Thursday, December 5, 2019

Presidential Elections…What Really Matters



We are less than a year away from the 2020 Presidential Election. And right now it’s a mess. Trump is not going to be impeached. So he will be the Republican candidate, like it or not. The Democratic candidate will probably be Joe Biden, like it or not.

For Trump to win, the Democrats will have to ride the crazy train all the way to the left. I don’t see that happening. Even IF a left-leaning candidate should somehow get the nomination, by the time we get to the real race in the Fall of 2020, they will have walked back much of the extreme rhetoric and focus on more realistic ways of addressing healthcare, climate change, immigration, college tuition and maybe even talk about ways to pay for some of it. But they won’t let up on attacking Trump. And Trump will fight back. The 30% that love him will love him even more for that, and their votes are in the bag. But, the back and forth will motivate even more Democrats to vote, which is always a challenge for that party.

So the Democrat will win. And it won’t be based on Trump’s performance as President either. And by performance, I mean results, how the country is actually doing. And in that regard we aren’t doing all that bad. I’d give him a B+. (Probably higher if not for the tariff war). If by performance, one means acting Presidential, then he’s an F. He’s just not going to be that guy. And most Americans dislike him because of it.

The Democrat win won’t be based on policy either. In some cases Trump’s actions have not been well-thought out or well-executed. But directionally, his policies probably make sense to over half of likely voters. If one were to take Trump and party affiliation off the table and just look at policy objectively in terms of the strategic direction for the nation, I believe most people would favor Trump and/or Republican policies. But objectivity evaporated long ago. If a Democrat President deports illegal immigrants, he’s protecting America. If a Republican does it, he’s crushing dreams and destroying families.

When it comes to Presidential elections, performance matters, up to a point. Policy matters, up to a point. But what really matters is Personality. Picking Presidents is largely a personality contest. This is a big problem for the Republicans. We have a growing population of voters whose Presidential Personality frame of reference consists of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. For most people under 40, maybe even under 50, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are viewed much more favorably than Bush or Trump. The media plays into this narrative as well. The hard-cores on the left and the right listen to their preferred networks and mostly follow writers and bloggers with whom they agree. But most Americans aren’t paying that much attention. And it’s all the other messaging in music, television, movies, late night talk shows, etc. that sets the tone and creates the image. Clinton and Obama are portrayed as cool and smart. Bush, a nice guy, but not very cool and certainly not very smart. Trump is the worst of all, a self-absorbed narcissist. The bully no kid wants to play with, the boss no one likes to work for, the customer you avoid dealing with and the jerk you don’t want living next door. The Orange man who can’t be trusted with the nukes. This is how Trump is viewed by the majority of Americans and the rest of the world. There may be threads of truth here, but the image is decidedly one-sided, shaped and widely-shared by liberal media, entertainment and social networks.

The only Democratic candidate who could ever lose to Donald Trump, did just that. Hillary Clinton isn’t going to win many personality contests. And she had some questionable performance issues of her own as Secretary of State. Performance or policy can hurt you if your personality isn’t great. So Democrats stayed home, handed the White House to Trump and have been trying to snatch it back ever since.

Frankly, even if Trump somehow pulls off the win in 2020, Republicans have a personality problem that will continue to turn off voters who were born after 1980, and that would be most of the voters. When young and middle-age voters think of Republicans they think not only of Bush and Trump. They think of Dick Cheney, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Pastor Robert Jeffress, The Five on Fox, The Wall, Katrina, The Koch Brothers, Fracking and Golf. Think about it. When Clinton or Obama play golf it is a much needed break from the stress and hard work of being President. When Bush or Trump play it is akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

This is the world we live in and it’s not likely to change. Certainly not for the next 40 years. We’ve got at least two generations who have no good memories or images of Republican leadership other than maybe John McCain. It’s a problem for conservatives. Maybe it’s time to create a new party and just start over.

Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.- Franklin D. Roosevelt


Saturday, November 30, 2019

Where Did The Freight Go & When Will It Come Back? Part 3


So back to the questions: Where did the freight go and when will it come back?

Where did it go? First of all, 2017-2018 was a perfect storm of goodness for carriers. Demand driven by low interest rates, tax cuts, affordable energy and new purchasing power from millennials who finally started experiencing enough career advancement to move forward with household formation. Take away the freight bubble of this short period and 2019 doesn’t look much different than other dips we’ve experienced. Secondly, e-commerce is driving freight into different channels with different providers, disrupting truckload and LTL carriers. Third, we’ve been in a long-running consumer driven recovery for almost a decade. Fatigue is setting in. People can only buy so much stuff for so long. Fourth, the pain of 2019 was exacerbated by the carrier response to “the boom”. Driver pay was increased dramatically. The driver quality and productivity did not increase. Carriers are stuck with the new higher pay levels. Fifth, a lot of one-way TL freight has shifted to dedicated fleets or private fleets.

When will it come back? First quick answer, not in 2020. It’s not going to get worse, but it’s not going to get better. We may get a bump IF the tariff war gets settled (and I think it will). So when will it come back to last, at least for a year or two? Best case 2021. Regardless of who wins the election. It will get better. Why? First, capacity is going to get very tight. Insurance costs alone will drive a number of carriers out of business. Secondly, we still have a few good years of consumer driven economic activity as the millennials play catch up on household formation. Third, by 2021 we will certainly be past the tariff war issue and goods will be flowing. In addition we’ll see more near-shoring with production moving to Mexico and even some into the States. Fourth, I think we finally start to get some real movement on infrastructure which will create more freight opportunities.

I did say that things will get better regardless of who wins the election. But let’s be clear. If we end up with a Democrat in the White House, especially a far left Democrat; the recovery will not be as robust. And I think it is likely that we will end up with a Democrat. However, even if they run on a far-left agenda, history says they will move toward the middle. So will the freight come back in 2021? Probably. Will it be like 2017-18? Not even close.


Friday, November 29, 2019

Where Did the Freight Go & When Will It Come Back? Part 2


"Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think."- Ayn Rand

In Part 1, we looked at the current state of the industry and then asked what will this all look like in five, ten or fifty years. What’s the big picture telling us?

I would suggest that these are some of the most important issues to consider : Technological Advancements, The Environmental Movement, Demographics, Sociopolitical Factors.

Technology:

The Digital Revolution will lead to more Automation, Optimization and Innovation.

Automation has already transformed distribution inside the four walls. We’ll continue to see advances in this regard which makes large scale order fulfillment extremely affordable. This type of massive distribution capability close to the customer will be THE BIG thing going forward. As more of our population clusters in metro areas it makes this model even more attractive to both companies and consumers. Small package and final mile or last five mile delivery will grow. This will be a business where volume and density are required to achieve required service levels and lowest costs. Fed Ex, UPS, maybe Amazon and one or two others yet to emerge will be the winners. I hold little hope for the USPS.

The optimization of transportation networks has much further to go. You can only optimize what you know and what you can control. As we employ more advanced technology in the tracking of cargo, assets and people; networks will achieve greater efficiency. Empty miles, wasted space and lost time will be steadily reduced over the next half-century.

While I don’t think we’ll see a lot of driver-less trucks on the highway anytime soon, I do see technology continuing to have a huge impact on transportation. Self-driving trucks with an “attending driver” in the seat for over-the-road trips is coming soon. These “attending drivers” could be third-parties who operate in a relay network and are contracted to “drive” for any number of eligible carriers. More experienced drivers, who are employed by the carrier, will handle pick-ups and deliveries as well as travel through certain highly congested areas or under extreme weather conditions.

And the highways will become less congested. Not in the next ten years, perhaps not in the next 20 years. But by 2070, absolutely. More lanes will be constructed, no question. But, the big impact will be fewer vehicles on the highways. The development of mass transit alternatives, expanding ride-share networks, the increase in telecommuting, the evolution of 3D print production and biotech advancements which will allow us to produce more food near highly populated areas will combine to reduce the overall level of transport activity.

The Environment::

Environmental activism is not going away. Regardless of what you think about climate change, this is a movement that has taken hold around the world and is growing in the United States. This has huge implications for transportation companies. As mentioned above, the movement toward food production nearer to consumers is certainly driven by environmental activism and will create new logistics opportunities while putting some companies out of business. It’s a game changer.

Of greater concern is the overall economic impact of the Green Movement. While I do not see the world completely caving into climate change activists, I do think there is already a shift toward more “sustainable” lifestyles and renewable energy alternatives. But it cost money to “save the planet” and to the degree this leads to higher taxes, higher energy costs, fewer cars, smaller homes with smaller closets and an overall reduction in consumption; the demand for transportation and logistics services will decline.

No one really knows what a Green New Deal will end up looking like, but that there will be one of some sort is inevitable. And that its impact on transportation and logistics companies will be unfavorable is almost certain.

Demographics:

News flash: The World is NOT going to become over-crowded. Global population predictions continue to be revised downward. The world's population may well peak within the next 30-50 years and then start to decline. Some regions will be in worse shape than others as populations decline and age out. Consumption is driven by youth and household formation. Investment and production by middle-age wealth-creators. Old people cash out, live off savings and die. If the United States is smart, it will push for more immigration, not less. We are still the number one destination for people seeking a better life. And we need them because we are not reproducing at rates to sustain, much less grow our population.

