Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Lead us not into temptation....


            When I started this construction business forty years ago, one of the first purchases I made was a six foot step ladder from Drakes Hardware in Hagerstown. Shortly after that, my parents gave me a 16 foot Craftsman extension ladder from the Sears Roebuck store on Broad Street in New Castle, presumably because they didn’t like to see me trying to reach certain projects by standing on top of that six foot ladder. The wooden step ladder is long gone, but I still have to top half of that extension ladder, and it still comes in handy from time to time, as long as some OSHA inspector isn’t hanging around.

            Over that forty years, we’ve gone through a lot of ladders, and a couple of bucket trucks, and several combinations of each, trying to reach parts of jobs that sometimes seemed like they just weren’t meant to be reached. About twenty years ago we purchased a heavy duty forty foot ladder, because we were working on a job that just couldn’t be reached with any other means at our disposal. It was what my Dad would call a “family ladder”, because it took the whole family to set it up. We finished that job, and then hung the ladder at the back of the rack, hoping we would never run into another job that required getting it out of storage.

            Occasionally, however, we would run across a job that our thirty-two footers wouldn’t reach, and we would dig out old number forty again, wrestle it into place, and then wrestle it home again once we were finished. My brother Ross, who I’ve worked with for most of those forty years, strongly suggested that if we would get rid of that ladder, we wouldn’t be so tempted to take on jobs that couldn’t be reached with our regular guy ladders. I thought it would be a shame to get rid of it altogether, but I did agree to relinquish control to my son Jonathan, who took it to his house and hung it on the back of his ladder rack. That agreement worked out well until we took on a job that required a longer ladder than we had, and I had to convince Jonathan to get the ladder down and bring it to our job, and then convince Ross to help set it up and climb it again.

            The other day Jonathan told me he was getting rid of the ladder so he couldn’t be tempted or coerced into getting it out again. I have my suspicions that Ross was involved in that decision somehow. At any rate, now when we look at a job the ladders we have won’t reach, I won’t be tempted to think otherwise.

            I was reading a story a while back about some of the scandals politicians and lobbyists have been involved in over the years. It appeared to me that most of them occurred because we have allowed the government the ability to make too many decisions, and the politicians figured out how much their decisions could be worth to certain people. P. J. O’Rourke said something along the lines of  “When legislation is bought and sold, the first thing to be bought is the legislators.” I’m convinced P. J. is probably right.

            I’ve also noticed over the years that people don’t seem to be as upset when their party of choice is in control and awards legislation favorable to their side or point of view, but they tend to get all bent out of shape when the other party takes charge and starts enacting legislation they oppose. Rather than having half the people mad half of the time, and the other half mad the other half of the time, I often wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off once again limiting the federal and state governments to their Constitutional powers, removing the ability and temptation from our legislators at the same time.

             They can’t be tempted to sell power they don’t have, and if we would do a little bit better job of holding them accountable every election, they wouldn’t be tempted to pass legislation they don’t have authority to pass.

            Just like I can’t drag out that forty foot ladder anymore. No matter how tempted I am.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Odds are....


I’ve never been much of a gambler. That’s not to say I haven’t sat through a few poker games, or made a few trips to the river boat, or bought a few lottery tickets. I’ve even made a couple of trips to Las Vegas. I just never did a lot of winning. I think the definition of gambling is that you take a chance that you might win or you might lose, and if you are a good enough gambler, the odds come out in your favor more often than they don’t. I normally end up in the “don’t” line. But I did enjoy the scenery in Las Vegas, and they do know how to feed a person.

            I do understand a little bit about odds. I have a weather app on my cell phone so I can keep an eye on approaching rain or storms when necessary. It also predicts what the weather will be doing for the next 10 days, and even gives the percentages for the chance of rain on any of those given days. Occasionally it will give a 0% chance of rain, or a 100% chance of rain. Now, while I admire that someone has the confidence to predict something will or will not happen with absolute certainty, I wouldn’t be afraid to bet that no one can predict the weather with 0% chance of error. I suppose if they do get it right some of the time, it would tend to bolster that confidence, but I tend to fall back on the old time adage which states that weathermen are 90% correct, 10% of the time.

            From time to time, organizations will hold fundraisers, and they often build interest and excitement around the event by offering huge rewards for unlikely accomplishments, such as a $100,000.00 prize for a hole-in-one at a specific time and place during a golf tournament. There is a company called Lloyds of London which will provide an affordable insurance policy to pay off the winner should someone actually accomplish the feat. One of the things that makes the policy affordable is Lloyd’s knowledge that odds are it probably isn’t going to happen.

