The Unsexy Truth Reading Journal Week 28

This morning I read Playing BIG: The Unsexy Truth About How to Succeed in Business by Kim Flynn. Julie attended an online seminar recently but, due to technical issues, the seminar couldn’t happen. The speaker, instead, sent everybody a free copy of her book. The book and the author’s primary focus are on women in business but truth is truth…even if I don’t understand the author’s near-constant references to shoes and haircuts named Bob.

I often start with a tangent then roll it back to the farm. Today, my friends, is no exception.

As I was sitting to write this post I accidentally clicked on Notepad++ icon in my toolbar instead of the Google Chrome icon. I spend an awful lot of time in Notepad++ professionally. Clicking on that icon just seems natural. But before I used Notepad++ I just used Notepad. But before I used Notepad I just ran stuff from command line. The first command line I remember using was on our Commodore SX-64 which Wikipedia tells me was released in 1984.

1984

2015

31 years.

I still practice. I still learn. I still read. I still research. Every day. I work each day to get a little bit better. I work to make myself a little bit more valuable. I work to gain skill and spread knowledge among my peers and employees.

31 years of continuous work and I still have a lot to learn.

That, my friends, is the unsexy truth. Kim Flynn says it clearly on page 21:

So here is the unsexy truth: You can’t shortcut growth.

And again on page 76:

The hard part, and the part that most people aren’t willing to do, is the every day. Doing small, seemingly insignificant things every day, one at a time, over and over again, now that is hard. You win the race by doing these unsexy, sometimes boring tasks, day after day after day.

How do you get a job like mine? You spend 30 years learning to type, writing scripts to delete files, writing scripts to retrieve data more quickly, writing scripts to notify system administrators of processing failure…the same solutions over and over and over day after day after day.

It’s time to roll this back to the farm.

Once upon a time I shared a big vision. What if we could graze all of Illinois? That’s not really our vision, that’s just an exercise we went through. What COULD be? What would it look like? I also read about Bob Kleberg of the King Ranch. He brought home the reality of that vision…apparently owning a big cattle operation includes a lot of flying around the world, making deals and drinking large quantities of alcohol.

But let’s step that back a bit. 5000 cows. That’s a more realistic vision.

How do I get to 5000 cows?

I start here.

I start with 20 cows. And I have to cull some of those.

Every day I walk to the cows. I greet my cows. I look at my cows. I look at the pasture behind my cows. I look at the pasture ahead of my cows. Every day. In the rain. In the heat. In the snow. Whatever. It’s kind of a grind.

But that’s what this book says business is all about. It’s not a series of efforts to begin something new. It’s a series of efforts to build momentum over time toward a single goal.

Now, let’s be clear. The book has some good advice. The author isn’t wasting the reader’s time with pure advertisement but the book is an advertisement. The author makes her money through coaching and seminars, not by authoring books. However, there is value in these pages. She lays out steps I can act on here at home, at work and on the farm to become better. In an early chapter she has you score yourself on leadership, marketing, customer service and finance. In the words of Wile E. Coyote, “Yipe!”

We have been here for 5 or 6 years, Julie and I. 5 or 6 years. We are still at the beginning. In part because we have so much to learn. In part because we haven’t been serious students.

This book was a light, quick read and served as a reminder that I have more “dream” than “do” in me right now. Big hat, no cattle.

But while the book was a light read, it is also worthy of further consideration. The author did an excellent job of pointing out my weaknesses. Now I have to address them. Little by little. Day by day. Year by year. I’m going to start with standardization and automation. I hate writing SOPs but I need some way to ensure that I am not a single point of failure either at work or on the farm. So we’ll begin by breaking things down. Here’s what you do on Monday. Here’s what to do if it goes wrong. Here’s how to know if it went well.

I am probably choosing this exercise because I don’t want to learn QuickBooks as the author suggests. That sounds like a lot of work.

I’m sure I’ll revisit this book in the future. But the author has given me a lot of work to do between now and then.