Population growth is certainly a wild-card factor. But anyone who thinks that the world’s demographic profile will not change dramatically between now and 2070 is just not paying attention. And where people live, how they live and how they work will create the need for totally new and different supply chains.


Sociopolitical Factors:

This gets very complicated because almost everything has a social or political component. But for the sake of simplicity, just consider where the United States is likely headed over the next 50 years with regard to Health, Education and Welfare. Raise your hand if you think “we the people” can avoid increased subsidization of health, education and welfare. Perhaps “investment” is a better word than subsidization. Call it what you will, but a higher percentage of GDP will be spent on goods and services related to these three areas. It’s unavoidable. Unless we find a low cost magic pill that cures most illness and disease, the costs for healthcare will continue to rise, especially with an aging population. We are already at the tipping point when it comes to education and training. There is no choice other than to provide better and more affordable education and job training in order to have a workforce that can just keep the lights on and the water flowing. And, the welfare safety net will only get larger. Whether it’s outright transfer payments or some other form of subsidy or tax credits, we will be faced with an increasing percentage of the population that is unable or unwilling to generate the economic value that would compensate well enough for them to maintain an acceptable standard of living.

This will likely result in higher taxes in the more advanced economies that have some semblance of a social conscience and the flight of capital to those countries that are less concerned about such things or whose poor have lower expectations. Combine this with flat or declining populations in many of the more advanced economies and you have low growth or no growth GDP’s in those places where supply chains are the most developed. Only the best and most efficient service providers can survive under such conditions.

Am I painting a grim picture of the future or simply a reflection of the past into the future? I think more so the latter. This is how civilization has lurched forward for centuries. Two steps forward, one step back. Nations rise, nations fall. Industries are created, flourish, plateau and fade away. Whatever your enterprise or endeavor you must adjust, adapt and overcome….or face extinction.

So you PLAN and work with what you know. That would be the now and the near-term. But you PREPARE for the future...even if you’re not planning to be around.

I'll wrap this up in Part 3 with answers to the questions: Where did the freight go? When will it come back?



Saturday, November 23, 2019

Where Did the Freight Go & When Will It Come Back? Part 1


"Amazon.com strives to be the e-commerce destination where consumers can find and discover anything they want to buy online." - Jeff Bezos


As a headhunter working in transportation and logistics, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of people. I also follow economic and industry reports. Mostly I follow them to confirm what I already know is going on. I am seldom surprised by the direction of things.

I usually get a sense of where things are headed BEFORE the results are reported. We started hearing of softness in certain markets in Q3 2018. This was largely masked by surges as imports were pushed in ahead of the tariffs and carriers were still riding high on the rate increases they had gained earlier in the year. But the cracks were starting to appear and by Q1 of this year, everything had changed. Rates came down and trucks were sitting without freight.

So what happened? Sure Trump's tariff war has had a negative impact. Increased capacity in certain markets is also a factor, although I think it’s been overblown. I’m not sure that we really know how many manned working trucks are actually out there competing for freight. We still have a very low unemployment rate in this country and I just don’t think there have been that many more WORKING drivers added to the system. But, I’ll grant that in certain sectors, incremental capacity has been added and it doesn’t take much to swing the supply/demand balance in some regions. Weather, cold and wet weather, earlier in the year hurt some sectors as well.

The global economy isn’t great and that’s had an impact on freight. Oil and gas activity has slowed down which in effect pushes some of that capacity into other sectors. Chemical demand is a major leading indicator and it started trending down last year and the impact has been felt in the freight markets. Automotive is down and construction has been flat at best.

And then there is e-commerce. The surge in e-commerce has been a major disruption to TL and LTL markets. Products are getting to consumers much differently than they did just a few years ago. Trucks are still involved, but in different ways. Low interest rates have made inventory carrying cost less of a factor. More product is now moved to forward warehouses, often with schedules that are not as service sensitive as they were back in the day when truck networks were created to be an extension of the production line direct to the store shelf or other end user. The value of that sort of highway transportation has diminished as well as the demand for it.

And this really gets to the question of long-term trends vs. short-term trends. We all tend to manage in the now. We compare our results to last quarter or the same quarter last year. When things are good we think it will last longer than it ever does. And when things are bad we react, sometimes sensibly and strategically if we can afford to and sometimes aggressively and tactically if we are forced to. And that may mean cutting costs and people in order to live to fight another day. Painful but inevitable.

So we ride this roller-coaster of good times and bad times often missing the bigger picture. What are the next five or ten or fifty years likely to look like? First of all, I remain bullish on America. We have our problems, but we still have the best thing going. Given the level of foreign investment in U.S. assets, I’d say the rest of the world agrees. So we’re going to be ok. But, transportation and logistics are going to change dramatically.

In Part 2, we’ll take a look at the major factors which are driving us toward much different ways of transporting people and products.




Saturday, November 9, 2019

Those Left Behind


When God kicked Adam and Eve out of The Garden he spoke to Adam saying:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you will return.”- Gen 3:19

God also told Adam that the ground was cursed because of his disobedience and his life would be one of painful toil and sorrow.

Whether it all happened exactly as reported in Genesis is debatable, but I am inclined to agree with the message. Life is hard. One is born and has a brief childhood that prepares or scars them for what comes next. Then one works during the best years of their life and sometimes beyond. Then one dies. Gee thanks Adam and Eve.

Somewhere along the way from leaving The Garden to living in gated communities, a few of our ancestors figured out that eating your food by the sweat of someone else’s brow might be a better strategy. If you could find a way to leverage the labor of others you might just sweat less, have plenty to eat and live in a nicer neighborhood.

At first we leveraged the labor of others by violence and the power to rule that it brings. Religion was also used to make others work harder. For most of human history Kings and Queens, divine monarchs chosen by God himself, called the shots. Slowly, beginning most notably in 1215 with the Magna Carta, the divine right of monarchs to rule without regard to human rights was challenged. And life got better for a few more people.

New technology gave us the ability to publish books affordably and in large quantities. More people started to read and to think. Vast wealth brought us the Renaissance Period. And with it came decades of what amounted to public works projects and a redistribution of wealth via job creation. It also created some financial hardships on the Church which led to some creative fund-raising ideas which ultimately triggered the Protestant Reformation. Wars were fought over it and a lot of people were forced to relocate because their side lost. New lands had been discovered and some people went there. And life got better for a few more people.

The Age of Enlightenment shifted our attention from the pursuit of beauty and worship through the arts and architecture to the pursuit of knowledge, freedom and happiness. Revolutions and wars created free republics as well as dictatorships. A lot of blood was shed, but life got better for a few more people.

Then along came the Industrial Revolution. While we hear grim stories regarding the lives of the working poor in the 19th century, for most it was an upgrade to the misery of living “off the land” in places where those who owned the land (the capitalists) leveraged the labor of others to their advantage. And life got better for a few more people.

The Industrial Revolution created more assets that could be used to perform economically useful work. The assets (capital) certainly made labor more productive and prosperous. But those who owned the capital assets benefited the most from the increased production. Marx and Engels realized early on that, in an industrialized free market, labor could not win the battle versus capital. Perhaps guilds and labor unions could balance the scales a bit. But, in the long run they theorized that the capitalist economic model would self-destruct. Some form of communism would evolve where “the people” (or “the state”) would own the assets (capital) and we would all live happily ever after. Now as we look back over the past 100 years, communism has clearly failed and failed on a massive scale killing more people than any other “movement” or ideology in human history.

But, free market capitalism has its own problems. The Industrial Age of mechanical and analog technology has given way to new digital technology and we now live in the Age of Information. This has multiplied the productive capacity of labor and even made some jobs obsolete. Much of the “manual” work that must still be done has migrated to lower cost labor elsewhere in the world. What remains for those left behind rarely pays enough to live without some sort of subsidization. The higher value work that has developed in advanced economies requires skills, education and abilities which are in short supply. Those who can do this work are well compensated. But those who own the assets, the capitalists, do even better. In a world where capital may be employed more productively than ever is it any wonder that the rich are getting richer?

Thus, the gap between those who “have” and those who have been left behind continues to grow. The big question is what happens when too many people have been left behind? For one thing, you have social unrest. We see it now on both the Left and the Right. People who have been left behind and see no way to get ahead.

The second thing that happens, and this is the game-changer, is the erosion of the customer base that was buying the goods and services which made the Capitalists so wealthy in the first place. I am guessing the smartest and the richest people at the top of the pyramid have already figured this out. It’s why the Warren Buffets and the Bill Gates of the world lean to the left. Higher taxes and government transfer payments, investment in training, education and work force development. More affordable healthcare. In effect, redistribution of wealth. How else will those left behind be able to buy the stuff the capitalists have for sell? When it comes down to it…our future is not going to be determined by Republicans or Democrats…left or right. It’s going to be about doing whatever is necessary to keep the doors open for business. And that means having fewer of those left behind.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Franken-Meat


I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit. - Sir Andrew, Shakespeare character from "The Twelfth Night"

At some point in this planet’s distant evolutionary past, our ancestors decided to start eating meat. What motivated these herbivores to become omnivores? Some scientists point to climate change. As rains became less abundant, so did edible vegetation. Hungry people will look for options, even to the point of eating their own. But, before one eats their own, one will generally opt for other meat dishes. So our ancestors figured it out. Maybe they started with fish or birds or reptiles. Then someone discovered grilled mammalian tenderloin and the rest is history.