            On the first Tuesday of this November, we’re going to have an election. It’s a pretty safe bet there will be some close races, and there will be some races that aren’t so close. Some political districts are cut out to insure that the Republican candidate will win, and some are cut out to insure the Democratic candidate will win. Many times the odds of one of these candidates winning is so great that the other party doesn’t even bother to put a candidate in the race.

            This year the Libertarian Party has about 70 candidates on the ballot in Indiana. Odds are most of them won’t win. But they will present the case for a limited government, and they will give the people who are interested in a limited government a chance to vote for it. Certainly a few more victories would be beneficial in moving the government in that direction, but just as a trip to Las Vegas offers benefits even if you do poorly at the blackjack tables, a campaign gives a Libertarian a chance to present and discuss libertarian solutions for the problems that unlimited government has created. Increased vote totals in recent elections are showing more people are listening and agreeing, and the chances for restoring the limited government are getting better every year.

            One thing Libertarians point out during campaigns is that whenever Republicans or Democrats get elected, government gets bigger, more expensive and more intrusive, the federal debt increases, and every government program they create costs more than they said it would. There’s a 100% chance of that.

            You can bet on it.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Choosies.....


            When I graduated from high school 44 years ago, the flare-legged jeans I wore for most occasions had a 30 inch waist. It wasn’t too long after graduation until flare-legged jeans and a 30 inch waist were both merely memories from my past. I haven’t followed fashion trends enough over the last 40 years to know if that type of jeans ever came back in style, but I know that size of waist never did, at least for me, anyway.

            Over the years, for reasons of comfort and mobility, I have occasionally found the need to add an inch to the horizontal measurement of the pants I purchase. The blue jeans I’m currently wearing are straight-legged with a 34 inch waist, although I have noticed that apparently they aren’t making the 34 inch waist quite as big as they used to. Rather than complain to the manufacturer about slighting me on some fabric, I decided to simply start buying jeans with a 35 inch waist.

            It didn’t take long to come to the realization that the people who make my jeans don’t make them with a 35 inch waist. It seems that guys with a 35 inch waist are expected to suck it up enough to button the 34’s, or put on a pair of 36’s, wad the extra denim up above the hip, cinch your belt up a little tighter, and hope the people who punch the holes in belts are a little more considerate of others than the people who decide what size of blue jeans they are going to make are.

            I’m still looking for another brand of jeans that offers a pair 35’s, instead of making me choose either a size too small or a size too big. No luck so far, but I haven’t given up hope. And besides, if I don’t find them pretty soon, there’s a good chance the 36’s will become a better fit anyways.

            It did get me to thinking about all the other areas in our lives where we really aren’t given enough choices. Sure, there are a lot of stores and restaurants that might not offer exactly what we are looking for, but we always have the option of going to another store or restaurant that better suits our fancy. I was thinking more along the lines of the government, and the programs it “offers”.

            Our government, and the political parties that are currently running it, have a nasty habit of believing they can create legislation that is a good fit for everyone. In fact, they are so convinced of this, you are required to participate in the programs they create, whether you choose to or not.

 Reason Magazine recently published a study examining how Social Security works for some, and how it works for others. Reason found that if you were born in 1915, and started drawing Social Security when you reached 65, you would have paid in about $96,000.00, and would receive about $203,000.00 back in benefits. However, if you were born 50 years later, in 1965, and retired when you reached 65, you would pay $398,000.00 into the system, but only receive $336,000.00 back in benefits. These are averages of course, that depend on how much you make and how long you live, but it’s not hard to see how something that might be a good fit for one person might not be such a good fit for the next person.

Our federal government tends to extend its “one size fits all” philosophy into everything it tries to manage, which has become just about everything. It’s hard to come up with even 3 things that government doesn’t tax, regulate or control, and certainly if people want the government to make all those choices for them, they are more than welcome to have it do so. But those of us who prefer to make our own choices should be allowed to do that also.

And that’s not going to happen if we keep choosing the same old parties every election.

The choice is yours.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The ties that bind....


                Sometimes revolutions begin in the most humble of places. Last Easter my 3 year old grandson took a stand against wearing a tie to church. He was going up against his mother and father, presently accepted norms, and a couple thousand years of fashion tradition. I also believe that he was expressing the sentiments of millions of men everywhere, and especially one grandpa in Hagerstown Indiana, who has vowed to support him in his quest.

