Among the Cokehead Federal Reserve Lab Rats

Regrettably, Sehgal fails to report experiments in which rats, offered a lever that releases cocaine, press for more and more stimulis until they die, even though this model would explain the Federal Reserve’s approach to interest rate cuts.

Jay Weiser, Review of “Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How Its History Has Shaped Us” by Kabir Sehgal, The Weekly Standard

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“I could sure go for a few lines of coke and an increase in the money supply.”

I was basking in the sun with my buddies Mikey and Ike, my fellow lab rats here at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, down on Fort Point Channel.  Every now and then one of us would pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreamin’.  We had the greatest job on earth–all the cocaine we could sniff, plus our little paws held the levers that could rattle world markets through manipulation of interest rates and the money supply.

“You guys up for a game of Scare the Tourists?” I said to my two confreres. 

“We did that yesterday,” Mikey said as he propped himself up on one elbow, the better to gaze at the waters in the channel; when I started out in the lab rat business, it was pretty disgusting.  Now, thanks to a billion-dollar cleanup paid for by taxpayers across the country, the waters were safe for us to swim in.  We’d emerge wet and slimy onto the banks and chase picnicking secretaries who’d drop their ham sandwiches and yogurt for us to nosh on.  Life was good.

“Okay, you slackers,” I said.  “But don’t fall asleep.  We’ve got some heavy lifting to do after lunch.”

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“Yum–Charles River Rat Food!”

“Why–what’s up?” Ike asks.

I gave him a withering look.  It’s amazing to me how some guys think working for the most powerful central bank in the world is a job you can just blow-off whenever you feel like it.

“Haven’t you been paying attention to what’s happening in China?” I asked incredulously.  I don’t often append an adverb to my questions, but I felt the need to emphasize the importance of the afternoon that lay ahead of us.

“If it wasn’t on the sports pages, he missed it,” Mikey said with a sly grin.

“They devalued their currency, then they lowered interest rates,” I said.  “Take a peek at the TV screen in the employee cafeteria.  They’re taking pictures of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, so you know the world’s going to hell.”

That caused the Ikester to sit up and take notice, although not without some difficulty.  He’s not exactly Pilates-class material, if you know what I mean.

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“Eek–a mouse.  Must remain centered.”

“So what does that mean?” Ike asked.

“Who knows?  But the first thing you need to do is panic.”

“Why is that?”

“It’s a fundamental rule of stupidity that applies whenever any dramatic change occurs in financial markets: Don’t just stand there, do something, even if it makes no sense.”

The guys got the message, so we got up and started to amble back to the bank’s unique “washboard” building on the Boston waterfront.  The slab of silver metal and glass was apparently designed by somebody who dreamed of a career in household goods and sundries–whatever they are–but flunked the high-stakes aptitude test and was instead relegated to an ignominious career as an architect.

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“So how exactly do you propose to solve the world’s financial crisis while we’re stoned out of our gourd on cocaine?” Mikey asked.

“Are you kidding?” I replied, channeling my inner Nancy Pelosi, which hasn’t had quite as much plastic surgery as the other one.  “Sucking white powder up your nose is the model recommended by Nobel Prize winning economists for fine-tuning the world’s third largest economy, after Starbucks and the Vatican.”

“It is?” Ike asked.

“Sure,” I said as we entered the free cocaine bar on the 29th floor, right down the hall from the regulatory library that was frequented by the author of this post in his salad days as a banking legal beagle.  “If you keep pushing this lever,” I said as I pushed the lever, “all of your inflationary worries disappear as your nose grows numb and your whole body starts to buzz.”

“Ahh,” Mikey said as he snorfed up a line that looked like a windrow of fescue in the August sun, to wax poetic for just a second.

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Windrows:  NOW we’re talkin’!

“Okay, your turn,” I said to Ike, and he inhaled his portion like a shop-vac cleaning up a basement after a flood.

He finished his line and then it was my turn; I cleared my head of anti-inflationary thoughts, exhaled, then Hoovered up my line like my mother’s old canister-style vacuum cleaner.

“Primo,” I said, as mopped the residue around my nostrils with a wet finger, then licked it so as not to waste any.  Like the nuns in grade school told me: appreciate every gram of your controlled substances, kids are going to bed straight all over the world.

We could have sat back like fat satraps plastered in an opium den then, but we had work to do.

“Mikey, push the M1 button,” I said sharply, like the captain of a ship changing course in mid-battle.

“What’s M1?” Ike asked, and rather dully I might add.

