The Skary Skelly 2013 Halloween Album 
Happy Halloween, kids!

This marks eleven years of Halloween web pages and, I think, the last. Time to close up shop. Let's face it: you’ve grown up. It seemed appropriate to illustrate this year’s edition with pictures of you in your final costumes. Masquerading as smart people. And looking childishly happy.

N ext Halloween will be the first that won’t find even one of you in school, preparing for your future. That future is pretty much here. You stand on your own two feet, open and exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

What need have you of my advice anymore? Maybe you never did. It was either unnecessary, or unimportant or, depending on the time of night, completely garbled. God knows, you didn’t ask for it.

So much of the time it was just to hear myself talk. Who needs to know what a credit default swap is anyway? Or how much the country spent on candy and costumes last year. (Did you ever notice the number of candy manufacturers goes down every single year?)

I have become an old man nursing a short beer in the early morning hours. Sitting on a tall stool hunched over a long bar, surrounded by other old men, their gnarled, stubby fingers holding tight to their glasses, their memories and their opinions. Dimly and uncomprehendingly wondering where it all has gone, and why it didn’t go better. And trying to nurse it along just a little longer.

Now as to the economy.

47,800 acres of pumpkins were harvested in the U.S. in 2012, according to the Department of Agriculture (up 900 acres from 2011). Estimated production value was $148.9 million. Top pumpkin-producing states were Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan. Looks like the industrial side of Halloween is holding up okay.

More generally, unemployment stands at 7.2%. 2nd qtr GDP was up 2.5% over last year, but is being dragged down by the sequester (as is employment). The Economist is now forecasting only 1.5 for 2013. The shutdown will shave about $24 billion off 4th quarter results. But overall the economy continues to improve sooo slowly and steadily despite our best efforts.

Federal tax receipts increased about 6.3% in the fiscal year just ended. Federal outlays decreased about 1.6%. The deficit declined somewhere around $200 billion. Final numbers have been delayed by the shutdown. The private sector will add almost 1.7 million jobs this calendar year. But to give the devil his due (and the Republicans), total non-farm employment (136 million in October) still hasn't gotten back to the 138 million level it reached in Jan. 08.

So, still not quite where we were when the wheels camel off, even before adjusting for inflation or population gains. The workforce is a smaller proportion of those who want work (63.2%) than in the late 70s, before we found out women had to work, too. (But Obamacare haters take note: The ranks of those forced to work part time for economic reasons are essentially the same as at the start of the year. That number is not growing, the howling is just noise. Just a reality check. You know how you are.)

Fatigue begins to build up with this kind of sluggish progress. People wear out, and their nerves wear thin. 158 million people say they plan to celebrate Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation's annual Halloween survey. But that's down from 170 million last year. Still and all, they plan to spend $6.9 billion. (More than a quarter way toward recapturing the economic activity lost to the shutdown.)

The average person will spend $75.03 on decorations, costumes and candy, down from $79.82 last year. Other metrics point in the same direction.
43.6% plan to dress up in costumes (vs. 45% in 2012). More money is now spent on costumes for adults than for children.
13.8% will dress up their pets (vs. 15.1%)
30.9% will attend a party (vs. 36.2%)
31.7% will take their children trick-or-treating (vs. 33.2%)
13.9% say they will spend more overall (vs. 16.5%)
But 67.3% will buy more candy this year (vs. 63.9% )

All in all? Don’t fret. What's a few slings or arrows? Go grab a beer. By the way, I’ll still be around to give you unwanted advice over the phone. Or via text. Or email. And this website? It's like riding a bicycle for me. I can fire it right back up when your kids are old enough to go trick or treating and too young to know to ignore me.

Be careful tonight. It’s still scary out there. And will probably stay that way for years to come. From here on out you'll not need a costume, just a mask. Don’t forget your goody bags.

ps: I buy my own candy now.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach" (1943)

(Click on photos.)

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Tonight's top stories ...

After 15 years, Carbondale lifts Halloween bar ban
July 17, 2013
By Scott Fitzgerald, Southern Illinoisan

A longtime ordinance that prevented three bars on this college town's entertainment strip from doing business on Halloween and the following weekend has been lifted for a one-year trial period.

The Carbondale City Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to allow Hangar 9, Stix and Sidetracks to do business this coming Halloween, which falls on a Thursday, through the Sunday that follows. Normal hour restrictions will apply. Councilman Lance Jack, who owns a downtown restaurant, abstained. The council will revisit the issue after this Halloween.

"I wish all the businesses well and best of luck," said Mayor Joel Fritzler, who along with Council Member Lee Fronabarger cast no votes to the proposal.

Lifting the Halloween restriction is a discussion the council has addressed for several months after the city’s liquor advisory board voted last year to keep the restriction in place. Hangar 9 owner Sally Carter had pushed for a re-examination of the city’s policy.

Halloween restrictions were enacted about 15 years earlier to prevent a Halloween celebration along "The Strip" that was described by local law enforcement as "tumultuous rioting." Carbondale is the home of Southern Illinois University.