                I did a little research on the history of neckties, and discovered the earliest ties were worn by some Chinese soldiers around 250 B.C. Not to be outdone by the Chinese, ties were also worn by some of the soldiers in the early Roman Empire, and on down through history by Croatian soldiers, French aristocracy, English nobility, and eventually every man child that ever posed for a picture or went to church on Easter Sunday. But of all the information I was able to find about men wearing ties, there was one burning question that was never answered, at least to my satisfaction, which is “why are we still wearing ties?”

                I’m sure most of us do some things in our lives because we always have, maybe because it was the way we were raised, or how we were taught. And that’s not always a bad thing. Probably some of us still say “please” and “thank you” more out of habit than of actual humility and gratitude, but in my mind it’s still a good habit to have. I like to see a gentleman hold the door and practice the “ladies first” rule that the males in my generation were taught, although the definition of what constitutes a lady or a gentleman seems to have blurred over the years.

                If you’ve been around any time at all, you’ve probably buried a friend or two because of a habit they couldn’t or wouldn’t stop, or maybe stopped too late. I know I’m packing around a few extra pounds because of the times I eat out of habit instead of out of hunger. I tend to sit in the same chair down at the restaurant every morning at coffee, although that probably has more to do with Linda’s assigned seating than it does with any habit I have developed.

                I saw a report from a recent Gallup poll the other day that 42% of voters consider themselves independent, and not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic parties. Being a Libertarian who would like to see a smaller, constitutionally limited government restored in Washington and Indianapolis, I draw quite a bit of hope from that report. But I also know that out of the half of the population that takes time to vote, 95% still vote for either Republican or Democrat candidates who, despite their occasional campaign claims, are mostly bound to vote along party lines once they are elected. Out of habit, I suppose.

                I also saw a report the other day listing the Libertarian candidates that will be on the ballot in Indiana this November at the federal, state, and local levels. There are several, and if you would like to break the habit of voting for the old parties, and the ensuing larger government, or the habit of not voting at all, I would suggest checking out your Libertarian candidates.

                Start a little revolution of your own.

Monday, May 26, 2014

And about that free lunch....


          Webster’s dictionary describes a curmudgeon as someone who is crusty and ill-tempered, and usually an old man. While I’ve long ago reached old man status, I’m doing my best not to end up crusty and ill-tempered. But as the years march on, I am developing a deeper understanding as to why old men might tend to get a little bit grumpy from time to time, and why Mr. Webster might feel compelled to give them their very own word to describe them.

            This June, I will have been in business for 40 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time.  A square of shingles that cost $11.00 and covered 100 feet in 1974 now costs $80.00 and covers 96 feet. And a 50 pound box of nails only weighs 30 pounds nowadays. It’s the kind of thing that could turn a person crusty and ill-tempered if you let it.

            A while back I received a bill from a sub-contractor who had done some work for us, and the bill included a “mobilization fee.” As near as I could tell, it’s a charge for getting ready to go to work. It reminded me of some of my buddies who used to work at the Perfect Circle factory and got paid for eating lunch. I was happy that I didn’t see anything on the bill about lunch, and I suppose I should be relieved that he didn’t charge us for getting ready to quit.

            One supplier that furnishes us with concrete started adding an “environmental charge” of $3.00 on each yard of concrete we bought from them. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, so when my curiosity got the best of me, I called their office and asked the man at the counter what an “environmental charge” was. He told me it was $3.00. I still don’t know what it is for, but at least it isn’t as much as a mobilization fee. If it was, I might tend to get a little ill-tempered.

            One day last week I went to a little restaurant for my unpaid lunch. I ordered a sandwich and some french fries, and a glass of water. The waitress asked if I wanted a large glass of water or a small glass of water. In my most non-curmudgeonly voice, I jokingly asked if there was a difference in price between the two. She proceeded to tell me yes, the large glass of water was 80 cents, and the small glass was 45 cents.

            I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing is really free, but I kind of preferred the arrangement where getting to work, and a glass of water with your meal, were just figured in as part of doing business, and not a separate line on the bill.

            I’m sure there are a lot of younger guys out there who think nothing of paying $80.00 for shingles, or 80 cents for a glass of water. And there are probably some who might be indignant or even a little bit mad about it, and the cost of things in general these days. But they can’t be a curmudgeon about it.

             That’s for us old guys.

Monday, May 05, 2014

You got a problem with that?....


            My old pal Stinky Wilmont had a few of ideas about why he spent so much time in the principal’s office all those years when we were attending Millville Grade School. He was convinced it was mostly because the teachers didn’t like him. He said that was also the reason he never made the honor roll, and probably the reason he always had to be a shepherd instead of Joseph or one of the wise men every year in the school Christmas play.