Scientists also think that the decision to eat animal protein was a key to the development of the modern human species. Those hominids who maintained plant-only diets remained ape-like creatures and eventually became extinct. Some of their cousins did survive on plants alone, but remain to this day, just apes. Those who ate meat flourished. The meat-eaters' began to stand more upright, their brains got larger and they changed the world.

Some creationists who have a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, would say that in the beginning Adam and Eve were herbivores as were all animals. It was after The Fall that some animals, including humans, starting eating other animals. And those sinful meat-eaters went on to build the world as we know it, for better or worse.

However we got here, the point is that we’ve been eating meat for a long time. Even so, most of our religions advise against eating too much meat and at times to eat none at all. And there are rules about slaughtering animals and preparing the meat. Modern science is pretty much in agreement, warning us not to eat so much meat. And the sacred ways of killing and eating animals have also been shown to be healthier for consumers, not to mentioned less inhumane for the consumed.

Now we have reached yet another crossroads on the journey of human evolution. We can have meat, or something close to it, without killing animals. Just use a few stem cells from the animal and build a “herd” in 15 days. This lab-grown Frankenstein-like creation is supposedly just like the real stuff (only different). Proponents of this “new meat” revolution claim it will result in better, cleaner, more affordable protein for more people while making a significant contribution in our battle to save the planet from global warming.

Better, cleaner, cheaper and save the world…pretty hard to argue against that. However, I have my doubts. No question, "Franken-meat" will capture some portion of the market. But, I think not that much. More people are limiting their consumption of meat, especially red meat. People are also looking for healthier, organic or grass-fed sources of animal protein. But when they do eat meat, they want the real deal, not "Franken-meat".

So wild speculation predicting a 50% reduction in beef, pork and poultry consumption by 2050 is way off the mark in my opinion. If this is indeed part of an evolutionary process, I figure we are thousands of years away from becoming a people that doesn’t like a good steak now and then, or barbecue brisket or a rack of ribs. And, if over that time the planet warms to the point where my place in North Texas becomes ocean front property, I hope that whoever is living here will remember and honor those of us who made it all possible.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Baile Milse’ain Baile





We just spent two weeks in Ireland. I have some Irish ancestry (doesn't everyone?), but my wife has a bunch. So she was keen on visiting places where her people came from, mostly the western part of the country. She even has a notable relative, Saint Mhaodhòg (Mogue) whose relics are on display in the National Museum in Dublin. Saint Mogue became the patron saint of the O'Neill clan. His relics were kept in a fancy purse and carried into battle by the O'Neill's. Mogue was later Anglicanized to Logue, my wife’s ancestors. There is now a very fashionable Logue shoe store in Galway. That old Saint Mogue's relics ended up in a purse, and now the Logues run a high fashion shoe store definitely confirms the link between my wife and this gene pool. She’s also a Black (Blake from the Normans or Bl’aca in old Irish) and they have their own mausoleum in a little cemetery west of Galway. She has tracked down direct ancestors from that side up into County Donegal. So she is about as Irish as it gets.

So what about our trip to Ireland? Here are some of my pros and cons about Ireland.

Pro. It is a small country, 1/8 the size of Texas. So you can see most everything there is to see.
Con. It is a small country and two weeks is too long. 10 days would have been plenty.

Pro. There are some very beautiful places well worth seeing. The wild Atlantic Way has some spectacular vistas and Wicklow National park is a prize.
Con. Much of Ireland looks like countryside you can see in the States, at least during those times when it’s green. (But it pretty much stays green in Ireland year round.)

Pro. The people are just as friendly and open as advertised. Great folks.
Con. They don't get in a hurry and appointment times and schedules are merely suggestions.

Pro. It is a safe place. Not much crime or violence overall. At least not when compared to the States.
Con. The sense of security makes them vulnerable. The softest of soft targets. Churches, museums and various crowd gathering places are wide open, People carry in their backpacks and such without scans or searches.

Pro. There are some really good sights to see; churches, old castles, prehistoric structures and the like.
Con. But there isn't that much to see. And so much of what they want you to see is tied to their long fight for independence. It means a lot to them, I get it. But I found myself asking...is this it? Much the same reaction non-Texans have when they visit the Alamo.

Pro. Some of the pubs, in particular The Crane Bar in Galway.
Con. Most of the pubs. They are all about the same and either have stereotypical upbeat Irish music going or are playing hits from the 80s. The Irish really like 80s music.

Pro. You can rent a car and drive around. So there is that sense of freedom and control that I tend to like. And thumbs up for the roundabouts. A great way to keep traffic moving where roads come together.
Con. Most of the roads are very narrow. Driving on the left and steering from the right only makes it tougher. Add in the tour buses and trucks that are just too big for these old byways and you have some white-knuckle driving ahead of you. Not sure I would try to drive if I ever go back.

Pro. Plenty of places to eat and reasonably priced if you like to eat the same stuff every day.
Con. Irish food gets old in a hurry. They have some high end gourmet restaurants, but the variety of mid-priced flavor rich (spicey) food is limited.

Other takeaways from two weeks in Ireland:

_Urban economies are doing quite well. Dublin and Cork are booming. Ireland's low corporate tax rate has attracted a lot of investment. They have a well-educated, talented young work force and draw considerable talent from other European countries.

_They are very much left-leaning politically. Totally against Brexit and all in on fighting climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Don't even talk about it. Their minds are made up and closed.

_We had great weather for the most part. One heavy rain day which unfortunately occurred when we were touring Connemara. I would like to see that area again sometime. But overall the cooler weather was a nice break from Texas heat.

_Christianity is not doing well in Ireland. The Catholic church is viewed very negatively and I didn’t see much enthusiasm for the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which is a constant reminder of former English rule.

_They are serious about drunk driving. On the way from Galway to Dublin the Garda (police) had a check point right there on what amounts to an expressway (M class highway). This was a mid-morning check. My wife was driving and got to blow into the breathalyzer. I wanted so much to take a photo, but thought it better not to risk upsetting the officer. She blew too hard the first time and he politely asked her to blow softer and more gently. You cannot make this up. I am still laughing.

_One of the best parts of a long trip is coming back home. I am a homer. Give me the USA and for sure give me Texas, warts and all. We are a mess, but it’s our mess and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.



Baile Milse’ain Baile….Home Sweet Home.



Friday, September 13, 2019

Uncommon Ground


Unless you’ve been living in cave or on some deserted island having no contact with the outside world, you know that our society is more divided than ever. It’s not just in the United States. But we do seem to be ground zero for polarization. Whether it’s the government, the economy, religion, the environment, social justice, race, gender, education, immigration, healthcare or just the words one is allowed to use; we don’t agree on much of anything. We hear politicians speak about finding “common ground” with the opposition party and working together to solve our considerable problems. Good luck with that.

I think the real questions are: What is common ground and why can’t we find some?

Before one can answer those two questions, one must understand the ground they are standing on. I believe that a person’s attitudes and opinions are determined by three major factors: self-interest, experience, and values.

Why you stand on the ground you stand on is complicated. Self-interest, experience and values are not independent variables. They are highly interactive and each of them impacts the others. They also mean different things to different people. Some people are almost entirely driven by self-interest. Their values are adjusted accordingly. Some people learn and grow from experience while others are damaged and diminished by their experience. Some people are values -driven, even when their values may be misdirected. In their world, self-interest is tied to value commitments; and experience is always viewed through the lens of their values.

Finding common ground is a challenge. If my self-interest conflicts with your self-interest, can we find common ground? If either of us are primarily driven by self-interest, then it is very unlikely we will find common ground unless we stumble across a low cost win-win scenario.

If we have significantly different life experiences, finding common ground is almost impossible unless we have shared self-interest and/or shared values. And if our values differ significantly, even mutual self-interest and shared experience may not be enough to lead us to “common ground”.

How did we get here? I say it’s the result of increased “diversity” in our society and the unprecedented advances in technology. We’ve gone from being a melting pot to a collection of tribes and special interests. Diversity can be a great thing and it has been good for America up to a point. But what happens when people can no longer find common ground when it comes to existential or eternal issues?

We can’t agree on where we are, where we are going or how we are going to get there? We can say things like “we’re all Americans” or “we all just want to be free to live our lives in peace and prosperity”. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Can’t we agree on those? The answer is a resounding NO. Not when your vision of life, liberty and happiness conflicts with my self-interest or my values or my life experience. You have now become an existential threat to me and mine in the here and now; and maybe even in the ever after.