Sunsets and Reading Journals

My lovely bride and I were taking a leisurely stroll through the pasture Tuesday evening at sunset. Well, that’s not quite true. We were closing up chickens at sunset, collecting eggs, separating the dairy calf and preparing to move one of the layer houses. But whatever we were doing, we saw something beautiful. Something my phone couldn’t quite capture.

So as I show you the first picture, look past the ground trampled by the cattle during the heavy rains we had last week that has since been trampled by chickens. It’s a mess. But it’s a good mess. Instead, look at the trees in the background as the sunset imitates fall colors.

BurningTrees

A little later Julie and I were checking on the beef cattle and she stopped to take a picture. She was trying to capture the silhouette of the silo in the sunset. I tried too.

Sunset23

The pictures don’t capture the beauty of the moment though.

And they certainly don’t tell the whole story.

Julie was excitedly telling me what she had read in Emerson’s Essays and English Traits earlier that day. There is too much I want to comment on in her reading so I am going to pare it down to the minimum and circle back around to sunset chores with my bride. You with me? Emerson essays, a pretty girl and a beautiful sunset all wrapped up with a neat bow. I think I can do this.

I find Emerson impossible to read. I sometimes get as far as a full sentence without having to stop and reflect. College reading assignments required tight timelines. We just had to read and regurgitate, rinse and repeat. I didn’t do well. I don’t want to read and regurgitate. I want to read and reflect. I got a degree in biology instead of a degree in English.

But the college thing is in my past. I still don’t have the time but I LOVE to read. Love it.

And I enjoy reading Emerson…when I have the time to reflect on it.

There is a little time for reflection while Julie and I finish up our evening chores. Sometimes just as we walk together. Maybe as we wait for a water tank to fill. She read the following and wanted to discuss it:

But quite apart from the emphasis which the times give to the doctrine that the manual labor of society ought to be shared among all the members, there are reasons proper to every individual why he should not be deprived of it. The use of manual labor is one which never grows obsolete, and which is inapplicable to no person. A man should have a farm or a mechanical craft for his culture. We must have a basis for our higher accomplishments, our delicate entertainments of poetry and philosophy, in the work of our hands. We must have an antagonism in the tough world for all the variety of our spiritual faculties or they will not be born.

Julie and I are working together. And the work is hard. The previous evening I waded into the pond to convince the cattle they should stop imitating hippopotami and return to solid ground. After wading bare foot through surprisingly warm and mushy piles on the bottom of the muddy pond (yeah…) and swarms of insects, I returned the electric fence to it’s full, upright position and powered it up then washed the mud and manure off of my feet. This counts, in my mind, as antagonism in the tough world. It builds character. And strength. And callous.

Our eldest was with us when I repaired the fence. Maybe I didn’t have the most pleasant expression on my face. Maybe I wasn’t the cheerful worker I would like to be. I am afraid he thought this was somehow his fault. And in some ways it maybe was but I certainly wasn’t mad at him. I really wasn’t mad at all. I just wanted to finish up and get home. The electric fence had been off. Had the electric fence been on it would not have helped as that leg of the fence was disconnected. These are things Julie and the boy had worked on only an hour prior to the hippogate incident.

But what about the boy? What is his involvement? How are we investing in his character? Is the farm his? Mine? I don’t feel obligated to run the Tom Chism museum. Will he feel obligated to run the Chris Jordan museum or will the farm be truly his? These are the questions I was asking myself as Julie continued to share her reading with me as the sun set on a Tuesday evening in June.

Consider further the difference between the first and second owner of property. Every species of property is preyed on by its own enemies, as iron by rust; timber by rot; cloth by moths; provisions by mould, putridity, or vermin; money by thieves; an orchard by insects; a planted field by weeds and the inroad of cattle; a stock of cattle by hunger; a road by rain and frost; a bridge by freshets. And whoever takes any of these things into his possession, takes the charge of defending them from this troop of enemies, or of keeping them in repair. A man who supplies his own want, who builds a raft or a boat to go a-fishing, finds it easy to calk it, or put in a thole-pin, or mend the rudder. What he gets only as fast as he wants for his own ends, does not embarrass him, or take away his sleep with looking after. But when he comes to give all the goods he has year after year collected, in one estate to his son,—house, orchard, ploughed land, cattle, bridges, hardware, woodenware, carpets, cloths, provisions, books, money,—and cannot give him the skill and experience which made or collected these, and the method and place they have in his own life, the son finds his hands full,—not to use these things, but to look after them and defend them from their natural enemies. To him they are not means, but masters.

