Reading Journal Week 20

Why Things Go Wrong or the Peter Principle Revisited by Lawrence J. Peter

I was recently promoted. I guess I should feel that this means my employer has confidence in my ability or that it offers positive feedback on something or other and stuff…but no. It has only amplified my uncertainty and insecurity. I’m clearly out of my depth but I’m in uncharted waters. People leave their comfort zone all the time. Sometimes it goes really badly. The rest of the time they manage to hide how badly it goes.

To help me laugh about this I am reading about The Peter Principle. The concept is simple. If you are good at a job you will soon be promoted away from that job. You will quickly move from something you are good at to something you are not good at…and never will be. That, I think, summarizes the concept well enough and it is something I have always been aware of, Dad read this book when I was very young. So I picked up Why Things Go Wrong for a penny on Amazon and have laughed at myself ever since.

But I’m not just laughing at myself. The book is short. It could be a pamphlet if it weren’t stuffed (padded?) with page after page of historical examples of people promoted into ruin. You say and do silly things when you are in this position.

The ad in the real estate section of a San Fernando Valley newspaper read, “Luxury Homes Everyone Can Afford. For Complete Details, Call Repossession Department.”

Early on he lays out what this means to humanity and how we should handle it. We should have a plan in place to get rid of incompetent employees….or incompetent presidents. He suggests when you have a competent person at the top who recognizes an error, but for whatever reason can’t demote or fire the employee there is an escape clause. Have you ever wondered why there are so many vice presidents in corporations? Demotion by way of promotion. He suggests when we realize our president is incompetent we should promote him away from real responsibility and, instead, let the him host dinners and parties and play golf and pose for pictures. Wait a minute…

So let’s cut to the quick. When should an employee stop accepting promotion? He gets to the point on page 12.

During my preceding twenty-eight years in education I had progressed from student-teacher to classroom teacher, to department head, to counselor, to psychologist, to administrator of mental health services, to university professor. In each position I had felt creative, confident and competent, but at this final level I felt fulfilled. The teaching was rewarding….I thought I had reached my level of optimal effectiveness in my chosen profession, where I was regularly experiencing the joy of accomplishment that comes from working on projects of intense personal interest.

All joking aside, I am taking my new role seriously. I am not afraid of it. I am having some fun and learning. The change in work load has proven more taxing than I ever imagined but we are making adjustments. But when will it go sour? Will I realize my limits before I exceed them? Dunno. This book indicates that we, as humans, never see it coming so I better learn to laugh about it now.

Taxation? Inflation? Tomato?

Speaking of things I can laugh about, let’s laugh about money. I have no control over the dollar. It’s just an abstract way to move energy from place to place and time to time. And time is the real issue with money. We need it now. Now! I could list off 50 things I need to buy right now and could present link after link of opinion on why I should for the sake of the economy…an economy that is dominated by consumption.

But let’s talk briefly about that. Consumers don’t make stuff. They consume stuff. The world is a better place when we all have what we need. But you can’t have something that was never made. Somebody has to make it. Then somebody has to make it cheaper, better and longer lasting. But improvements in technology and manufacturing require investment. You know those 50 things I need to buy right now? How much will you pay me if I loan you the money for those things? You have to pay me to do without…cause I need those things now.

If your offer is high enough, I may be willing to delay gratification. That’s how interest rates are set naturally. You have to perk my interest. Now, that’s all fantasy land talk because interest rates are not based on investor interest, they are set by a committee of our fellow citizens in our free society but …well, I digress. Just understand that the committee thinks we are all better off if we avoid capital investment and, instead, buy a bunch of electronic gadgets so we can watch movies on the go.

In fact, our little committee is not the only committee in the world to feel that way. Australia, apparently, is interested in taxing savings. I don’t know if this is a grab for cash or if it is an effort to incentivize spending and, thus, the velocity of money but it’s not good. But it’s also not the end of the world. There was a link to a Martin Armstrong article this week on ZeroHedge. Some portion of Martin’s material may be a good fit in the the Peter Principle book’s chapter on failed prognostications. But he’s also hysterical so let’s focus on that today.

Oh! My! Gosh! Governments are going to tax us when we earn, tax us when we spend, tax us when we die….and now tax us when we save?!?!?! Dogs and cats living together! Mass Hysteria!

I don’t know where to begin. Maybe this way. Don’t save in Australian dollars. There. I said it. Problem solved. Put that energy into cattle instead. Or buy foreign currency. Or metal. Or Bitcoin. Find a place to park that energy that is not in the bank. I mean, that’s the intent of the legislation. The Australian government is asking people to stop saving in banks. That’s it. No big deal. I guess they want to undercapitalize their banks. Maybe cause a new round of bank failure and lower asset values.

OK. No problem.

