The Skary Skelly 2011 Halloween Album

Happy Halloween, kids! This year, mom and I are home alone, with only Tracey even close enough to visit, and generally she has other things to do. That's okay. If I had someplace to go, I'd go there, too. That's what your mother does. Most days she works. Scaring little kids. No need for her to wait for Halloween.

Well, your futures look bright if you can just stay in school a bit longer. The economic news is still grim, but most indicators continue to stumble haltingly but steadily up. Four more years ought to do it.

The natives are restless. Since last Halloween, Republicans have taken over the US House and 25 state legislatures (11 new including North Carolina's). This just two years after the flaming electoral crash that left them still and lifeless in 2008.

They rode in on a wave of Tea Party euphoria, some monstrously big funding from some very rich Republicans, ghoulish voter discontent with "big government" and a neurotic yearning for a tighter fiscal belt. Folks forgot that being short of cash is pretty much a given in an economic downturn. Over the next 12 months, quarterly GDP growth dropped from almost 4% down to .04%. Palpable horrors began to take hold of the dreaded double-dip recession.

But it's okay because almost as soon as they got in, most of the Republicans reverted to form and started chasing the queers, the welfare queens and the unions. In North Carolina they made some spending cuts, to schools mainly, but they seem more interested in school resegregation, stamping out abortion rights and making gay marriage even more illegal than it already is.

Now instead of budget cuts, Washington Republicans hanker to cut taxes on all the people who have any money left, like really rich people and corporations reporting record profits. That takes more money away from the one entity that really is short of cash, the federal government. Remember the Eddie Murphy routine on how in the future Robitussin will be used to cure everything including AIDS? That's pretty much how Republicans feel about tax cuts.

But as to an actual jobs bill, it appears the US Congress couldn't pass one of those if their own jobs depended on it. How ironic.

Republicans have their sights set on the White House in 2012. And that, too, looks within reach. Right now, when people are asked whether they'd vote for a Republican or President Obama, the President routinely loses.

It's only when matched against an actual candidate that Obama wins, and that explains why Republicans are still looking for another candidate. John Stuart Mill once opined that while not all conservatives are stupid, stupid people are generally conservatives, but these Republicans aren't so dumb.

The one candidate who looks like he could give the President a run for his money is the one Republicans really don't care for. Nobody seems to like Mitt Romney much. He's the original spoiled little rich kid. And he's insecure to boot. He'll say anything to be popular. What he ought to do is just offer to pay down the national debt. There's also this problem he has with Republicans who think he's a Democrat.

If the economy keeping plodding along, as economists predict, things will probably be all better before Congress comes up with an action plan, no matter who we elect.

GDP improved 2.5% in the 3rd quarter. Federal receipts in FY'11 increased almost 7% over FY'10. Actual spending (excluding TARP adjustments) increased less than half of one percent for the year. The deficit grew only 1.8% despite a predictably huge jump in interest costs. The private sector has added 1.3 million jobs so far in 2011. (The public sector has lost jobs.)

People don't feel good though. Unemployment remains over 9%. Some 20 million people, like me, would like work and can't find any. The real estate market will be a drag on growth for years to come, banks are scared to death and it appears to be the one area the government is loathe to touch. We're a consumer-driven economy, and there is no consumer demand.

A federal small-business lending fund, created in 2010, with $30 billion for small business lending, expired in September having disbursed just $4 billion. There were a lot of reasons (bureaucratic dull-wittedness, onerous lending terms, arthritic processing), but one of the biggest was that small businesses didn't want to take on debt. Why expand if you don't believe customers are going to be coming in the door anyway? The problem was a lack of demand, not a lack of credit.

What to do? Like Charlie told Alan when the latter's marriage fell apart, and Judith threw him out, and Jake's hamster Porkie died, "I don’t know. Why don’t we toss Porky in the ocean and go get bombed?" To which Alan replied, "God, How could you! How could you! Okay."

You won't be alone. Halloween is party time in any financial season, perhaps this one more than most. "Ghouls and goblins galore, Halloween celebrations will be BOOming this year as more people than ever are expected to partake in traditional festivities," says the Natioonal Retail Foundation. Or as the poet E.A. Houseman wrote in "Terrence," "Look into the pewter pot, and see the world as the world is not."