I don’t want the farm to master my children. I don’t want to enslave my children to my dreams.

But I do want to share my dreams with my children. Maybe inspire them to have similar dreams. Maybe they will look past my own limited view and carry us further than I imagined possible. With or without cattle.

Julie and I bought a farm because Julie and I wanted a farm. Then we turned the kids loose. We played in streams. We caught frogs and crayfish. We played with kittens born in the barn or jumped from bale to bale in the loft. We went swimming. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. That’s a typical Sunday on the farm. Cows? Pigs? Eggs? Those are a means to an end. The means to an end Emerson spoke of above. The basis for our higher accomplishments. How much brain power is required to shovel horse manure? None at all. But that doesn’t mean we switch off. We think. We talk. We wonder how we can inspire the children and give them a real sense of pride, ownership, vision and place. We explore our perception of the world together.

And we talk about how our reading impacts our thoughts today. My beautiful wife and I. Holding hands and watching the sun set over the barn roof.

I don’t want to enslave my children to my chore list. I want them to have what Julie and I have. Their own dreams. Their own work. Their own thoughts.

Further, I want them to be confident in their own thoughts. Confident in their own genius. Confident in their purpose.

Emerson covers genius in the next chapter and I leave it to you, reader, to discover it for yourself.

Reading Journal Week 24

This about sums it up for me:

Oh, Despair! Woe is me!

There is no end of weeds in my garden! I noticed them as I was picking the umpteenth gallon of strawberries. I’m so sick living with all this abundance! Poor me!

That’s not a bad impression the “me” I hear inside my head. What a whiner.

You know what man? Every day is the same. I go to a great job working with highly intelligent, highly skilled people I genuinely care about working on products that QUITE LITERALLY SAVE PEOPLE’S LIVES! Then I come home to a loving wife and healthy, happy children to find that my dad and my oldest son have already put up the hay. All I have to do is move the cows and close up the chickens. Maybe play some video games after I pull a few weeds while drinking something cold. Then I kiss my beautiful wife and drift off to sleep in, as our FitBit reports, under three minutes.

Woe is me indeed.

I love the movie Groundhog Day. I went through a spell of watching it every day. In the movie, every day was the same. The same. Same kid falling out of a tree. Same groundhog. Same prediction. Same episodes of television game shows. Nothing ever changed.

Until he did.

The main character changed. Punxsutawney didn’t change. Just Phil.

I’ll come back to Groundhog Day in a minute.

This week I am reading The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins. I am reading it. Present tense. I read a page, exclaim, “WOW!” then go read that page to Julie. Then I sit and think for a little while. I’m not going to share quotes. I just want to make a record that I’m reading this now. The book makes a study of management transitions and how to set your team up for success.

I’m in my first 90 days of a new assignment. While I seem to be fine with sharing my farming and fathering insecurities, I have real reservations about sharing my professional insecurities. But I have them. One thing I will say is that I currently have a level of anxiety I have never faced before. Not even once. I am afraid. I’m not afraid I will get fired, though. That’s something of a concern but it doesn’t keep me awake. My co-workers and customers are patient with me. They seem to understand that I have accepted a difficult assignment. I think I’m just afraid that I will let my team down…somehow.

So that’s enough about work. The Chris that goes to work is not the Chris that writes this blog. Different guy with different interests. But sometimes it is so completely taxing to pretend to be him all day that I have nothing left to give at home. And to get back to the Groundhog Day analogy, we’re talking every day. Every day.

Monday dad cut hay. The New Chris (the one with anxiety issues) sat and worried and watched the weather forecast and hoped the rain would go around us. It did. All week long. It poured rain just across the river. Not a drop here. Friday the sun was shining and dad was baling. The boy was out helping him. They had two wagons loaded when I got home from work…just as we were surrounded by showers.