But why is direct taxation of savings any different than inflationary monetary policy? At least it is honest. And the guy who has no savings (most of us) doesn’t care if savings are taxed. He also doesn’t see when he loses buying power to inflation…until it’s too late.

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. I’ll try to keep up with the blog a little more regularly but with the adjustment I’m making at work…well, it’s tempting to just come home every night and start drinking. Heavily. I hope to post some updates on changes Julie and I have made on the farm so the workload is more manageable and I’m more free to fall on the couch in the evening.

Thanks for taking time to read this today. I really appreciate it. If you don’t think management competence and interest rates are farming topics you’re in for a shock. I treated both of these topics lightly…and did so on purpose. I’ll have more books about management coming up because that’s where I’m at.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.


Picturing Home

The camera is a limited tool…and when I say “camera” I mean phone. It only captures a moment and it often captures that moment incorrectly…without context. There are no sounds, smells or emotions. Just a little slice of the morning.


But it looks pretty.

What was really happening that morning? What did the camera miss?

It was cold. The weather has been warm but that morning was chilly. The air smelled fresh. There was very little wind. Buffalo Gnats were beginning to hatch and bite. Julie has an oil that works great but those darned gnats are just awful. They are the reason we raise our broilers so early in the season then stop. Our first year the gnats were particularly thick and we lost a number of birds to them. They bit under feathers and choked up airways. Dad and I were standing in the driveway one evening wearing bee gear butchering birds as fast as we could as the gnats found their way through our armor. We don’t want to go through that again. Ever. So we start chicks on Valentine’s day…which has its own drawbacks. But we know the seasons of the bugs, the plants, the frost pockets, the routine on this farm.

So the picture above doesn’t capture the relief I feel knowing my chicken tractors are empty. My brooder is empty. My freezers are emptying. It’s a great feeling but hard to capture on film.

Mom and dad were gone to visit grandpa Jordan so I had extra chores that morning caring for their dogs and horses. The picture doesn’t capture how I feel about that…delighted. Dad lets our dog out if we are gone during the day. Dad checks livestock water even when we are home. Dad closes the chicken house for me sometimes. He has even offered to milk. I’m glad I can help them out…unless they need tech support.

The picture shows knee-high grass. The picture doesn’t show my anxiety about grass. The grass wasn’t growing fast enough for my level of patience. Cows were somewhere out there in one of dozen or so temporary paddocks I set up. Shortly after I took this picture we went through a dry spell so I increased the rotation time from 12-14 days to 20 days. Did I slow down too much? Did the cows start taking too much off of the pasture? The picture doesn’t know.

Julie was gone that day too. She had flown to a conference in Salt Lake City. The picture doesn’t know I was missing her. Because we are early risers, and because she had flown west, she was the first one awake at the resort. She and I chatted while she drank coffee and she commented that the sounds were all alien there. And the birds were radically different. For example, we don’t have magpies here. Somehow you don’t think of the specific species and sounds that surround you when you think of home. Here the spring peepers (Pseudacris Crucifer) make a loud chirp in the distance and cricket frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) trill away night and day. The birds make familiar noises. While Julie was surprised to see a porcupine in Utah, I’m not surprised at all when I scare up a rabbit or quail in the tall grass or see a skunk in the early morning. Those are familiar animals. The picture doesn’t capture the feeling of familiarity with the environment.

In my mind the picture above looks like home…but not just by sight. Oh, there are familiar things in the picture. Grandpa harvested walnut trees when he and grandma were married. There is still walnut lumber tucked away here and there. Further, grandpa had a bulldozer. Most of our walnut trees grew after that. I enjoy the burr oak behind the cemetery and the cemetery itself. The adults couldn’t hide Easter eggs in the yard because we could always just peek out of a window to see what was going on so they hid the eggs in the cemetery. Weird, I know, but that’s part of my childhood. And I see these things when I look at that picture…even though they aren’t visible. Heck, just down the hill from the burr oak (that large, spreading tree just behind the plastic fence) is a small grove of walnut with no lower limbs below 12 feet. Grandpa’s herd was in that pasture when I was 8 or 10. I didn’t know they were there but I was well trained to fear the bull, Leroy. I was walking down to play in the stream when I realized my mistake…I was surrounded by cows and too far from the house for anyone to hear me. I tried hiding behind a tree. The cows walked around to the other side of the tree and looked at me some more. Eventually the cows realized I didn’t have any food and decided to seek their entertainment elsewhere. I felt stupid, went back to the house, washed up and ate some frozen fruit salad during the October cemetery committee meeting/family reunion. Do you see that in the picture? Do you see the sledding I have done with my children on that hill? Cover the hill with snow. We gather just at the crest near the fence, pile onto a sled all together and try to avoid thorny saplings as we disappear out of sight. The camera has no idea what I am talking about.