So let’s quit kidding ourselves about “finding common ground”. Admit that we are a fragmented society with a diverse mix of people who have very different values and significantly different life experiences. And understand what that means in terms of “self-interest”. It’s going to be challenging to find areas of mutual self-interest. Remember we can’t agree on where we are, where we are going or how to get there. But, finding some sort of mutual self-interest is the only option left to us.

This means compromise. We must acknowledge our differences and accept that we can’t have everything just the way we might want it to be. The Left is not going to win over the Right and the Right is not going to win over the Left. Let’s just figure out what things might benefit both sides and do what we can to make things a little bit better for as many people as possible.

We are standing on “Uncommon Ground”. We aren’t going back to Happy Days, but there isn’t going to be A Green New Deal either. No you can’t keep your AR-15, but we aren’t going to take all the guns away from our citizens either. Sorry, but “Free” education, healthcare and whatever else some people think they are entitled to, isn’t going to happen. At the same time we have to do better and those who can will have to pay more taxes. It’s not going to be fair and the government will continue to waste money and not be a very well-run enterprise. OK, fix it. It took over 200 years to get this messed up and it’s not going to turn-around overnight.

“You can’t always get what you want
...but if you try sometimes,
...you just might find,
...you get what you need”- The Rolling Stones


Sunday, August 25, 2019

You Talkin' To Me?


That is the line we all know from the movie Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickel, confronts himself in the mirror as he prepares for urban combat and refuses to allow himself to be intimidated by himself. It’s a classic scene and a classic line in a classic, albeit overrated, movie...in my opinion. (I still say 'Means Streets' was a better movie).

I’m not yet as whacked out as Travis Bickel, but I must admit that I do talk to myself. I talk to myself out loud. Not talking out loud is just thinking. Talking to oneself is thinking out loud. So I talk to myself, sometimes loudly. My dogs are used to it and pay no attention. They know when I’m talking to them or talking on the phone or just talking to myself. They ignore me until I say their names or use dog talk. You dog owners know what I mean by dog talk, so don’t even pretend it’s not a thing.

I often talk to myself while I’m driving. It’s a safe space. These days if someone sees you alone in a vehicle talking, they assume you’re just having a hands free cell phone conversation. So I am driving alone talking about weight gain and its effect on the ankles, knees and hips. I’ve put a few pounds back on since my big weight loss a few years ago. Not all of it, but enough to notice. So I am talking about the consequences of this weight gain and what to do about it or even if I should do something about it.

All of a sudden I hear my wife’s voice on my cell phone and it’s not a happy, teasing “are you talking to yourself” voice. It’s an inquisitive, almost jealous “WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO? WHO’S WITH YOU?” voice. Ten or fifteen minutes earlier my wife had called me and apparently somehow we had stayed connected. She had stopped to buy gas or something and when she gets back in her car she hears me talking to “someone”. Why would I be talking to someone about gaining weight, modifying workout routines, cutting back on the beer or the merits of wide comfortable shoes?

I assured my wife that I was just talking to myself:

“You know that’s just something I do.”

“Not talking like that. It sounds to me like you’re talking to someone.”

“Nope, just me.”

“Well, that’s just weird. I believe you. But you’re weird.”

Disconnect.

I guess the good news is that I wasn’t talking about something that would have been really embarrassing. The subject matter was pretty harmless. But I do need to be more careful and check my phone before I start talking to myself (or anyone else for that matter.)

The fact is that studies have shown that talking to yourself, more specifically talking OUTLOUD to yourself, is not a bad thing. Highly intelligent people (who are not otherwise crazy) talk to themselves. Children talk to themselves as part of the learning process. Talking out loud can help you solve problems and even find things you’ve lost.

As an only child, I grew up talking to myself. After my mother started working, I was a “latch key” kid who was often home alone. So I talked to myself. When I write, I talk to myself. Not out loud, but it’s not much different. Over the years I have argued with myself, confessed my sins and made resolutions. I have debated myself, taking both sides; therefore I can say with certainty that I have never lost a debate.

Truck drivers, traveling salesmen and long distance runners all talk to themselves. The lonely and the brave talk to themselves. So do the lonely and the crazy. The brave talk to themselves to find courage or at least a reason for bravery. The crazy talk to themselves because no one else will talk to them or theirs is the only voice they can hear.

Sometimes when I am alone and talking out loud, I am talking to God. Maybe it’s not prayer. Sometimes it’s more like brain-storming or trying to find the answers, perhaps a clue at least. During the most difficult times of my life, self-talk always leads me to God-talk. And often it’s been the other way around.

“You talkin’ to me?” is the line everyone remembers from that movie. But I also remember one of the lines that follows “You talkin’ to me?”…… “Well, I’m the only one here.”

I guess that’s at the core of my “self talk”. No one knows me better than me. My wife would argue that she knows me better than I know myself and I’ll let her believe that. But, the person who does not strive to know themselves can never find themselves. Part of my journey to knowing myself involves talking to myself….and to God. I’m sure his answers are better than mine, but sometimes it feels like “I’m the only one here.” So I talk to myself…OUTLOUD. I just need to make sure that no one else is listening.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

We Blew It


I wasn’t there, but I remember Woodstock. Yes I am that old. And I remember Easy Rider. Honestly I didn’t think it was all that great the first time I saw it. It was at a drive-in (yes I am that old). I might have been distracted, but I do remember Karen Black. More specifically I remember Karen Black’s legs. But I digress.

Peter Fonda’s passing brings back a lot of memories. By the second time I saw Easy Rider, my hair was getting long, at least long for those days. And this time I actually paid attention to the movie. I’d convinced my Dad to go see the movie. Mom did not care to go, so Dad and I went to the drive-in. (The drive-in loved Easy Rider back in the day. They also loved to run John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. But Easy Rider got a lot of play).

We sat there in silence during the movie. I could tell my dad was enjoying it. His mother’s brother, Uncle Raymond, had been sort of an Easy Rider character way back. There are old photos of him on his Indian motorcycle, leather jacket, aviator hat and goggles. Raymond wandered out West and eventually settled down in Tucson, got married and lived a normal life. But he was definitely an unconventional character in his younger days. My Dad had some of that in him as well. He had volunteered for the paratroopers in WW2. He said it was because it paid more and he didn’t like the idea of landing on a beach and getting shot up. But, I think it was mostly because he wanted to go up in an airplane and jump out.

It’s been written, oh probably a million times, that Easy Rider came to define a generation. I would say almost. What Easy Rider actually did was define what a generation IMAGINED itself to be. It was certainly a reflection of the times and the cultural changes that were occurring in this country. The ideas of drugs, sex and rock n’ roll played a big part in the lives of young baby boomers. But it was mostly just ideas, not actions. Ten years later, at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, there was more action. But in 1969, most of us were just riding around, trying to buy beer , talking about sex and listening to the music.

Whatever change took place in us was more subtle, but no less significant. We cut our hair and got real jobs. We navigated around oil embargoes and double digit interest rates to end up riding the largest and last wave of the post-war economic boom. And by the time it crashed, we had ours. Safe at home and voting for a guy like Donald Trump. Along the way to our comfort zone, we had more divorces, attended church less often, took more pills, drank more alcohol, ran more miles, built bigger houses, embraced new technology and the information age without fully understanding what they meant; and failed the next generation in many of the ways that matter the most.

So let’s not romanticize Easy Rider or Woodstock or any of the other cultural icons of that era. While there were some worthwhile lyrics floating around, most of them just got lost in the music.

From the movie Easy Rider:

Billy: “We did it, man. We did it, we did it. We’re rich man. We’re retirin’ in Florida now, mister.”

Captain America: “You know Billy, we blew it.”



Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fuel and Fire


(August 4 update: This was originally posted early Saturday prior to the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. It was not my intention to specifically address or ignore the mass shooting epidemic we are experiencing in this nation. Certainly this epidemic is symptomatic of the Fuel and Fire referenced in this post. May God have mercy on us.)


Recently I wrote about Fear and Anger being the most powerful motivators when it comes to people making a job change (as well as a lot of other big decisions). Writing about Fear and Anger led me to think about what’s going on socially and politically around the world, in particular here in the United States and in Western Europe.

When one looks at history we see that there are always winners and losers. Those who have more and those who have less. Those who are satisfied and those who are not. That’s just life. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being unsatisfied can motivate people to act responsibly and take action. Move somewhere and start a new life. Learn new skills. Work harder. Work smarter. Create. Invent. Find solutions. Be better and achieve at least some small measure of happiness and satisfaction.

But sometimes those who are unhappy choose a different path. When enough people become unhappy, it becomes a revolution, often a violent one. What we are witnessing today has the makings of such a time.

So what’s driving us apart and leading us to conflict and confrontation? I think it revolves around two major factors: Hopelessness and Victimhood. Hopelessness is the fuel, but Victimhood is the fire. People can feel hopeless and still not do much about it. For much of recorded history, those without hope chalked it up to the will of the gods, fate or just bad karma from a past life. Spin the wheel, do better next time. For now, lower your expectations and just try to survive. Swing low sweet chariot.