We live on the plains. You can see rain coming in from a long way out. I went to get a fourth hay wagon and looked to the west. Sigh.

Rain

The good news is we had the hay baled. The bad news? All four wagons and the baler were getting a shower. Dad and I hustled to get things pushed under roof as fast as possible but something was boiling up in me. Something, in fact, boiled out.

The last hay wagon needed to go in the barn and, wouldn’t you know it, the sidewall of the tire blew out. Hilarious. Standing in the rain. Can’t push a loaded wagon with a flat tire. Just happens to be the best hay from the field too.

Dad was trying to back the wagon in with the tractor but that tire is a drag. I ask the oldest boy to make sure we didn’t hit a pole. I guess he started daydreaming about whatever it is 14 year old boys daydream about and I snapped.

I rarely lose my cool like that. But when I do it tends to be with people I care about the most.

The hay wasn’t that wet. The day wasn’t a bad day. Flat tires happen. But on top of a week’s worth of tension from my job it was all too much for me.

When I snapped it made it all about him. Listing his failures, his constant, endless, limitless shortcomings. That really doesn’t make the situation better for anybody.

I caught myself mid-explosion and just stood in the rain watching my enormous 6’2″ child shrink before me.

My father never did this to me.

Not even once.

Even at this moment, he stood back and let me work it out for myself.

I wish it was Groundhog Day. I wish I could do that over. I can never un-say words I said to my son.

Somehow I manage to avoid these situations in my professional life. Somehow I keep my cool under pressure. I had a situation recently where a server went offline on a Monday morning. I had never heard of this server before and had no idea how to fix it. Worse, I slept through the notification call. When I realized the situation I only had one course of action. I had to get that server online ASAP. That’s it. I couldn’t fix it remotely so I drove on in to work hoping and praying that the solution would be clear. The whole drive I cried out for help from the Lord. “Great is the Lord and Greatly to be praised!” “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” I stood on God’s strength because, while I know I promised not to share my professional insecurities with you, I am not really a computer genius. I’m just persistent.

Within 5 minutes of getting to work I had the server back online. Whew!

But the enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy. That was the beginning of the worst week of my entire career. Everything went wrong.

But I never lost my cool. Even when under personal attack.

So why did I lose it with my son?

I hope we never have a flat tire on a loaded hay wagon in the rain again. But, really, every day here is the same. The chickens need us every day. The cow needs milked every day. The garden sprouts new weeds every day. There are always dishes to wash. There is always laundry to put away. It seems they are always the same dishes and the same laundry. It’s Groundhog Day.

Every day is the same. And nothing I can do matters.

That’s not true.

There are things I can do. Things that matter. Things that lessen the burden on those around me rather than multiply them. My son has 14 year old insecurities. He doesn’t need me to list his faults. He, like me, is acutely aware of his own limitations.

Every day he needs me to show him how much I love and appreciate and cherish him. How grateful I am that he is my son. How proud I am of the man he is becoming.

In Groundhog Day, the day finally changed when Phil changed.

Goofy movie. Sure. But I think I can change our day for the better.

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.

 

Reading Journal 2015 Week 17

Spring has sped up our lives. Reading has necessarily slowed down.

Julie was out of town this week at a (Vendor name has been censored by the FDA) conventionmeetinggathering…thing….leaving me with the farm, my job, the kids, no food and even less time to read.

But I did do a little reading. Dad sent me a text on Thursday suggesting I read the new FOFOA. Now, before I give you a link let’s be clear. I’m not a gold bug. I’m also not a dollar bug. I might be a cow bug. I’m certainly a family bug. I mean, my kids are a pretty good basket to put all my eggs in. But I find FOFOA fascinating. His solution to all the world’s problems is gold. And maybe it is. But the thoughts he puts into each post is very interesting. He had a series over the last few years about learning to think like truly wealthy people. If you earned 100 million dollars every day…well, what would you do? It’s a difficult question for the house of Saud to deal with.