The picture only knows about the sun rising over the trees in the distance, plastic fence around a cemetery, green grass, poultry netting and a chicken house built by three generations of Jordans on a hot day last summer. But so much more was happening that the camera missed. So much more happening every morning. And I just don’t have time to stop and write it all down.

So the camera does what it can to help me.

Three Minus One

Two calves were born Friday morning. I kind of think the bull calf ran out…and just kept running. What an energetic little guy.


The heifer calf from our dairy cow was a little slow getting up but she’s a happy, spirited little one too. And now we get to milk a cow again. Please note the enthusiasm in my writing voice.


Another calf came on Sunday evening. This story ends differently.

Some of my blog posts are more real than others. Not more honest, just more…just…sometimes…sometimes farming is really hard and I try to address it. This is one of the hard posts.

I don’t like to dwell on the bad stuff…though I do hear it going on in a loop in my head. “Was it my fault?” “Could I have done more?”

I don’t know.

But I do remember my grandfather. So let’s go there instead.

I have strong memories of the farm when I was much younger. Grandpa had the herd in the feedlot across the road by the red barn. I guess it was spring and Sis and I were visiting for a weekend. Grandpa took me out to do chores then, later, to meet with a man about some equipment. One of the cows in the lot was pregnant and grandpa said she should calve soon. Grandpa needed to run and take care of a little business and it looked like the cow would wait. When we got back I was excited to see a calf peeking out of the back end of the cow! Grandpa was alarmed.

That cow couldn’t have that calf without help. Grandpa saw it, dropped me off at the house to get some milk and cookies then went to help the cow. I don’t think he even changed clothes. I assume they pulled the calf.

The calf didn’t make it. The next morning I saw it laying on the tailgate of grandpa’s truck. I remember its tongue was sticking out and its eyes were open.

I cried.

That one event has made a lasting impression on me. For example, I actively seek out bulls that throw calves with a low birth weight and cows that calve easily. But I have so many questions for my grandpa. Just questions about this one event! But I didn’t know or think to ask 30 years ago.

So I just have to put things together from what I know about Grandpa. I obviously admired the man. I found my grandpa to be loving and caring, though some found him to be harsh and hard. I don’t remember sitting on grandpa’s lap reading stories. I don’t remember him ever taking me fishing. That wasn’t his thing. But he took me with him to do chores…even if I had to wear bread sacks over my shoes and he took me to cattle auctions.

I can picture my grandpa smiling and laughing – maybe more of a chuckle than a loud laugh – but I don’t remember him ever telling a joke. I saw him kiss my grandma once. He was an intelligent man and a hard worker. He was honest. And he would let me prattle on and on about whatever stupid things children think to say. He was big and strong and steady and he didn’t need to talk much. When he spoke to me it often started with, “Now listen…”.

The only thing he said about the calf was, “Now listen, sometimes this happens.” Then we went out to do chores.

I lost a calf this morning. And it hurts. It hurts a lot.

It must have hurt grandpa that day.

But I guess sometimes this happens. I still have to do my chores.

Grandpa didn’t cry.

I can’t imagine my grandpa wondering to himself, “Am I a failure?” I can imagine grandpa evaluating the livestock involved, making appropriate management decisions that needed to be made and moving forward.

Sunday afternoon a calf was born. My nephew spent the night and was there to see the calf shortly after it was born. Then he went back to my house for a snack. The little heifer never stood up. At first I thought she just needed more time so I stepped away to give mom some alone time with her calf. I came back to check her and things were only worse. I massaged her spine, I tried to stand her up, I rubbed her legs, Dad and Steve and I fed her with a tube. No response. A little grunt, a little manure, no strength in her legs. She died early the next morning.

I came back to the house at 10pm, my arms and clothes covered in dried blood, manure and amniotic fluid. My nephew had gotten out of bed to go potty and saw me come in. He asked, “Whatch doin?”

How do I explain?

What do I say?

My nephew will not see a little dead calf laying on the tailgate of the truck in the morning. Maybe he will never know what happened. He didn’t see me cry. What did he see? What does he see when he looks at me? Do I read him stories or take him fishing? Or am I just busy?

My grandpa was a strong, loving, caring man. A better man than me by any measure. He would be working now, not typing. And he certainly wouldn’t be crying. He would not be questioning his decision to farm. He would not be wondering if he would ever do anything right.

He would make notes about the bull and the cow. He would dispose of the calf. Then he would get back to work.

I need to ditch the drama and get back to work…with this one, small tweak. My nephew needs to KNOW that I treasure him more than any cow. My children need to know that. My wife needs to know that. Grandpa worked hard and Grandpa loved us. And I knew it.

Grandpa still has a lot to teach me.