I’m sure my mouth dropped open when my ears heard what he said.  “How long have you been working here?” I asked with a full measure of disbelief in my voice.

“With a life span of 2 to 3.5 years, I can’t be expected to learn everything,” he said defensively.

“M1 is measure of money supply that includes all physical money, such as coins and currency, as well as demand deposits, checking accounts and Negotiable Order of Withdrawal accounts,” I said slowly and clearly, as if reciting the rule against hitting your sister to a particularly dull 8-year-old boy.  “It measures the most liquid components of the money supply, as it contains cash and assets that can quickly be converted to currency.”

“Okay–what do you want me to do with it?”

“Pull it–hard!” I said, and you could almost feel liquidity pulsing back into the barren nooks and crannies of the American economy, like butter melting into an English muffin.  “Now you!” I screamed at Mikey.

“What?”

“I want you to go upstairs and scare the beejezus out of Janet Yellen.”

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Yellen:  “It was this big, I tell you!”

“What good will that do?”

“Maybe she’ll raise interest rates, so that investment will flow out of some of the goofier asset classes that have been soaking it up . . .”

“Like what?” Mikey asked.

“Vacation homes, baseball cards, and Star Wars memorabilia.”

My Love Affair With Microsoft Windows

About eight years ago . . . I bought my first Mac.  And I never looked back.  Until now.

I’ve spent the past month solely using Windows 10, and I’ve fallen in love with Windows again.

Joanna Stern, The Wall Street Journal

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It’s 6:30 p.m. on a sultry summer Thursday night.  I sit in front of my computer, staring at the screen.  It’s been “frozen” for the past half hour, despite my frequent resort to the Windows “Task Manager.”  Hah!  More like “Task Master”!

I don’t know what it is, why I’m so hopelessly in thrall to Windows 7 or 9 or whatever version it is I have.  It changes constantly, like soup du jour in a restaurant!  Me, or I if you prefer, am constant in my devotion to Windows, on the other hand.  I know, it’s “PC” to be so darn attached to Microsoft hardware and software and malware and viruses.  But I’m trying to make this relationship work, dammit!

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I’ve never had an Apple product.  Except for my iPod, and my iPad, and my iPhone, and my iDisposal, the handy way to get rid of your trash in an environmentally-sensitive, sustainable way.  Unless you live in the THX 1138 spiral galaxy, the only part of the universe that does not currently have an Apple Store.

He promised me he’d changed with Windows 10, that new software wasn’t just about righting old wrongs–the constant pop-up permission requests, virus update reminders and blue screens of death everywhere.  No, we were going to do more than just “reboot” our relationship.  He said he needed to “power down.”  His capacitors–those little “energy buckets”–had reached their capacity with me.  His little batteries had filled up when I put a current through them.  We needed to reset our DSL modem by completely pulling out the plug, leaving it out for 10 seconds, and then plugging it back in.  It was computerus interruptus–he said it was just as good as conventional maintenance.

Why doesn’t tech support call?  *sniff*

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He said he had two kinds of memories about us.  Non-volatile memory, and regular old random access memory.  Well, I have my memories too!

Memories of me, sitting alone, like tonight.  Staring at the “blue screen of death” as that silly woman in The Wall Street Journal put it.

How could she go back to him, after what he does to us, time and time again?

My work fades into a fuzzy haze.  A little “dialogue box” appears before me and says . . . “Windows has stopped working.”

Not me, of course.  I have to get up every morning and drag my derriere into work to pay for the constant upgrades, de-fraggings and virus scans.  While he sits on his butt.

The next message I get is always “Windows is trying to close this window.”  Tell me about it.  I’d like to close my window down–hard!–on his crummy fingers and the way they manipulate me.

But I can’t!  *sniff* Because I’ve fallen in love with Windows . . .

Again!

Some Athletes Hope to Make Big Splash at Summer Olympics

SANTA MONICA, California.  The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were still 347days away yesterday, but you couldn’t tell from the determined looks on the faces of the hard-core athletes who were gathered at an outdoor pool and diving facility here.  “A lot of people don’t have a sense of urgency about it but I do,” says coach Mark Wertz with an edge in his voice. “By the time people read that first sentence, it will be down to 346 days.”

 

Wertz is putting his charges through their paces today because he doesn’t want to lose a single minute available for practice, and he watches closely as Tyler Scher, a 19-year-old prospect from Indianapolis, climbs the ten-meter springboard for his first try. “These kids are so green,” Wertz says, shaking his head.  “I hope we’re ready by the time we get on that plane.”