City Manager Kevin Baity reminded the council of that fact as he read from a list of options that included phasing in alcohol sales from each of the establishments over a three-year period, a complete repeal of the restrictions or maintaining the existing restrictions.

"This is a prudent approach to take. This will give us an opportunity to try it. If it doesn’t work, get rid of it. If it works, we’ll take careful assessment," said Councilman Don Monty. In connection with the upcoming event, police have projected costs of $30,000 in protective gear, $35,000 in overtime hours and up to $7,500 for cleanup costs.

Councilwoman Jane Adams said the event "is not a resumption of a street party. It’s being treated as a big weekend. That’s the word that needs to get out. It looks absurd for three bars to close for something that occurred one and a half decades ago."

Councilwoman Carolin Harvey said if the event goes well this year, it does not ensure an automatic green light in years to come.

"It may not go well next year because Halloween falls on a different night," Harvey said.

Priests brand Halloween Jesus costumes 'an insult'
October 10, 2013
By Ralph Riegel, Irish Independent

The Catholic Church has accused casual traders who are selling Jesus costumes for Halloween fancy dress parties of insulting Christians.

The €39.99 costumes, made in China, have been sold nationwide at open air markets and from some seasonal shops.

A number of shoppers expressed disgust at the outfits – with the majority of high street stores refusing to stock them.

Following a flood of complaints, stores that had stocked the outfits have removed them from public display over the past fortnight.

However, the outfits have been sold at casual markets in Cork, Galway and Dublin over the past week.

The outfit, which includes a long robe, a red sash, a false beard and even a crown of thorns, is still readily available online.

One online store was even offering a 15pc discount on the original €46.99 price. A leading Catholic diocese has now publicly expressed disgust at such costumes which, they claimed, mock Jesus and his crucifixion.

"It is truly regrettable and sad that, for commercial purposes, the death of Christ and the Feast of All Saints should be used to ridicule the Passion of Christ and reduce its depiction to a horror costume," said Fr Tom Deenihan of Cork and Ross.

He stressed such costumes were not only in bad taste but offensive to everybody of faith. "One can only imagine the uproar if other religious figures were depicted in this way," Fr Deenihan said.

Where Did the Fear of Poisoned Halloween Candy Come From?
October 18, 2013
By Dan Lewis,

On October 31, 1983, advice columnist Abigail Van Buren—better known as “Dear Abby”—published a Halloween-themed column titled “A Night of Treats, not Tricks.” In that column, she wanted to “remind [readers] that,” among other things, “[s]omebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade.” Twelve years later, advice columnist Ann Landers (who, by the way, was Dear Abby’s sister) also wrote a Halloween article—“Twisted minds make Halloween a dangerous time”—echoing that concern. “In recent years, there have been reports of people with twisted minds putting razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy,” Landers wrote. “It is no longer safe to let your child eat treats that come from strangers.”

Although there have been reports of razor blades and other foreign objects embedded in Halloween candy (or apples—although anyone giving out an apple on Halloween is already suspect), these dangers are almost always obvious with the most cursory glance.

What about poison, which, being invisible and generally hard to detect, is the more nefarious way to taint candy? You have little reason to be concerned there either. Landers stated, “many reports” of such terrible acts have occurred, however, they are almost entirely the stuff of myth.

Almost entirely.

For nearly 30 years, University of Delaware sociologist Joel Best has been investigating allegations of strangers poisoning kids’ Halloween candy. As of this writing, he hasn’t identified a single confirmed example of a stranger murdering a child in this fashion.

He found other examples of people accidentally passing out tainted candy or, in one case, passing out ant poison as a gag gift to teenagers (no one was hurt), but the bogeyman of terrible people making trick-or-treating unsafe is a canard. One example of a person trying, explicitly, to poison children via Halloween candy was confirmed. However, the child who died wasn’t a stranger—it was the man’s son.

On Halloween, 1974, an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died. His candy had, indeed, been poisoned. A few days prior, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, took out a $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy and Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth (then age 5), as an unimaginable way to get out of debt. The only way to collect required that at least one of his children die, so the elder O’Bryan laced some Pixy Stix with cyanide and cajoled his son into eating one before bed.

As murder would negate the insurance policy, the father had to cover his tracks. Already showing a wanton disregard for the lives of others—children, at that—he decided to potentially kill a few. He distributed some of the tainted candy to at least four other children (including his daughter), according to the Houston Chronicle, setting up the story that a neighborhood madman or demented factory worker had caused the tragic death of his son. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful. None of the other children ended up eating the poison, in part due to a quick reaction from authorities and in part due to dumb luck—an 11-year-old tried to eat the sugar in the Pixy Stix he received, but could not undo the staples that O’Bryan had used to reseal the package.

As tragic as this story is, it is the only known example of a person intentionally poisoning Halloween candy and providing it to neighborhood trick-or-treaters. And Ronald Clark O’Bryan won’t be poisoning any more candy—the state of Texas executed him in 1984.