Anyway, fun stuff.

The post dad had me read this week was titled “Death and Taxes“. Now, I’m not interested in using my farm blog as a political platform and I’m fairly certain FOFOA feels the same. But there are important considerations. Let me give you an example that relates to FOFOA’s post.

The last time the 80 to the north sold grandpa bought it from his uncle for $10k. That was somewhere around 1950. 65 years later the same land sold for considerably more money. What happened to send land prices from $125 to current levels? What does it mean that the average land price in Illinois is listed at $7,520?

Is the land 60x more productive than it was in 1950? Can it raise 60x more cattle? No. It grows nearly 4x the corn though…at 4x the price. So that helps. But are we 60x more wealthy than my grandfather was in 1950?

ChismFamily

I’m going to say no.

Oh, there are lots of things around that improve our lives. I appreciate modern medicine and, obviously, the internet. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Are farmers wealthy or do they just have a lot of money? Or do they have any money at all? Is it all tied up in land at absurd valuations?

I don’t know.

But I do know the average productivity gains have not kept pace with average land valuations. So what gives? Is it simply that the dollar buys less land than it used to? Obviously. But what does that mean? Did land go up or did dollars go down? Or both?

I believe even FOFOA would concede that gold offers no real frame of reference because paper gold trading has thrown that market out of whack just as artifically low interest rates have thrown real estate investment out of whack. So what is real?

Are cattle prices real? Dunno. Let’s look at Aunt Marian’s tax records from 1950 shall we?

1950Ledger

They bought a cow in 1948 for $190. They sold it in 1950 for $200. I have to assume there was a calf or two along the way but let’s ignore that. I don’t know what kind of cow it was. Let’s imagine it’s a Hereford that weighs in around 1,100 pounds (cause they were smaller then). It would be nice to buy a cow for $0.18. Today (April 2015) that would be more along the lines of $1.51.

What gives? Well, lots of things. Drought out west has driven the brood cow numbers down. And dollars really don’t buy what they used to. That’s the intended consequence of inflationary monetary policy. I’m not saying it’s good or bad here, I’m saying we need to understand how the game is played so we can try to win.

Are cattle overpriced? Dunno.

Are dollars underpriced? Dunno.

Are $4 eggs cheap or expensive or priced just right?

That I do know the answer to. $4 eggs are cheap. Nobody bats an eye at that price. Nobody. A man once told me he raises his price enough each year to lose 20-30% of his customers. Wow! WOW! But that’s a price the market will dictate…even if he creates his own market.

But what is the market on land? What is the market on cattle? What is the market on dollars? Are these markets functioning correctly? Dunno.

What does any of this have to do with the FOFOA post?

Everything.

What do these prices mean? Am I rich because I have thorny trees in my pastures and holes in my perimeter fence? No. But I have land and, somewhat accidentally, suffer a higher net worth for reasons I don’t sufficiently understand. Right place at the right time maybe? Look in from the outside you might envy the value of our farmland today. But 50 years from now when the kids are picking  just the right spot on the next hill over to park a rock with my name on it what will land be worth? Will the envious be satisfied? Will land prices bottom out just as I pass showing a loss on the estate over time?

Dunno.

But I do know that between now and then I have an obligation. I have to build real, lasting wealth. I have to cut thorny, unwanted trees. I have to plant productive trees. I have to build ponds. I have to spread manure. I have to take what I have and make it better for my children. Because this is theirs. I have to nurture my relationships with my children. I have to grow emotionally, spiritually and …and… (what’s the word for making yourself more smarter?). That’s wealth that can’t be taxed away. And all of that…all of it…counts as what FOFOA was describing. It’s savings. I’m saving fertility for the future. I’m putting off gratification today in favor of a better future, never putting my faith in the paper value of my assets. Instead, we value and leverage for just what it is. A child. An apple tree. A cool evening walking through the pasture.

I plant seeds. I pray. I work to protect my harvest from bugs and decay. Some loss is inevitable but I do my best. That’s what farming is.

