Saturday, January 24, 2015

Death and taxes...and government...

     I've heard it said that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes. I always thought that was a pretty broad statement, because while everybody is going to die, not everybody is going to pay taxes. And there are a few other things that I know for certain, but it would take more space than I'm giving this post to list them, and besides, I just wanted to address one of the certainties of the afore mentioned taxes.


     The Department of Revenue shut down a business in Hagerstown this week because it didn't pay its taxes. Whatever the circumstances were leading up to the closure, one thing is certain. If you own a business, the government has first dibs on your money. What ever type of taxes you were supposed to be collecting for them, they want. If you haven't been paid by a customer, or if you had some unexpected expenses in your business and come up a little short, the government still wants to be first. Even if your kids have to go hungry, or you miss a payment to a supplier or the bank, the government still gets its share first.


     If you own a business, that's just the way it is.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of all the luck...


            I’m not exactly sure what constitutes luck, but I feel I’ve had my share of it in my life. Some of it was good luck, and some of it was bad luck, and probably some of it wasn’t really luck at all, but instead just the result of some choices I have made along the way, both good and bad.

            I remember a time several years ago when I was helping my cousin put an engine back in his car. I use the term “helping” loosely, because I didn’t really know much about putting engines in cars, but I was there offering encouragement when it looked like things were going good, and pushing things that needed to be pushed, and pulling things that needed to be pulled, when they weren’t.

            The car was a big Oldsmobile of some kind, and the hood alone was bigger than a lot of the cars that are on the road today. The hinges for the hood were big pieces of angle iron fastened to big springs to help lift the hood when you wanted to look at the engine.  It was a lot easier to take the engine out and then put it back in if the hood was out of the way, so we had taken it loose from the hinges and put it over in the corner of the barn so it wouldn’t get stepped on.

            It was also a lot easier to get around the engine compartment if the hinges weren’t sticking up in the way, but they were welded to the firewall so you couldn’t really take them out very easily. You could get them out of the way a little bit if you were strong enough to push them down on the springs in the closed position, and once they reached the closed position, they would stay down on their own, until someone jarred them loose, at which time they would snap open with enough power and speed to lift the giant hood. They developed a lot more speed when the hood was over in the corner of the barn.

             As luck would have it, I wasn’t paying much attention to my proximity to the driver side hinge when it took a notion to snap to attention, and the end of the angle iron opened a jagged cut beside my right eye that required 13 stitches to close. Dr. Hollenberg, who sewed me up, and a lot of other people who didn’t, told me I was lucky, because if the hinge had been another inch to the left, I would have lost my eye. I figured if I had really been lucky, it would have been another inch to the right and thereby would have missed me altogether. Different perspectives on luck, I suppose.

            A businessman who I considered successful once told me that the harder he worked, the luckier he got. I thought he was confusing work and success with luck, but then again I thought maybe they were all inter-connected, so I never argued the point with him. I think most of us usually make our own luck and success, good and bad, and sometimes it just depends on how hard we are willing to work, and where we are standing at the time. And sometimes it just depends on whether or not we are paying attention.

Anyway, as we enter the new year, I hope we all have a chance to work for the success we want, and that we all have enough good luck to keep us encouraged, and just enough bad luck to keep us paying attention. Oh, and Happy New Year. And for what it’s worth, good luck.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Side of the times.....


I don’t suppose it’s any secret that things look differently depending upon how you look at them. I think they call that perspective. Several years ago, when I was attending Millville Grade School, our bus driver, Howard Tucker, gave each one of the students on his route a box of chocolate covered cherries when we headed home on the last day of school before our Christmas break. It was back in the day when a pound of candy weighed a pound, instead of eleven ounces.

             I was in the third grade at the time, and outside of the occasional candy bar from Kelly’s Ranch Market in Millville, or Saffer’s General Store in Mooreland, most of the candy I had consumed up until that time consisted of the Circus Peanuts that Mom got when the Jewel Tea man stopped by. And sometimes Dad would get a box of chocolate from a place called Lowery’s up in Muncie, but he always kept it hidden where us kids couldn’t find it, and rationed the pieces out like we were still caught up in the war effort.

             At any rate, a pound of chocolate covered cherries looked pretty good to a third grader, and I was fully aware that when I carried them in the house, Mom would insist that I share them with my six brothers and sisters, or Dad would confiscate them and then hand them out one at a time, just like he did with the expensive candy from Muncie, and no doubt sharing it with my siblings just as Mom suggested. I decided I had two miles to eat the contents of the box and stop that from happening.

            For as good as that box of chocolate covered cherries looked when I got on that bus, it was several years before I could stand to even look at one again. I have never thought they looked as good again as I thought they looked that fateful December afternoon.

            When I started driving, gasoline was about a quarter a gallon. The price increased slowly over the next fifteen years, until it finally reached the unimaginable plateau of a dollar a gallon. A lot of old time filling stations had to change out their pumps because the old ones weren’t capable of displaying a cost of more than ninety nine cents per gallon. And once the stations had the capability of three digit gas, all bets were off.

            Shortly after the turn of the century, gasoline reached 2 dollars a gallon, another unimaginable level. Drivers were concerned. People started carpooling. Businesses started adding fuel surcharges trying to offset the increased cost. And on and on.

            According to some reports, we are approaching two dollar a gallon gas again, and while most of us dreaded reaching that price ten years ago, we’re actually looking forward to it now.  Perspective again, I suppose. It all depends on which side you’re looking at it from.