161 million people plan on celebrating Halloween this year, the highest figure in the history of the NRF's annual Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, The average person will spend $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $66.28 last year. Total Halloween spending is expected to reach $6.86 billion.
• 43.9% plan to dress up in costumes (vs. 40.1% in 2010)
• 14.7% will dress up their pets (a growing trend)
• 34.3% will attend a party
• 73.5% will hand out candy
• 47.8% will carve a pumpkin
• 22.9% will visit a haunted house
• 32.9% will take their children trick-or-treating
• 49.5% will decorate their home or yard (down from 50.1% last year)

And most plan to drink just a butt-load of beer. When did it become such an adult holiday? I guess once the retailers figured out the baby boomers had grown up. Remember to keep your wits about you, and stay safe out there. Some of the people wearing masks really are bad guys. Or worse, bankers.


(Click on photos; these are teasers.)

Last year's pictures

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Tonight's top stories ....

Chocolate, candy corn top the Halloween candy list
October 22, 2011
By Darlena Cunha, The Gainesville Sun

Despite everyone’s love for chocolate, candy corn remains the holiday’s biggest seller, according to the National Confectioners Association. They say more than 35 million pounds of the tiny corn-shaped candies will be made this year. Shiva Sinaeian, Owner of Fuzziwig’s Candy Shop in the Oaks Mall, says the statistic holds water, at least in her shop.

“We have 400 different candies,” she says, “but during Halloween, we sell mostly candy corn.”

Whiteside says the seasonal appeal of the small tri-colored candies combined with their now sentimental value keeps the sales up.

While candy corn might be a lasting Halloween tradition, Gainesville residents remember some candies that made a splash, and then sank.

“I used to love Bottle Caps,” says local dad Matthew Mena. “Whatever happened to those? We used to play with wax lips as kids, too. They were fun, but you don’t see them anymore.” Bottle Caps, by the Willy Wonka brand under the umbrella of Nestle, can still be found in those big Halloween mix-up bags, and wax lips, known now as Wack-O-Wax, still see a surge in popularity every Halloween, according to Tootsie Roll Industries, but sales diminish each year.

Whiteside says branding has a lot to do with it.

“The wax lips, the caramels, they don’t have a strong brand name behind them,” she says, “and the brand names are what drive the candy market right now.”

Novelty candies like the lips are always at risk for being tossed aside for the next new thing, she says.

“Novelty candy comes on and off the shelf,” Whiteside says. “Everyone is always waiting for the next new thing. It’s about originality not longevity.”

The candies of yore may be in scarce quantity this year, but that won’t deter parents from bringing their little ones out to shout “Trick or Treat” or letting them eat all their loot.

“My kids can eat whatever they want,” says Mena, laughing, “just not too much of it. Halloween only happens once a year.”

Massachusetts Principal Takes Aim at Fall Holidays, Says They're Insensitive
October 15, 2011

Anne Foley, the principal at Kennedy School in Somerville, Mass., sent an email to teachers warning them about celebrating Thanksgiving, the Boston Herald reported.

"When we were young we might have been able to claim ignorance of the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed against the indigenous peoples," Kennedy School Principal Anne Foley wrote.

"We can no longer do so. For many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated. On the same lines, we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well."

Teachers have already been told not to let students dress up for Halloween.

Parents told MyFoxBoston that they felt the principal was overreacting.

“My kids were brought up with Halloween and whatever have you. She has no right to tell these kids they can’t have it,” one woman told the station.

“The children, they need to express themselves and be children. Don’t take holidays and fun time away from them. They have so much homework. They don’t have enough play time,” another said. Superintendant Tony Pierantozzi told The Herald that Halloween is “problematic” because of connections to witchcraft.

“I don’t think they should not be able to celebrate these holidays I mean this country was formed with the idea that everything is a free country, and they should be able to celebrate these holidays,” a Somerville woman told MyFoxBoston.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, who has three kids at Kennedy, also weighed in.

“I’m the son of Italian immigrations, so I take Columbus Day very near and dear, and I’m proud that he discovered America and that America’s named after another Italian,” Curtatone said. “If we ignore and we don’t want to talk about it, if we want to stifle debate, then we’re ignoring history.”

He also added that he was planning on being in full costume at Somerville’s annual Halloween parade, which residents said is one of the largest in the greater Boston area. A few Kennedy students also said they disagreed with the ban.

“I don’t like that. I’ve celebrated Halloween since I was a little kid and I don’t think it’s right to ban it,” one Kennedy student told MyFoxBoston.

“I think that it’s kind of ridiculous because we should celebrate what we want to celebrate. We shouldn’t be told what we shouldn’t by other people,” another said.