And there have been times when the “victims” had hope. The great migration of Europeans to the Americas was mostly victims of some sort: religious persecution, ethnic or social class limitations, poverty, etc. Victims who have hope often accomplish great things even while doing some not so great things. We did victimize a lot of Native Americans who didn't invite us and Africans who didn't come voluntarily. Yet still many of these "victims of the victims" and their progeny have risen up to achieve great things. In recent years, we've witnessed victims from other parts of the world come to America, legally and otherwise, and make better lives for themselves and their children. But, nowadays more and more Americans seem to be losing hope. A trend that is both sad and ominous.

I truly believe that we have come to another crisis point in history. The world has had it's bloody revolutions and deadly civil wars for ages. Most were local, regional or national affairs. Significant, but not global, until the 20th century when we were finally capable of waging World Wars. Now we find ourselves in the 21st century with even more destructive and rapidly deployable weapons of war. For decades we have told ourselves that these weapons of mass destruction have become, in effect, the greatest deterrent to war. No one wants to start a war that ends the world as we know it. Or do they?

Over the past twenty or so years, we have weaponized information and ideas, some might even say misinformation and dangerous ideas. Furthermore, we have various opposition groups each of whom feel they have been victimized. We see it most clearly and most often in this country between the progressives on the left and the hardcore conservative populists on the right. But, it’s going on all over Europe between progressives and conservatives, globalists and nationalists. Never before have extreme ideas been so broadly connected and disseminated. Around the world we are arguing over climate change, immigration, national sovereignty, religion, sexuality, equality, pollution, trade, energy policy and just about anything anyone can conjure up for a headline that triggers anger and anxiety for some group somewhere.

Bring people together who share a common victim narrative and whose only hope is radical change to “the system” that has failed them; and you have “a movement”. You have Russia in 1917. You have Italy and Germany in the 30’s and China in ’49. You have the Civil Rights movement in this country in the 60’s. Women’s rights and gay rights beginning in the 70’s. You have the collapse of the Soviet Union that began in the late 80’s and was complete in only a few short years.

And now, in many parts of the world, we have right-wing nationalists moving to take back their countries and their culture, hit the reset button and make things the way they used to be, or at least the way they want them to be. On the other side we have left-wing globalists who have a different vision. A connected, diverse, integrated global utopia that cannot co-exist with nationalism, capitalism and fossil fuels. At this point, I see no signs of compromise or surrender. Perhaps a middle ground will rise up and we’ll figure out a way to move forward. But I predict a lot of pain along the way for there is more than enough fuel and fire on both sides.


You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan

-The Beatles



Saturday, July 27, 2019

It’s the Why, Not the What.


Often we are told that if you want to know what’s really going on and who’s doing what, “Follow The Money”. That’s not bad advice. But if you want to know the WHY behind what’s going on, you have to go deeper, down to the roots.

And what I’ve learned, after many years, is that when it comes to big decisions and choices that really matter, people act primarily out of FEAR or ANGER or both. They may not admit to fear or anger. It’s hard to admit that you’re afraid or to confess that you are really angry. Fear and Anger are strong words that might cause others to think we are not in control of our emotions. So we use softer words. Instead of fear, we use words like ‘concerned’ or ‘worried’ or ‘anxious’. Rather than say we are angry, we use words like ‘upset’ or ‘not happy’ about whatever it is that actually made us angry.

Since I’ve been in the headhunting business, I’ve never seen a person change jobs unless they were really concerned (afraid) or very upset (angry). They may say they are looking for career advancement or more income. But, it nearly always comes down to some level of concern or being upset. When people are secure about their job now and in the future which includes meeting their income requirements now and in the future, they stay put. When they like what they are doing and who they are working with and for, in other words they are not upset, they stay put. I don’t recall ever placing a candidate who wasn’t concerned or upset about something even if it’s just moving to a more desirable location.

And employers don’t hire people unless the employer has a “need”. And needs to hire are rooted in some type of fear and anger. A fear that if a problem is not solved or results do not improve it will have negative consequences for that employer. Or they are really upset with an employee and want to replace them.

In other words, if there is no problem, there is no need for a solution. And when something is not important enough to create some serious discomfort, enough to cause you to be concerned or upset, then it’s not really a problem.

People don’t make major purchases unless there is a problem. You may argue that people often trade-in late model, low-mileage automobiles for a new one just because they like having a new car. Fair enough. But why do they like having a new car? It could be that they are concerned about reliability and believe that newer is better and safer (they may well be wrong, but perception is reality). Maybe they are concerned about appearances. A neighbor or someone at work, just bought a new car. Got to keep up. Or if the person is very wealthy, buying a new car every year is just not a big decision.

Remember, we’re talking about BIG decisions and choices that really MATTER. If I bought an expensive watch, that would be a big decision. I don’t have a problem that needs a big watch solution. Someone who can afford to buy an expensive watch as easily as I might buy underwear, doesn’t see it has a big decision. But if someone like me made a really irrational purchase that is beyond their means, there is something else going on. That person is concerned about trying to impress others. Or they are upset about something and a crazy purchase of some sort is a way of getting back at whoever upset them.

So if you’re in sales or managing people or just trying to navigate through life, take note of fear and anger. In yourself and in others. It’s in our DNA. Our ancestors didn’t hunt large, dangerous animals with spears and clubs for sport. They were afraid of starving to death. All wars have been fought because people were afraid and/or angry. People commit crimes out of fear and anger. Religions are built on fear and anger. Human fear of higher powers and the potential anger those higher powers might have toward us if we don’t stay in line.

Every big decision I’ve made in my life has been driven by fear and/or anger. Some were good decisions and some were terrible. I look back now and realize there were times when I let my fear or anger get the better of me and I made a poor decision. In some cases my fear or anger was unwarranted. At other times, it made sense to be afraid or angry, but I picked the wrong solution to solve my problem.

So when you are faced with a big decision and choice really matters. Check yourself. What are you afraid of? What’s the concern? Why are you angry and upset? Is there really a problem? If there is, what’s the best way to fix it. Don’t make it worse. .. and we can always make it worse. That’s also in our DNA.

If you try to get rid of fear and anger without knowing their meaning, they will grow stronger and return.- Deepak Chopra


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Mother Bird


“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”- Stephen Covey

I live out in the country and there is on old, rocky road on my place that goes over to a barn. I don’t use the barn for much besides storage. So grass and weeds are starting to take over the road. But it is still there with an assortment of colorful small rocks and stones between the ruts.

A while back I was hauling some more really valuable keepsakes (junk) to the barn in my pickup. In the middle of the road I saw a Killdeer. It’s a bird. They do better around water, but for some reason you will see them in strange places in these parts. In Texas we call them Kill-dees. They are not the smartest birds and must have a fear of heights, since they nest on the ground and lay their eggs where snakes and other critters can eat them; assuming some old codger in a pickup truck doesn’t run over them first.

This bird was bowed up with her wings fanned out, so I figured she must have eggs on the ground. I pulled off the road and stopped beside her nest which was really nothing other than a pile of rocks. Her eggs were huddled up in those rocks. I guess she thought they were camouflaged and looked like rocks. Not really. I drove on up to the barn and when I came back she was still there.

For the next couple of weeks I found myself looking for reasons to go over to the barn. I also have some bees nearby and that was another excuse for more frequent trips I suppose. But I was really just curious about this little momma bird and her eggs. I didn’t see how they would ever survive. It was a ready meal for a snake or a skunk and I figured she could not fight them all off 24-7. But, to my surprise she hung in there. I thought those eggs might survive and hatch. Perhaps God had ordained we should have some more not too bright little “Kill-dees” who would grow up to lay eggs in the middle of the road.

I went over there yesterday on foot and there she was standing guard. But the eggs were gone. Maybe they hatched. Maybe not. She was running around in circles but moved away as I got closer. I saw no signs that the eggs had hatched or had ever been there for that matter. I reckoned that some other creature had finally caught her napping or briefly away from the eggs. The eggs were gone and Mother Bird was totally lost and confused by the tragic turn of events.

I usually don’t get sentimental about wildlife. It’s eat or be eaten and the strong and smart survive. Kill-dee eggs are just another link in the food-chain. But, I had taken an interest in this little bird and her eggs. I genuinely felt sorry for her. I went back later before sundown and she was still there, trying to find her eggs or waiting for whatever took them to bring them back. I wonder how long she will fret over those lost eggs. At what point will she forget or just give up and move on. Or will she remain lost and confused hopping around in circles.

I suppose this little mother bird could represent many things in our world. Some of them are too controversial and divisive. So I will not even go there other than to predict that we humans are likely to remain lost and confused, hopping around in circles….and laying our eggs in the middle of the road until our time is up.




Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Freedom They Long For


I’ve written previously about my ancestors. The old family stories were accurate only going back a few generations. Beyond that it was stories that sounded good, but were mostly untrue.

Several years ago I took a very basic DNA test and was surprised to find that one of those stories that had been told as fact turned out to be fiction. The Clicks came to Texas from Eastern Tennessee and always claimed Cherokee blood. Many of them had dark complexions and the high cheek bones one might associate with Indian heritage. That was not the case.