Julie read this post and had a few suggestions and thoughts. First of all, she pointed out that we have to pay $300 in property tax (same as rent) every month for the privilege of owning the land. Does the farm generate a return on that? Nope. I have a job in town. So why do people buy farms?

Well, I’m sure there are some farmers who actually own the land they farm but not the current majority…imo. Most “farmers” are renters. They rent land that is owned by someone else…someone who earned buying power elsewhere and needed to park that in a vehicle that is relatively illiquid and relatively safe. Farmland.

So with that in mind do current farm prices reflect current farm productivity and profits or do they reflect expected future valuations based on the hope of gains and the indication that dollar purchasing power will continue to decline?

I don’t know. I know that I am paying a high price to live a certain lifestyle. To give my children opportunities that statistically zero other children get. All while working the same ground my family has worked for nearly 200 years. And I know the tax man cometh.

Am I making sound business decisions?

Probably not. But we are eating well.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 15

Res Rusticae.

I read the first book in this series this week. What a treasure. Before I dive in and begin quoting, I want to pause. I wish I could read Latin and Greek. This translation was enjoyable but I have to wonder what I’m missing. Let me give you an example. “Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road? He didn’t have the guts.” Now let’s imagine the punchline in translation. “Because he lacked the intestinal fortitude.” The joke falls flat.

I can’t imagine hearing Shakespeare in its original Klingon. Much ado about Nothing….or Noting. Play on words. Does that work in translation? Dunno. Am I missing anything by reading ancient books in translation? Dunno.

Drives me bananas.

With that out of the way, let’s start in the middle.

In the first place, agriculture is not only an art but an art which is as useful as it is important. It is furthermore a science, which teaches how every kind of land should be planted and cultivated, and how to know what kind of land will produce the largest crops for the longest time.

It’s fun to read the agricultural works of empires past. The Romans, just as the British, recognized the need for order but also made allowances for variation based on climate and conditions. Fences vary between regions in Italy. Look at the regional differences between hedge laying across England. Heck, Henderson drew a line from Somerset to York saying if you lived north and west of that line, raise livestock. If you live South and East, raise crops. Henderson’s words were probably not so cut and dry but that’s basically what he said. Even within that oversimplification of Henderson’s words there was some gray area but it’s a guideline for assistance in determining where you should buy land for the type of crops you want to grow.

Books bring the past to the present. Books are created by people with wealth and resources and sometimes even by people with knowledge. A key to enlightenment, I think, is being able to say, “I don’t know.” It appears that the current culture is afraid of variation. Afraid of regional differences and leaving out artistry and judgement. “Just put your cows out on grass and move them around each day” is terrible advice. “Add chickens to boost fertility. Dig swales, plant trees on contour.” But that’s how we do everything. Democrats and Republicans. Cardinals and Cubs. No middle ground. Nobody saying, “You know, tetanus vaccines make a lot of sense but maybe there’s room to question the efficacy of flu vaccines.” Nope. Now I’m anti-vax. Similarly, “Never, never, never use chemical herbicides. Those are 100% pure evil.”

Maybe they are evil. Maybe you could change the world putting pigs on pasture in November. You might change the world. You might. Maybe for the worse. Res Rusticae is written as a transcription of a group discussion of agriculture and a survey of prior literature on the topic. There are allowances made for regional differences. The writers are willing to say, “This may not work here.” And that’s OK. The writers were willing to discuss and think. I also think they were willing to be wrong and to cut their losses when they made a mistake.

The farm which is healthiest is the most valuable, for there the profit is certain. On the other hand, on an unhealthy farm, however fertile it may be, misfortune dogs the steps of the farmer. For where the struggle is against Death, there not only is the profit uncertain, but one’s very existence is constantly at risk: and so agriculture becomes a gamble in which the farmer hazards both his life and his fortune.

They go on later to write that if your land is unhealthy you should sell it and get out. If you can’t sell it, give it away.

