Unseasonable thoughts

Now that the temperature has dropped, I can post…

I find Indian summer to be deeply confusing and problematic, a jumbled disappointment for the most part. The hot weather is way too hot, the shock of going from summer’s freedom to “civilization” all too much. And having a birthday during back-to-school week is just weird and unfair, and can be miserable for a kid — second only to a Christmas birthday, maybe (perhaps even worse, since at least at Christmas you’re on vacation and hey, look who you share a birthday with).

So I like the injection of reality that fall’s snap provides. Bring. It. On. Cool breezes to return the heated brain to sanity (or something like it). Cold, hard numbers that make vagueness impossible. Bright colors in the trees: wake up! But all in good time…

On Wall Street, it’s the season of the bear, although investors don’t accept it yet. So many confluences of factors, and even respected models of cyclical economic activity, point to a coming recession. And yet the partying continues on; it’s as if the head is no longer connected to the body.

Observing this disconnect can be fascinating, if you are not unfortunate enough to be smack dab in the path of those who don’t sense what time it is. There is a certain period of time where, after provided with facts, research, and good (as opposed to damned) statistics, the human impulse is to just discount them or provide another explanation for them, and keep on pursuing the same program, because the program feels like sheer genius. One good facet of a program means that all facets of said program must be equally clever.

When presented with a balance sheet, or a scoreboard, or a tracking report, that says that a dearly cherished part of the program isn’t really working, and hasn’t worked for quite some time… curiously the first impulse often is to go crazy with redoubled effort. There are home builders, even in California, even as abandoned McMansions go to seed and neglected swimming pools turn green, who are advertising brand new developments — “Taking Custom Orders Now!” (There is nothing, but nothing, that can’t be cured by a few new shiny buildings.) Cable news financial hosts continue to gloat approvingly over spikes in a stock market which is precariously balanced on stacks of bad paper. “Surges” are planned for wars that are going badly in every objectively measurable way possible. Losing sports teams are draped in bright streamers as the trappings of excitement are even more frenetically manufactured and sold. Election campaigns start super-early; state political committees pile on each other, each trying to have the first primaries in the land. Halloween candy appears in the stores in August. The time is out of joint.

There will be more of this for a while, before there is less. I don’t think we’ve quite reached the pinnacle of the insanity, and we can only hope that the parts of the program that are working aren’t brought down with the rest of it.

Sean Kirst wonders why there are all kinds of stern killjoy rules at this time of year, such as “No wearing white after Labor Day.” I agree these are silly and seemingly arbitrary rules (not that I ever obeyed the white-after-Labor-Day thing, myself), but even as I disagree with them, I think I understand the impulse behind having them. Somewhere along the way, people lost the ability to tell what time it really is. Perhaps they caroused all through autumn one year, and when winter came, they were not ready. Maybe it is somehow an unconscious cultural expression of a healthy respect for timetelling and truthtelling. Or, perhaps, an unhealthy fear, resulting in too-early rules that could stand a little relaxing. If so, it’s a shame that kids have to get caught up in those rules, and have to sit sweating in classrooms when there should be a little bit more time to play.