I had traced my Click (Gluck) ancestry back to the Rhineland region of Germany. But that basic DNA test reported that I was only 10% Western European. The bulk of my DNA was linked to Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. I had more Iberian (Spanish) than Western European (German or French).

Recently, I decided to spend the money for a more in depth DNA analysis and the results were startlingly different. I still had all that was reported in the basic test, but to lesser degrees. The report showed portions of Toscani Italian (11%) and Asian Indian (6%) DNA. Moreover, German ancestry was specifically identified at over 50%. And, the report said I was also 15% French. The Anglo-Scots-Irish was still there but not nearly as much. And the Iberian was about the same (10%). The report noted that German DNA is the most widespread in Western Europe, even into the British Isles. So perhaps some of my English and Scots-Irish ancestors had some German blood or just married Germans when they got to America. Who knows? (I will find out though).

At any rate, the larger percentage of German ancestry made sense. So I went back again for a closer look at the Glucks. The earliest known relative had been living in Southern France before returning to Germany in the 1600’s. Most likely fleeing religious persecution from Catholic France. However, the persecution continued for those German Protestants living in the Rhine Valley of Southwestern Germany, also referred to as the Palatine region. So in the 1700’s there began a mass migration of Palatine Germans to the British Colonies in the Americas.

With the support of Queen Anne and the leadership of William Penn, thousands of Palatine Germans migrated to America. It was a brutal trip. By boat up the Rhine River to Rotterdam. A ship to England and then on to Philadelphia. They settled in Pennsylvania in such numbers that at one point over half of the population was German. The promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to own land compelled them to leave everything behind and face the risks of death, disease, poverty and failure. The potential rewards were simply too great to ignore.

My ancestors arrived in Philadelphia on the migrant ship Lydia in October 1749. Until recently, I thought it was just Ludwig Heinrich Gluck. But further research revealed that he came with his parents. He was still a boy. Johann Conrad and Susanna Gluck, his parents along with his older sister Maria and younger brother Johannes Marx had made (and survived) the journey. Ludwig changed his name later to Lewis Henry Click and moved to East Tennessee to become one of Tennessee’s Founding Families. His parents, Johann and Susanna are buried back in Pennsylvania in the Gluck Farm Cemetery.

In researching the Palatine German migration, I found a pamphlet that had been written by a German immigrant as both a guide and a warning to those still in Germany considering immigrating to America. Mostly it was a discouraging report outlining all of the terrible things one faced on the journey and the hardships that awaited those who survived. But the author of the pamphlet, identified only as “L.M.”, also had these words for those who might come to America:

“Whoever does not come here at all, but remains at home he is the wisest, yet this land is, when one studies it earnestly, a door opened of old to those who suffer for their conscience' sake, to find the freedom they long for. Whoever comes here with this motive will still find what he is seeking. But all other purposes will fail or be difficult to attain, for our motto here, too, is "Labor is Prayer" or "In the sweat of thy forehead shalt thou eat thy bread".

Our current immigration system is a mess. We certainly need people who come for the right reasons and are willing to work. I think most of them do. Those of us who are here need to find better ways to help them find "the freedom they long for" while still protecting our nation. It's been done before and can be done again.


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Rattlers, Ropes and Rumbles


“Only thing we have to fear is fear itself” – FDR


From the Dallas Morning News:

A man and a woman found themselves up a tree in a South Texas park in an attempt to get away from what they thought was a feral hog.
A police officer at Government Canyon State Natural Area, about 20 miles northwest of downtown San Antonio, was notified shortly before midnight June 21 after a woman called 911.
She said a growling feral hog was following her and that she had taken refuge in a tree, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The woman used her cellphone to send the officer her location, and when he hiked there he found her and a man in a tree. The woman warned the officer that the hog was nearby.


One of my favorite movies is Fandango. It was made back in ’85 and was one of Kevin Costner’s first starring roles. It was set in Texas, 1971…if you’re from Texas and from that era…you’ll love the movie. It has become a cult classic for guys like me. But the rest of the world just doesn’t get it. At one point in the movie, the guys are sleeping on the ground out where the movie Giant was filmed. Nothing is still standing there but the old staged front of the Benedict mansion. In the morning just before dawn, one of the guys wakes up screaming, “Snake, Snake…”.

He tells his buddies that a snake has crawled up his pants leg during the night. He claims it’s a rattler. About that time, a harmless lizard sticks it’s head out of his pants and then runs off. The others start teasing the guy who was so scared and he replies, “Well it felt like a snake…” Kevin Costner’s character replies with a thick Texas twang ”No, it was a RAT-LUR…”

When I was a little boy I used to spend summers down on my grandparents farm. It wasn’t too far from the Brazos River and this was back before they built the dam that created Lake Granbury. My uncle would take me fishing and camping down on the river. I was allowed to wonder around, often by myself, in places that if a little boy were allowed to do go these days the uncle would be arrested. But those were different times. They warned you about venomous snakes and river currents and poison oak. It was your job to pay attention and be careful. I think it’s called teaching responsibility. But I digress.

One time I had been down below camp fishing from the bank. A long draught had finally broken and the river was running high and fast. A couple of days before, a young woman had drowned back up the river and her body had not been recovered. Given the way the river winds and bends we were probably 50 miles from where she drowned. But my uncle had great fun telling me to keep an eye out for a floating body. That the woman who drowned was probably “all swole up by now and might float a long way with the river runnin' like this.”

It was the duty of older male relatives in my family to tease and torment the younger ones. It was all about toughening you up and preparing you to face the shit-show of life that awaited. These older males had lived through the depression, the dust bowl, WW2 and a long, brutal drought. They weren’t inclined to worry about your feelings other than to diminish them as much as possible. I think it made me a better man in some ways and a much worse man in others. So I’m not suggesting that it is the right way to treat young boys, but in small doses it might not be a bad thing.

After several hours of bad fishing and intense surveillance, I’d already mistaken several logs and other debris for the dead woman’s floating body. Every time something grabbed my line, usually a turtle or some underwater limb, I just knew I was going to pull up an arm or a leg. So by the time I headed back to camp around sundown, I am pretty spooked by the whole river experience. I had been using minnows for bait and had the minnow bucket in one hand and my rod and reel over my shoulder with the other one. It was a Norman Rockwell image. All I needed was a spotted pup trotting along side. The minnow bucket had a rope on it that was about 8 ft long. Somehow that rope ended up on the ground trailing behind me. It’s getting dark and I’m walking through the woods by myself. My head is on a swivel. I am watching out for everything. Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My.

And then I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye. There is a snake right behind me. I drop the minnow bucket and the rod and reel. I am certain that I set the land speed record for 11 year old fat white boys that day. I get back to camp and my uncle is genuinely concerned when he sees me out of breath and white as a sheet. I tell him about the snake and just dropping everything and running. He says let’s take a look. By now it’s getting pretty dark, so he grabs the lantern and we head back down the trail. He sees my rod and reel and then the bucket and then the rope. And then he starts laughing and says, “Aw you were just attacked by a rope snake. Good thing you ran off”. Haw, Haw, Haw. For the next few years, the “rope snake” incident was brought up at every family gathering. The rope got shorter and my fear was elevated with each telling. No I did not pee in my pants.

However, I did gain something from that embarrassing moment and the teasing that followed. To this day, I don’t overreact to things that might, or might not, be dangerous. It taught me a lesson about misplaced fear and anxiety. A rope is just a rope. (And, oh by the way, they found that poor woman’s body less than 100 yards from where she went under.)

So what about the couple we left up the tree in South Texas. After the officer coaxes them down out of the tree, they hear the sound they thought was the wild hog. Then they hear it again. The officer says that’s just cars going over a rumble strip on a nearby road. Just a harmless rumble strip. No wild hog. No RAT-LUR. Nothing to fear.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

American Pride



The headline read:

IN U.S. RECORD- LOW 47% EXTREMELY PROUD TO BE AMERICANS.

The article (https://news.gallup.com/poll/236420/record-low-extremely-proud-americans.aspx) goes on to report that 72% of Republicans are “extremely” proud to be Americans while on 42% of Independents and 32% of Democrats responded as being “extremely” proud. The article notes that this is biggest gap between Republicans and Democrats since Gallup began the poll back in 2001. Older white males are more likely to be “extremely proud” of America than women, younger folks, people of color and those with higher education. Raise your hand if this surprises you.

The article includes a link to the details of the survey. Being naturally curious and chronically skeptical of the way survey results are often reported, I decided to check it out. As it turns out the question is as follows:
How proud are you to be an American -- extremely proud, very proud, moderately proud, only a little proud, or not at all proud?

Being an Independent count me as one of those NOT responding as being “EXTREMELY” proud of America. I am definitely VERY proud of America. But, I am a realist and America isn’t perfect. If the question were asked, how would you rank America to all other nations on planet earth, I would definitely say WE’RE NUMBER ONE. There is no greater nation and never has been , in my opinion. But ask me the question, the way it is asked, and I’m going to respond VERY vs EXTREMELY most of the time.