I made an emotional decision when I bought my land. I was not rational. I made a mistake. That’s hard for me to admit. I’m too far from my customer base. My land is marginal at best. My slopes primarily face north and are far too steep to be useful. The second story windows on our house leak when it rains, the septic tank smells and it’s impossible to heat the house. I have too many buildings, all in disrepair and, as the book points out, those repairs come out of the profits. But it’s my family land. I just wanted it. That’s bad business. And, let me tell you, it affects morale.

A better business decision may have been to just stay in town and replace my burning bush with blueberries. Plant productive plants in place of ornamentals. Sell surplus produce from my yard. That would have been so much easier! And with faster internet!

“Is not Italy so covered with fruit trees that it seems one vast orchard?”

If only Illinois were so planted! But I wasn’t happy with a quarter of an acre. I wanted 60 acres. I can’t plant 60 acres. I spend my days working to pay for 60 acres. There just isn’t time to manage it too. Let’s listen to our author on this topic:

The Italian farmer looks chiefly for two things in consideration of a farm, whether it will yield a harvest proportioned to the capital and labour he must invest, and whether the location is healthy. Whoever neglects either of these considerations and despite them proposes to carry on a farm, is a fool and should be taken in charge by a committee of his relatives. For no sane man is willing to spend on an agricultural operation time and money which he knows he cannot recoup, nor even if he sees a likely profit, if it must be at the risk of losing all by an evil climate.

How’s that sitting? Illinois climate is good. But the business climate is questionable. I have a variable interest rate. Things could go south quickly. Is my family more healthy running over the hills, swimming in the ponds, working side by side? Absolutely. But are we stressed by the pressures and the distance from work and church and customers? Absolutely.

I should be taken in charge by a committee of my relatives.

They tried.

Again, I made an emotional decision. We ***WANTED*** a farm. Wanted. Didn’t need. When we lived in town I was able to save nearly half of every paycheck. I had free time galore. We could read, walk, visit, participate in activities around town. Now? Not at all. The money is all gone. The time is all gone. We are skinny and strong and tired…and maybe that’s good but, well, we’re tired.

The purposes of agriculture are profit and pleasure.

I think it’s safe to say we are having fun out here. I sound a little down in the paragraphs above. But doing my taxes this spring was a slap in the face…as it is every year. Some friends from church came over yesterday to help us butcher 100 broilers. That was a fun day. Really. I’m tired and sore but everybody had a chance to do every step along the way. We had some laughs. We had time to chat and visit. We got the work done and sent our friends home with a load of chickens for themselves. We profited by our association with them. I hope they profited by their association with us. I hope everybody came out ahead. But financially? If I had to butcher and market chickens every day? I don’t think so. Not at $3/pound.

And maybe that’s a good summary of my frustrations. Low interest rates have driven up asset values. Market intervention has driven down food prices. I have to pay too much for land and charge too little for produce. I’m goosed at both ends by a system I can’t control. And I live an hour from my primary customer base.

The current financial market has to be weighed along with other factors when choosing the right land for your profit and pleasure and health. Emotions are poor counselors.

Do you really want a farm? Or do you want productive land where you can be happy? Maybe the latter option is in your own back yard. Maybe you need to move to a healthier environment. But don’t let your emotions carry you away. Farmers in the ’80’s were driven by fear to buy more and more land at seemingly any price because, “They aren’t making any more of it”. What is driving you?

Update:

Julie and I were discussing and I’m worried that I sound regretful in this post. I am not regretful. I’m happy to have the farm. Given the choice, I would almost certainly do it again. Our farm income situation is largely a result of our laziness and lack of experience and marketing reach. My goal in this post was to reflect on my motivations and to measure to what extent I have achieved success toward our goals. It’s fun to read Romans talking about what defines a Roman…and to strive to adhere to Roman ideals. What defines a Jordan? Are we emotional or reasoning or prayerful? Are we regretful? Filled with self-doubt? Or are we confident and able to continue striving forward whatever the obstacle? Well, maybe I’m not the man I would like to be. Maybe I have doubts. Maybe that’s OK.

Reading Journal 2015 Week Whatever

OK. I finished Adventure Capitalist. In fact, I finished it this morning. I was laying awake in bed, thinking about all of my many failures and decided to read the book instead of continuing to wallow in self-pity.