             Aging is similar, I think. Sixty seemed pretty old when I was thirty. It doesn’t seem quite so old. Come to think of it, sixty-five doesn’t seem quite so old anymore, either. Or seventy.

             But however we feel about chocolate covered cherries, or the price of gas, or getting older, we’re right in the middle of the Christmas season now, and for some reason, people who celebrate Christmas seem to look forward to it no matter how many or how few Christmases they have had. A different perspective on things, I suppose.

            Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

My Main Squeeze....


         There are things I do willingly, things I do hesitantly, things I do begrudgingly, and things I won’t do at all. This morning I threw away a toothpaste tube.  I refuse to call it an empty toothpaste tube, because as we all know, a toothpaste tube is never really empty. You can always go back to the crimped end and knead and cajole enough from the tube to at least partially fill your toothbrush one more time. And after you’re sure you’ve gotten every last bit out of the tube, you can go back and do it again.

            That’s why I’m hesitant to throw the tube away. I know that someday I may find the tube I’m trying to use really is empty, and I will be haunted with the grim reality that the tube with one more brush full, or partial brush full in it, is now buried in a landfill somewhere north of Modoc. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it could.

            I operate a small construction company, and last week we started building a new home up the road. I’m normally hesitant to start a new project like that so late in the year, with Indiana winters being what they are, or what they can be, but times being what they are, it seemed like a prudent idea to use the good weather days, and even some not so good weather days, to get the home, and ourselves, enclosed for the bad weather days that are bound to get here.

             As much as I enjoy my work, I can’t deny the outdoors part of it is a little less enjoyable when the temperature gets below 30 and the wind gets above it. And while I might tend to step out of the door in the morning a little more hesitantly, I hope I never do it begrudgingly.

            Earlier this fall, there was a lot of news coverage about a young woman in Oregon who had been diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, and decided to end her life through an assisted suicide before the cancer could end it for her. I certainly won’t deny that she had the right to make the decision she made. The right to control our own lives is one of the most basic rights we have. But I wouldn’t have made the same decision, even begrudgingly. Admittedly, I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness, yet, but with or without an illness, I realize life itself is terminal.

            If our lives were divided into seasons, I’m probably in the late autumn or early winter stage, missing a lot of my hair, but happy to still have most of my teeth. I have a few aches and pains that come along with 62 years, and people who know have told me those aches and pains will become more numerous as more time passes. But I also have my parents, and my wife, and my children and grandchildren, and a whole bunch of family and friends that I look forward to seeing at least a few more times.

            So I’m going to get as much toothpaste as I can out of the tube, and then try for a little more. And I’m going to work every day that I can this month, so that I’ll have some place to work next month. And I’m going to do all I can to hang around as long as I can, because of all of those people I want to see again.

            And when a higher power decides it’s my time to go, I will, but not without trying to squeeze a little more out of things before I go.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Mother may I....


            One of the things I remember from my time at Millville Grade School many years ago was the system the teachers and administrators had in place for bathroom breaks. I guess when I got to Millville, I was supposed to call them restrooms instead of bathrooms, but old habits are hard to break, so it took a couple of years to make the change. Anyway, when I was in the first grade, my teacher, Mrs. Dilling, who had also been my Sunday School teacher, informed us that if we needed to use the restroom, we were to raise our hands to ask permission, and in addition to that, we should also raise one finger or two fingers in order to signify which bodily function was necessitating the break.

            I never really understood why it was any of the teacher’s business if a student needed to go number one or number two, or why they even cared, but that was the way things were done at Millville. I often suspected some students were embarrassed to announce to the entire class that a number two was imminent, and might have held up one finger as a decoy. I believed at the time, as I still believe today, that number two is best taken care of in the privacy of your own home, but when that wasn’t possible,  two fingers did seem to take a higher priority when Mrs. Dilling was selecting who would be the next to be excused. My old buddy Stinky Wilmont could be quite theatrical, waving two fingers while making grimacing facial expressions and a worrisome audible, all in hopes of gaining permission ahead of a less animated number one somewhere else in the room.

            I can’t recall the teacher ever denying permission, or even verifying if was actually a number one or a number two she dealing with. I think it was pretty well accepted that when a first grader decided he or she needed to go, it was going to happen with or without permission, and whether they made it down the hallway to the restroom or not. I don’t think anybody really wanted to take that chance, even if they suspected a number two was actually a number one, or even if they suspected it was a false alarm. I suppose it did serve to put us into the mindset of asking permission before we did anything for the next twelve years. Or fourteen, in Stinky’s case.

            I guess it also gave us the mindset most of us have carried through into our adult lives, though now, most of the time we are asking permission from the government instead of Mrs. Dilling. If you want to be a barber, or a beautician, or a member of about any trade or profession, you have to get permission and a license from the government before you can ply your trade. If you want to get married, or add a room to your house, or sell hotdogs on the corner, or even go fishing, the first thing you have to do is obtain permission from the government.

            Last March, a buddy of mine decided he wanted to build a home on some land that he owned. He had to get permission from the Department of Natural Resources, and the highway department, and the health department, and the building department. He finally received permission in October. It’s not that he couldn’t build a home on his property, but that he couldn’t build a home on his property without asking permission.

             For a supposedly free society, we sure seem to spend a lot of time asking our government for permission. Maybe it’s time for us to realize we don’t really need their permission for most of the things we do. Maybe we need to start collectively showing them one finger once in a while, but not to signify we need to go to the bathroom.

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.