As he says these last words sotto voce, Scher walks to the edge of the board, bounces, flies high in the air and then enters the water clumsily, making a splash big enough to put him out of contention in most diving competitions.


Can opener

 

“Good work, Ty,” Wertz says as he makes a note on his ever-present clipboard.  “You got good volume on your splash, but we need to work on the height.”

Scher and the others assembled here this morning hope to represent the U.S. in the first Olympic competition of its kind, performing one of the five classic jumps–cannonball, jack knife, preacher’s seat, suicide and “back splat”–into a pool ringed by a panel of international judges.  “I coulda been a diver,” says Tony DiStafano, an earnest sixteen-year-old from West Hartford, Connecticut, “but I like to make a splash.”


“You want to lean back into it a little more.”

Because many of the compulsory pool jumps are American creations, the U.S. team is expected to have a built-in edge when for the first time the sport advances beyond the “demonstration” stage, but Wertz is leaving nothing to chance.  “I don’t buy that for a minute,” says Wertz.  “The Eastern European women are the dark horse in the race, especially with all that hair on their upper lips.”

Surrogates Help Henpecked Adjust to Life Without Nagging

NEEDHAM, Mass.  As Jim Vilbeck pulls out his wallet to pay the uninsured portion of his wife’s medical bill at the Gorham Hospice Home in this suburb of Boston, his face appears almost beatific, contrary to what one would expect.  “If it were me instead of her who was taking the final steps in a long journey, I’m sure she’d do the same.”

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“Don’t worry–I’ll nag him for you when you’re gone!”

Diane, Vilbeck’s wife of forty years, suffers from Pfeiffer-Scrolnick Disease, a debilitating ailment that slowly constricts a woman’s vocal chords to the point where speech becomes impossible.  “It’s a long painful slide,” Vilbeck says.  “It’s like she’s there but she’s not there anymore.”

The spouses of those who contract the disease find themselves in a curious sort of echo chamber; their wives are still a part of their lives, but something vitally important is missing.  “Her nagging wasn’t just an important part of our relationship,” Vilbeck says wistfully, his voice barely audible over the whoosh of cars speeding past on the street outside.  “It was our relationship.” Without Diane to hector him, Vilbeck felt lost, distrait he says.  “I didn’t even know what ‘distrait’ meant until I looked it up,” he says, “but that’s sure how I felt.”

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“It’s so peaceful here . . .”

But the couple had the foresight to sign “living wills” that spelled out what the two of them could do if the other ceased to be a fully-functioning partner.  Diane’s made clear her wish that, if she lost the capacity to whine, Jim would be free to have a hen-pecked relationship with a complaining “surrogate” who would provide him with daily aggravation if she couldn’t.

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“Am I irritating you yet?  Good–let’s work with that.”

“What the hell took so long?” asks Gloria Sewanicki, Vilbeck’s surrogate nag as he gets in his late-model Toyota in the parking lot.

“I had to pay the bill, there’s always paperwork,” he replies.

“Why don’t you go on automatic debit–they take the money right out of your account each month, it’s easy,” Sewanicki.

“I don’t like people to have access to my bank information.”

“When are you going to join the 21st century?  Don’t turn here, I want to go the back way,” Sewanicki snaps just as Vilbeck was about to exit onto Route 128, a highway that rings Boston but which is crowded with rush hour traffic now.

As his car slowly makes its way over local roads, stopping and starting through stoplights and congestion from shoppers, he starts to say “I told you so,” but bites his tongue–and tears well up in his eyes.

Did it hurt when you bit your tongue? this reporter asks with as much sympathy as journalistic ethics will permit.

“No, I was just thinking of Diane,” he begins, but Sewanicki interrupts him.

“For God’s sake pay attention!” she shouts, causing him to slam on the brakes.  “You’re going to get me killed with your daydreaming!”

Your Friend and Mine–Mad Dog

Sluggish Recovery Tied to Chronic Reply-to-Allers

WALTHAM, Mass.  It’s the dog days of August, and Rick Vorad is having a hard time staffing a project for the U.S. Department of Defense at Techtronics, a high-tech company that makes technical products for the tech sector.  “Need to know people’s availability over the next two weeks,” he types into the body of an email.  “Since many people are out of the office please don’t reply to all when you respond–thanks,” he adds before clicking on the “Send” box.

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“Todd–you are such a dweeb!”

