgage-backed securities?! Humph! We're on the precipice of an eroding cliff, with the raging seas of finance washing away the sands beneath us. In time, gravity eventually wins out.

Stimulus plans over the past years have done little to jumpstart the economy, so the Federal government, in its wisdom, launches yet another hurried stimulus plan. While bailouts to auto manufacturers and financial institutions and insurance conglomerates make a mockery of our "free" economy and leave taxpayers scratching their heads in disgust.

No one knows anything for sure. One economist will say the big banks are too big to fail. Another economist will say big banks are too big to survive. And a third economist will say buy stock in windshield wipers, because after this relentless winter weather everyone in the northeast will need a new set of wipers come spring!

Which leads me to the following aside, which I wrote after making myself a sandwich for lunch and wrapping it up and putting it in a brown paper bag for work, longing for simpler childhood times when the only thing we needed to worry about was getting home in time for dinner.

Wax paper sandwiches,

In brown paper bags,

As outside fall snowflakes,

Upon evergreen swags,

As outside rest pumpkins,

To be squashed and smashed,

And swampy ponds of spring,

Where lily pads are stashed,

As outside stand snow forts,

And frozen cranberry bogs,

And dusty, old sandlots,

And garden snakes and frogs,

Oh, how I wish to kick through,

October's golden leaves,

And bask beneath the wonder,

Of winter's starry eves,

But the working week calls,

With mortgage payments to make,

So get showered, and get dressed,

And shave, for goodness sake!


Jack Sheedy


* Footnote 1: I had originally planned to live to 100, but have amended my plans to age 92, max. Therefore, at age 46, I have reached my "half-life." Unfortunately, as the economy crumbles and as retirement funds disintegrate like radioactive atoms, I understand that "retirement age" has now been extended to 85!

** Footnote 2: My morning writing routine involves switching on the TV to CNBC for the opening bell, with the volume off and with classical music playing on the stereo. In that way, I can look up every once in a while to see how the markets are doing. Well, yesterday morning, as the Dow was dropping, the Egmont Overture was playing on the stereo, which for some reason seemed the perfect musical accompaniment.

*** Footnote 3: The Dow reached a record high on October 9, 2007, at 14,164.53. Since then, it has tumbled 7,570 points in less than a year and a half!

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