25% reported being VERY proud. Combine with the 47% who are EXTREMELY proud and we have 72% of American’s who are at least very or extremely proud of America. That number peaked at 92% in September 2002, one year after 911. The high marks for EXTREME pride were 2002, 2003, 2004 at 69%, 70% and 69%. After No WMDs and Katrina, the number started dropping. The Trump years have been the lowest at 52%, 51% and now 47%. The number of VERY proud Americans (like me) has been pretty steady since 2006 staying in the 24-26% range, with a bump up to 27-28-29% in 2013, 2015, 2016. (No results were shown for 2014 which I find interesting).

When the first survey was taken in Jan 2001 (pre-911 and in the aftermath of hanging chads and all of that), 87% of respondents were Extremely or Very Proud of America. That we are now down to 72% is indeed cause for concern. If the survey results are truly representative of us, then almost 50 Million Americans are no longer proud of their country. (I don’t count “moderately” proud…that’s just lame).

We are at one of those historical tipping points. Whichever way things go in the 2020s, we are likely to remain a very divided nation for decades. Trump may now be the poster boy for a U.S. divided, but he’s not the real issue. We are divided on fundamental issues: abortion, immigration, climate change, energy, international policies, healthcare, education, religion, taxes, race, gender, sexuality, the size and scope of government, drugs, crime and punishment. Not just a little divided, but in many cases uncompromisingly divided. Our system may be one of checks and balances, but it requires people of good will and some degree of shared values in order to function. On July 4, 2019, I regret to report that very little of either are to be found.


Saturday, June 15, 2019

Stop Limiting My Potential




From BBC news-
"A ban on adverts featuring "harmful gender stereotypes" or those which are likely to cause "serious or widespread offence" has come into force.
The ban covers scenarios such as a man with his feet up while a woman cleans, or a woman failing to park a car.

The UK's advertising watchdog introduced the ban because it found some portrayals could play a part in "limiting people's potential".

“Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential,” says Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority)."


At the risk of being stereotyped as an older, white, conservative male this seems to me to be just one more crazy attempt by progressives to brute force the round peg of equality into the square hole of reality.

People are different, genders are different. Why people are who they are is complicated and we still don’t fully understand it. But the scientific evidence for real differences between the sexes is undeniable. Gender matters. And there is substantial evidence that other factors matter, they matter a lot. Personality type matters. Where you grow up matters? Race matters. Money matters. Health matters. Education matters. Your decisions and the decisions of others matter. The weather matters. IQ matters. Physical appearance matters. Age matters. Like it or not, fair or not…differences matter.

To be clear, I am all for equal opportunity for everyone. But equal outcomes are not possible. Over the past 100 years most of the modern, industrialized world has made tremendous progress toward creating equal opportunity for all. Yet, we still see unequal outcomes among people of different genders, races, places of origin, etc.

Some of this will take time to work through. Ever since we started walking upright, discovered fire and began telling our stories on cave walls, human civilization hasn’t been all that big on equal opportunity. Rulers and subjects have been the norm. The fortunate few selected by the gods to run things. On the timeline of human history we are still new at this equal opportunity idea. We are very much a work in process. And, going forward things will get incrementally better for more people. But not for all and never the same for all. This is a hard pill to swallow for social scientists. So they spend their time and someone else’s grant money doing studies that show where and how society does these awful things to perpetuate inequality.

As I grow older, I resent the assumptions that many people have about aging and ability. I am still in good shape, the mind is sharp and I’m not all that different than I was 20 years ago. But, the reality is that I am different. My hearing isn’t as good as it used to be. I’m not as strong and don’t recover from a hard workout or heavy physical labor the way I used to. I tend to be more forgetful. I have to pee more frequently. I watch Blue Bloods and most of the music I listen to is from the last century. So I fit a lot of older adult stereotypes.

But I don’t want to watch catheter commercials. I don’t need a reverse mortgage. I’m not moving to an “active senior” community. I don’t much like seeing older people portrayed in movies and television as incompetent, sad and helpless.

All of this stereotyping could be limiting my potential. But, it’s not. If anything, it motivates me to keep going as well as I can for as long as I can. While I am not the man I used to be, in many ways that’s a good thing. I’m kinder and gentler and don’t take life as seriously. I have gained the perspective that comes with age. That is a difference and an advantage that I gladly embrace.

My potential is limited by many things. Now, most of all, by time. I don’t need a well-meaning social scientist to ban advertisements that I don’t like or want to watch. But, if they could come up with a Time Machine that actually worked, I’d take a spin.


"It would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.”
― Malcolm Gladwell






Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What Was, What Is and What Will Be


If you want to know how someone is likely to vote ask them how they feel about the Past, the Present and the Future. If they are honest with their answers, you can predict with a fair degree of accuracy how they are likely to vote. There will always be special circumstances that override attitudes toward past, present and future. Race and gender perhaps being the most likely to override all other voter attitudes, opinions and interests.

But for the most part, how people vote depends on how they feel about the Past, the Present and the Future. Those who think the Past was better will pretty much tend toward voting conservatively; including those within a left-leaning party such as the Democrats. Those Democrats who like the “old Democratic Party” will tend toward someone more conservative or as they prefer to call in, centrist. (Joe Biden’s current status is a prime example). But clearly, most of the “past was better” crowd is going to vote Republican, even if it means voting for Trump again.

Those with a positive view about the Present are definitely more inclined to vote for the incumbent. But then it gets interesting. When it comes to those having a negative view of the Present, they tend to fall into two camps. One camp thinks The Present would be better IF it were more like the Past. The other has a Future vision of a new and improved way of life that will be much better than the Present. Those unhappy with the Present and looking for a return to the Past will tend toward conservatism and vote Republican. (This was a key factor in Trump’s win). The other unhappy camp is all about fixing those things that are broken and have been broken for a long-time and are likely to get worse if we don’t change and become more “progressive”.

And then lastly, how one feels about the Future will tend to impact ones vote. In 2008, even people who thought America was or had been a great place for them and their families, were scared and confused. The Future did not look all that great and a lot people went with Hope and Change because they didn’t know what else to do. So even people who pretty much wanted their good old familiar, reliable country back voted for a guy who had a much more progressive agenda which, under normal circumstances, would have made them very uncomfortable.

The problem Republicans are facing in 2020 is that a growing number of voters under the age of 35 have not lived in an America that made them long for the good old days. And a good number of them aren’t doing all that great in the here and now either. These folks will be inclined to vote Democrat (or not at all.) Some might even go for a far-left third party candidate if such an option were available. Most all of the “identity” politics crowd will vote Democrat because the Democrats have done a great job of appealing to that audience. They started doing it in 60’s, eventually forming the Rainbow coalition and other groups of progressive activists. It probably cost them a lot of elections over the past 40 years, but now it’s ready to bear fruit. Older white, males who pretty much loved the America they grew up in, are a dying breed…literally.

Increasingly we are now told that the Past was only great for certain people. The Present works great for The One Percent, but everyone else is worse off and losing ground. The Future looks like melting ice caps and rising sea levels, a bad moon rising. All of this resonates with millions of people in this country. So does the narrative shape the people or do the people shape the narrative? Or is it a bit of both? And “What Will Be” ultimately comes down to one question….who actually shows up and votes.

When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Protect This House and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves


“The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you”- David Foster Wallace

Three years ago, Art Briles was removed from his position as head football coach of the Baylor University Bears. From a lawsuit filed on behalf of 17 women, it is alleged that over a period of five years 19 of Briles’ players committed sexual and/or physical assaults. The victims claim that Briles and his staff knew about most, if not all, of these attacks and did nothing. Took no action to report these complaints to the police or the university authorities and, for the most part, worked to protect the players and the program.

This whole terrible event is now back on the front page because Art Briles just got hired to coach a football team here in Texas. A nice Sunday drive to the southeast of where I live is the hometown of Don Meredith, Mount Vernon. Dandy Don the almost great and much beloved QB of the early days Dallas Cowboys; and the good ol’ boy star of Monday Night Football back when Monday Night Football was a thing. The fine folks of Mount Vernon and Franklin County, Texas are now the talk of the football world. A handful of their fellow citizens decided that Art Briles would be the right man to lead their Mount Vernon Tigers to football glory. They spoke to several of his references, most notably Grant Teaff, Baylor coaching legend and former head of the American Football Coaches Association. Grant Teaff is a devout Christian and a man of impeccable character. If he endorses someone, it’s like gold in the state of Texas. And he gave Briles his golden thumbs up.

Much has been written about the Baylor/Briles mess. Regardless of who knew what, when did they know and what did they do or not do about it; the big question is WHY? Why do people and institutions allow bad things, or even alleged bad things, to go on without being addressed and resolved, one way or the other?

What is behind the bad judgment and poor decision-making that goes on to create outcomes like the Baylor mess, or the Penn State/Paterno/Sandusky thing, or going to war over non-existent WMDs, or Watergate, or the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal…or, or, or….?