            I tried to tell him he might not have to spend quite so much time in the principal’s office if he would quit carving his and his girlfriend Rowena Lufkin’s initials in the top of the desks and cafeteria tables, and that he’d stand a better chance of making the honor roll, or at least getting a D+ once in a while if he would do his homework and study a little more when we knew we had a test coming up. I also suggested he might get a bigger role in the Christmas play if he would pay a little more attention and be a little more cooperative on the days when Miss Mullin came to Millville to teach the music class, but Stinky said he was pretty sure none of that would make any difference, since the teachers didn’t like him anyway.

            I suppose most of us spend at least a portion of our lives trying to solve problems that pop up from time to time, but it always seemed to me that problems are easier to solve if we first decide what the problem really is. And probably sometimes we know what the problem really is and how to solve it, but we dislike the solution more than we dislike the problem. I’m at the age where my waistline seems to expand a little bit every winter, and even though I know what causes that problem and how to solve it, I’m still tempted to try one of those “bacon and chocolate” diets that rolls across the internet from time to time, promising me that I can lose 30 pounds in a matter of days.

            Every couple of years we have an election in this country to choose some people to solve some of our problems. People give money to candidates they think will solve their problems, and businesses give money to candidates they think will serve their problems. The government keeps track of who gives money to which candidates, and how much they give, and sometimes it makes rules about who is allowed to give money to candidates, and how much they can give.

            Sometimes people seem to get upset if someone gives a candidate more money than they gave their candidate. The concern seems to be that the person or group that gives the most money will end up getting the best end of the deal when the candidate gets elected and starts voting on legislation to solve the problems of the people who gave him the money. While that might be a legitimate concern, I’m not convinced it addresses the real problem.

            In my mind, the problem isn’t that the people with the most money can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Rather, the problem is that anybody can buy legislation that will give them an advantage. Legislation and rules at all levels of government should protect all people equally, and legislators really shouldn’t have the power to adopt any legislation that doesn’t. And if our elected officials would stick to the limited duties of running a limited government, it wouldn’t matter if one person gave them a million dollars, or if a million people gave them one dollar.

            You got a problem with that?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Gimme a break.....


My brother and I have a small contracting business that we’ve operated for 40 years. We’re just now finishing up building a garage. Nothing unusual, except that we started the garage last October. Sort of. What happened was that our customer wanted a garage this spring, so we juggled the schedule a little in order to get the foundation and concrete work done last fall before the weather turned off bad.

Then we had the lumberyard deliver a load of material to the job, expecting sometime in December we would have a few days of warm enough weather when we could get the building under roof. When that failed to happen, we held the same expectations for January. We had the same expectations again in February. In a normal winter, those would have been reasonable expectations. This last winter, not so much. This most recent winter didn’t seem to give us much of a break in the form of moderating temperatures or quickly receding snow piles.

So I was glad to see March get here, even if it took longer in doing so than normal, and even if it still smacked us around with a few remnants of winter after it did. I know there are people who are fond of winter, but I think those of us who don’t share that fondness, find tolerating it a bit easier if it gives us at least a few breaks along the way, along with the knowledge we’ll have a summer without it if we can just hold out a little longer.

And as usual, it got me to thinking about the government. Somewhere between the winter season and the summer season is something we call the “tax season”. If you are like many Americans, you started in January gathering information about your finances which the government probably already has anyway, and taking them to someone, or some computer, in order to figure out if you are going to have to pay the government more money, or if the government is going to give you back some of the money you already paid them, or if the government is going to give you some of the money somebody else paid them.

There are about 73,954 pages of tax code we have to sort through in order to spend billions hours filling out millions of forms at a cost of billions of dollars. It wasn’t always like that. Before the current income tax was permanently adopted in 1913, most income taxes  only hung around long enough to finance a war while it was in progress, and maybe a little longer until it was paid off. Then we got a break until the next war. The federal government, more specifically congress, was sort of in the same position. Up until 1913, unless we were at war, most people in the country had little reason or desire to interact with it. It was constitutionally limited to 20 or so specific duties, and unless you wanted to loan the country some money, or print some of your own, start or finish a war, be a pirate, or a few other activities that most people didn’t worry about anyway, the common citizen could almost forget that it even existed. Conventional wisdom was that we would deal with the federal government when we were at war, and our state government when we weren’t.

But just like taxes went from simple and occasional, to complicated and constant, so has the federal government. Those few original duties are increasing by thousands every year. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to name even 2 or 3 things the government doesn’t tax or regulate.

 And even longer since the government has given us a break.