The situation even caught the attention of U.S. senator for Massachusetts, Scott Brown. “Let’s not take political correctness to the extreme. Let the kids in Somerville enjoy Halloween,” Brown tweeted Friday.
Springfield superintendent bans Halloween costumes from town's elementary schools
October 22, 2011
By Jessica Calefati, The Star-Ledger

There will be no princesses, pirates or vampires roaming the halls at Springfield’s two elementary schools this Halloween.

Citing concerns that dressing up detracts from learning, Michael Davino, superintendent of the Union County school district has barred children from wearing costumes to school next Monday.

"In an effort to minimize the interruption of instruction, and recognizing that students have ample time to celebrate the holiday in costume after school, costumes will no longer be permitted in school on Halloween," reads a letter sent to parents this week from the principals at the James Caldwell and Thelma L. Sandmeier elementary schools.

Frustrated parents — and even some children — spoke against the policy at a recent school board meeting. Parent Debra Bachman said the edict is stifling and prevents kids from "just being kids."

"My 10-year old daughter was going to be Big Bird from Sesame Street and all her friends were going to be other Sesame Street characters," Bachman said. "I should say she is still going to be — just not at school."

Bachman said that last year, her daughter dressed as a cat and enjoyed a Halloween party with her classmates for the last hour of school. The children played games and enjoyed mostly healthy snacks — pretzels, grapes and cookies. "Halloween does not detract from learning," Bachman said. "In fact, they could turn it around and make it an educational experience. There is always room for teaching."

Davino could not be reached for comment, but said at this week’s board meeting that dressing in costume should be an activity enjoyed after school.

"I don’t believe that dressing up is something that is necessary to do at school," he said at the meeting, according to the website Springfield Patch. "I do believe it is something you should do with your friends, something you should do with your family and it is something you should do as an activity that has really nothing to do with school or about school."

Board of Education President Pat Venezia said the district determined Halloween had become a social holiday, not an educational holiday and acted accordingly.

Banning Halloween costumes at elementary schools is unusual, though some schools once took a stand against costumes that emulate dangerous characters, said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said the state has no formal policy on Halloween costumes in schools because it is "precisely the type of matter that should be left to local decision-makers."

North Brunswick Superintendent Brian Zychowksi said his district in Middlesex County encourages elementary school children to dress-up, while urging middle and high school students to leave their costumes at home.

"This is one the greatest holidays for our young students. They look forward to it and really get into it," Zychowski said. "By the time you get to middle and high school, there are only so many days for teaching and learning and we want them to focus on that."

High school students in Union Township are also asked not to wear Halloween costumes to school because elaborate costumes with masks and accessories can be disruptive, Superintendent Patrick Martin said.

"Imagine trying to run a chemistry, algebra or history class for students wearing rubber Dracula masks," Martin said. "It’s not about punishing kids or keeping them from having fun. It’s about keeping some education in that day."

Trick Or Treat: A Dentist’s Take On Halloween Candy
October 21, 2011
By Dalia Colón, Florida Public Media

Here’s the good and bad news:

“In general, candy is really no more likely to cause cavities than most other foods,”says Dr. Carlos Bertot, a pediatric dentist in Maitland. “Frequent snacking, whether on candy or a healthful food, is what increases one’s risk for dental decay.”

That said, there are some candies that help speed up the decaying process. And dental decay will do more than just ruin your eHarmony profile pic. Poor oral health has been linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, worsened diabetic symptoms, premature birth and low birth weight.

Whether you’re a concerned parent or just a big kid, heed Bertot’s advice for a smile-worthy Halloween.

Terrifying treats:

Sticky, gummy stuff: Candies like Starbursts and Laffy Taffy are like a one-way ticket to Cavityland. Your saliva needs extra time to dissolve sticky foods, giving the bacteria in your mouth more time to feed off that sugar and produce acid. “And that’s essentially what a cavity is – it’s an acid breakdown of the tooth,” Bertot says. Plus, sticky candy can pull out dental work.

Hard candies: For kids with braces, Jolly Ranchers aren’t so jolly. Not-so-scary sweets:

Chocolate: “It usually melts away really quick and is generally not going to damage anything in the mouth,” Bertot says.

Sugarless gum: It causes your mouth to produce saliva. “Saliva is nature’s way to combat the acids that generate cavities,” Bertot says. Additional tips:

After every meal or treat, have your kids wait 30 minutes (so their saliva can break down their food) and then floss and brush. If no toothbrush is available, have them drink a glass of water to dilute the acid in their mouth.