 

Down the hall Todd Frimke, an analyst eager to work his way up the corporate ladder, signals his availability with an alacrity that betrays his junior status.  “Hey Rick–I’m around and available while a lot of people are still soaking up the sun!” he types, then adds a frowny-face “emoji” and moves his cursor to the “Reply to all” box before sending out his missive, which causes groans to be heard in New England vacation spots from Camden, Maine in the north all the way down to Misquamicut, Rhode Island, to the south.

Frimke’s phone lights up and his screen reveals it is Vorad calling.  “Hey Rick,” he begins cheerfully, but the project manager cuts him off.  “Todd–you did it again,” Vorad says.

“What?  What did I do?” Frimke groans, fearing he may not be assigned to the top-secret job, which involves the manufacture of a battlefield robot that will test military crouton rations for crunchiness.

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“Let’s get together after work–and not invite Todd!”

 

“You hit ‘reply-to-all’ when I specifically told you not to,” Vorad says sternly, trying not to over-react since Frimke suffers from a disability–Chronic Reply-to-All Syndrome–that the company’s lawyers say is covered by workplace disability laws.

“CRTA Syndrome is a major drain on U.S. productivity, and may be the cause of the nation’s current sluggish recovery,” says Department of Labor economist Malcolm Canavan.  “On the other hand, having too many labor economists hanging around talking to reporters is also a drag on gross national product, but I’m protected by Civil Service.”

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“When I get hold of that Frimke dude, I’m gonna rip him a new bodily orifice!”

CRTA Syndrome has been stubbornly resistant to treatment by drugs, and as a result human resources departments are trying “softer” remedies such as limiting access to email by those who suffer from the ailment.  “We took away Todd’s mouse for awhile, then downgraded his software to DOS so he has to tab twenty times to send an email,” says Dianne Satura, Techtronics’ Director of Personnel.  “But he’s a ‘people’ person, which means he thrives on annoying people.”

After the vacation memo incident Frimke voluntarily took a leave of absence on two successive August Fridays, when his penchant for sending carpet-bomb emails wreaks its greatest havoc.  “I’m going to be out all day tomorrow,” he wrote last Thursday afternoon as a reminder of his self-imposed exile, causing Jae Li of the firm’s Singapore sales office to scratch his head when he read it and say “Who the hell is Todd Frimke?”

CIA: ISIS Takeover of Donut Shops “Inevitable”

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Senior officials at the Central Intelligence Agency, the civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government, are quietly conceding in internal memos that they stand to lose a struggle they always assumed they’d win.  “I guess it’s like the Maginot Line,” said Mark Bavardi, a CIA spokesperson, referring to the French barricade that is often invoked as an example of fighting the last war.  “When our backs were turned while we checked our phones waiting for iced lattes the enemy filled out job applications and now control the counters are most major American donut chain stores.”

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Maginot Line: “They’ll never get past these puppies!”

Bavardi is referring to the dramatic increase in Muslim women working in donut shops, a trend that has been fueled by franchise owners’ desire to save money on hairnets that must be supplied to all workers under health regulations.  “You hire a Catholic, maybe she’s wearing a lace mantilla,” he says.  “You hire a Protestant or an atheist or an agnostic, you’ve got to get them a hairnet.”

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“I’ll need an extra skinny straw, too.”

While the takeover of the nation’s donut shops is still several years in the future, seasoned intelligence sources say that eventual denouement is inevitable.  “You look back twenty years and there was no female counter help wearing burquas,” says Lt. Col. Aaron Wilcox (ret.), who has studied the trend in retirement by visiting several donut shops each morning.  “I saw two ‘Islamo-gals’ yesterday, so that means we have to act now before the Dunkin’ Donuts Bacon, Egg & Cheese sandwich disappears from the face of the earth.”

Statistical extrapolation is often used to predict future events based on scanty evidence, but the method is nonetheless considered valid by those with poor math skills.  “Eventually, you reach a ‘tipping point’ where a ‘critical mass’ of facts creates a ‘watershed,'” notes Wilcox as he swats at several pesky buzzwords circling over his head.

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The furthest previous advance of Muslim invaders upon Western civilization occurred in 1529, when the Ottoman Empire reached the gates of Vienna, Austria, but military experts foresee possible encroachments as far inland as Cleveland, Ohio, where Tim Hortons stores predominate.  “The Siege of Vienna was just about them little Vienna sausages,” notes patron Ferrel Hoskins, Jr., a long-haul trucker as he tucks into one of the chain’s Hot Breakfast Sandwiches.  “This is about your choice of sausage or bacon on a biscuit, and I’ll fight to the death for my right to choose both.”

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