The core issue is one of morality. Either their moral compass is broken or they simply rationalize their decision to fit the situation. In most cases, including the ones mentioned above, people made decisions which they thought were “right”. So how does one see “right” in something that is so “wrong”. Or at least wrong when viewed objectively in the clear light that tends to shine after the damage has been done.

When ones first priority is “Protecting This House”, or position, or company, or reputation, or fortune…or anything we place great value upon…we simply lie to ourselves and then to others. We cast doubt on the “wrong” that has been done or will be done. Maybe it’s not that bad or it didn’t happen at all or nothing will happen. Maybe what we are doing is for the greater good and what has happened or will happen to innocent people is just collateral damage. Or maybe they aren’t all that innocent in the first place. Maybe we are doing what we really believe to be the right thing, but we take the easy way out and make up stories that sound better (if they actually turn out to be true…WMDs were there…yes they really were…no matter what the facts are.)

In the end, the truth and doing the right thing may get you nailed to a cross. But the truth and the doing the wrong thing leaves you hanging up there….or seeking redemption too late in a place like Mount Vernon.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Woke or Broke?



In recent years “Woke” has become THE word with progressives. It originated as a way of expressing how people should “wake up” to the social injustice in our society, especially when it comes to issues of race. It’s now being used to describe the appropriate level of awareness one should have about all social justice issues and just about everything else on the progressive agenda including climate change.

But I have some bad news for the Woke and the Un-Woke….”We Broke”. At this moment in history, when millions of people are “Woke” and demanding that we “make things right” and get about it immediately, we are broke. Just consider:

_Our national debt is over $22 Trillion…that’s more than our annual GDP and it doesn’t include all of the unfunded liabilities which are now approaching or may exceed $200 Trillion !!!

_We are still adding to our debt at the rate of over $1 Trillion per year.

_Federal government spending represents over 20% of our GDP, state and local spending adds an additional 5 to 7 %.

_Household debt is at a record level, $13.3 trillion.

_Our national savings rate is only around 3% of income.

So we have a math problem when the “Woke” demand that we spend:

_$8-10 Trillion per year over the next ten years for a Green New Deal
_$3-4 Trillion per year for universal healthcare
_$5-10 Trillion for slavery reparations
_$1.5 Trillion to pay off student loans
_$75 Billion per year for free college

And, oh by the way, this is before we even talk about something most all of us can agree on which is fixing our infrastructure. Depending on how “Green” we go and what sort of commitments we were to make toward mass transit systems, upgrading our infrastructure could be the most expensive endeavor of all; perhaps $5-10 trillion per year over the next 20 years. And that doesn't include what we need to spend just to patch and maintain what we already have.

So how do you pay for it? Where do you come up with this much money in a $21 Trillion dollar economy that is already drowning in debt? Raise taxes? How much and on whom? You could double the taxes on those making over $1M per year and not even come close.

We all better wake up and come to terms with the fact that it will take us at least 50 years to dig out of this hole. And, I'm not even suggesting that we get totally out of debt. A national debt at 50-60% of GDP is manageable. And some level of household debt is to be expected. But remember, we have over $200 Trillion in unfunded liabilities that is not even on the books.

So what do we do? First of all, everyone who can work, needs to get to work. We need production. Secondly, we have to increase taxes and reduce spending wherever possible. (We all know there are government agencies and programs that could vanish tomorrow and no one would notice, other than those people who've been getting paid to ride that gravy train.) And yes, we will have to spend money on infrastructure, healthcare and education. We are at a tipping point in this nation. Too much wealth at the top and too many struggling to make ends meet. We have a lot of angry people on the Left and the Right. History tells us that when you get enough people fed up with the status quo, change will occur. The real question is what will that change looks like and who has the guts and grit to lead us out of this mess?





Thursday, May 2, 2019

Disintermediation or Predatory Pricing?


Disintermediation: removal of intermediaries in economics from a supply chain, or cutting out the middlemen in connection with a transaction or a series of transactions.

Amazon recently announced the start up of their digital freight brokerage. They move a lot of freight. They have massive technological capability. So why not get into the truckload brokerage business. Show C.H. Robinson and the rest of them how it’s done. And how serious is Amazon about this venture? They are running blue light specials offering rates 25-30% below average contract rates and even less than the lowest spot market rates.

Transportation Intermediaries meet the Amazon Flywheel and prepare for some “dis-ing” which is just one part of Amazon’s “disintermediation strategy”.

A former Amazon executive summarized the e-commerce giant’s disintermediation strategy:

“The advantages that then come from disintermediation and the monetization of those capabilities are secondary to the immediate need of self-preservation, but then serve to feed very critical needs of Amazon’s ability to continue to succeed. This innovation and growth then manifests as continuously evolving towards the ability to sell everything and anything that is or can be sold. That’s the true Amazon flywheel: disintermediate to survive; monetize to fund innovation; innovate to grow; disintermediate to survive…”

Say what?

I’m just a simple country boy, but I think the Amazon flywheel is spinning some major bullshit. At some point, “disintermediation” crosses a line and becomes predatory pricing which is illegal, although the Federal Trade Commission can’t seem to figure out when or how to enforce the law against it.

I get the concept when it comes to e-commerce retail. Eliminate brick and motar, take out a couple of links in the supply chain, buy in bulk and sell direct to the consumer. Reduce cost, make it convenient and boom. It’s still not very profitable, but I get it. And I use the heck out of it. There are probably other industries that could use a little disintermediation, such as insurance. Maybe even headhunting….gulp.

But I don’t understand how actually becoming an intermediary and a “marginal-less”, (a.k.a. non-profit) one at that, creates long-term value if the strategy is to ultimately “monetize” (a.k.a. increase prices) once you’ve captured a large enough share of the market. Amazon’s entry into truckload freight brokerage does not appear to have much to do with “disintermediation” and a whole lot to do with predatory pricing by a giant company that can afford to lose billions of dollars in order to effectively gain control of the nation’s truckload network to the extent that they can influence pricing and capacity availability to their advantage. How is that not predatory?

Pricing below your own costs is also not a violation of the law unless it is part of a strategy to eliminate competitors, and when that strategy has a dangerous probability of creating a monopoly for the discounting firm so that it can raise prices far into the future and recoup its losses. – www.ftc.gov

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Tiger Bet


Those of you who have read my blog over years know that I always make predictions each December for the coming year. Starting in December 2011, one of my annual predictions was that Tiger Woods would not win another major. After three straight years of being correct, I got bored with the Tiger Woods slam-dunk prediction. It was just too easy. Tiger Woods would never win another major. So I stopped even mentioning him. Predicting that he even had a chance would have been akin to predicting that Donald Trump would become President. And there you have it… always expect the unexpected.

The 2019 Masters was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever watched. I recorded it and my wife and I watched it in the evening, going to great lengths to avoid knowing the outcome each day. My wife has always predicted that Tiger would win another major and when he was in contention after two days, I still predicted he would fail. So we made a bet. If Tiger won the 2019 Masters, I would take my wife to Spain this year. She upped the ante and convinced me to throw in Italy. Modesty prevents me from saying what I would get if Tiger failed to win the Masters. I certainly felt that that the odds were in my favor and it was a good bet.

I’ve never been a huge Tiger fan. I certainly respected his game, but he just seemed like someone with whom I’d never want to play a round of golf. The fans thought he was bigger than the game. He seemed to agree with them and acted like it. He was just “that guy” and that’s not the guy I tend to root for. Granted, he was the best golfer I ever saw, period EOD. Better even that Jack Nicklaus. But, I tended to always root for the other guy…even if they weren’t from the good old U.S.A. Anyone but Tiger, #ABT.

Tiger was a golfing machine and, for me, that was the real problem. Golf is too hard for anyone to play that well. However, when his personal life went off the rails and his body started breaking down, he became human. And when Tiger Woods became human, I became a fan. For sure, some people turned on Tiger and ripped him for being such an awful person. The injuries and the collapse of his golf game were just part of Karma coming to collect. Good-bye Tiger and good riddance.

Even though I became a fan, I never thought he would win another major. He might win another tournament or two, maybe. But, to win a major against a field of great young golfers from all over the world, guys who could hit the ball higher and farther than Tiger ever could, even in his prime, much less now? No, Tiger would never win another major. Bad knee, bad back, bad thoughts…too much competition...too much to overcome.

But, on Palm Sunday in April in the year 2019, Tiger Woods found some magic, or maybe it was more a case of the magic finding Tiger. If there was a course where Tiger had a chance of winning another major it was Augusta. Jack did it back in ’86 when most thought his major win days were over. But, it’s a course where experience can be the great equalizer. Tiger hung around while younger, better golfers couldn’t keep the ball out the water on Number 12. Where the pressure cracked everyone but the old Tiger who still found enough game to be one shot better than anyone else when it all ended early on a Sunday as the clouds rolled in and the rain began to fall.

Later that evening my wife and I spent some time joking about the correct way to pronounce Barcelona, concluding with me betting her that my way was the best, most correct. She laughed and said it sounded more like the way Daffy Duck would pronounce it.

I replied, “Bet I’m right and furthermore Tiger Woods has won his last major.”

She just smiled and said, “Wanna bet on it?”