Really, I am a very blessed person. But MAN! do I screw some stuff up! There are things I forget, things I neglect, things I just don’t get around to. Things I put off. Things I try to pretend don’t exist so they will someday just go away.

I write this blog thing sometimes. I post pictures of cows and green grass and chickens…but is any of it real? You want to know what’s going on behind the scenes? I look at my cows multiple times each day wondering if I’m not making a serious mistake. Am I grazing too early? Are they getting what they need? Then there are other things. How are we going to butcher all of those chickens next weekend? And what on Earth are we going to do with all of the eggs we are getting right now?

This book was particularly difficult because the author continually forces you to consider the efficiency with which you are utilizing your resources. Am I investing in productive assets here on the farm or am I pouring money in a bottomless pit?

And that’s where I transition away from my therapy session to talking about the book. As Jim Rogers travels from country to country he takes time to discuss where each government or dictator is misallocating capital. As he goes through Africa he comments multiple times about the strongly negative effects of foreign aid on countries and cultures. Deliveries of rice and wheat arrive in a small town in Africa. People pour in from the countryside…program looks like a success. Then everybody takes their allotment of food and sells it at the market for cash…at any price. Apparently the food didn’t meet the needs. But it’s easy for us to grow and ship food and to feel good about ourselves for doing so.

What Ethiopia lacks is the incentives to get food to the people who need it. Seeing leaking water towers all over the country, I was reminded that Indian economist Amartya Sen had won a Nobel Prize for demonstrating that most famines are caused not by a lack of food but by government bungling.

What kind of bungling? Geez. How silly is our own agricultural world? The government has its hand in every step of the process from the interest rate when you borrow to the kinds of crops you are allowed to grow to the price you receive at market. But it could be worse. Another country could be dropping off free food here putting me entirely out of business.

Massive amounts of aid in the form of free food have been going to Ethiopia since famine was first reported in the Western press, and we were in Lalibela the day one of the monthly shipments arrived. People from all over the countryside came into town on their donkeys – well, not into town, but near it. The poorer you are, the more food you get, and no one wanted to show off his possessions, so everyone parked his donkeys about three kilometers from town and walked the rest of the way. There were hundreds of donkeys around, waiting on the edge of town, and hundreds of people in the center of town waiting for the food trucks to arrive.

While this was going on, glorious, lush fields all around Lalibela lay fallow because nobody farmed them anymore. An entire generation of Ethiopians has grown up without learning how to farm. Instead, to put food on the table, they go to town every month, park the donkey, and collect grain. Some recipients, the day we were in Lalibela, carried their ration of wheat directly over to the town market and started selling it. And so, in addition to that generation that has never learned how to farm, there is a generation of farmers who have simply stopped farming because they can no longer sell the fruits of their labor – there is no way to compete with free grain.

Africa could feed itself and export food again, but not when its farmers are up against subsidized Western agriculture and free lunches.

He then illustrates the same point with clothing drives. Feels great to give old shirts to charity. But then what happens? Charity ends right there. Then lots of clothing are auctioned and distributed to other markets in Africa. It’s hard for tailors to compete with clothing coming in at no cost. So there are few tailors anymore. Little textile activity at all. Maybe that’s good. Maybe we need less global competition. It appears that our churches and charities believe it is better to keep Africa poor and under our thumb than to allow them to develop.

So what do I do with this line of thought? I can list a hundred ways I’m strongly and negatively effected by varying policies and beliefs. But then what? I could light up my blog with fussing about our silly government. But then what? I still have to pay my taxes. The rain still falls. The sun still shines. As long as I understand the rules as they stand today I can continue to adapt to them.

And that’s what Rogers sees as he travels. He sees people adapting. Living. Not just surviving, but making the most with what they’ve got. The example above, of leaking Ethiopian water towers, applies to me too. Boy does it! I have a leaking water system right now. I’ve got to plug the leaks in all of my finances. But I also need to plug the leaks in our emotions. It’s emotionally draining to look at certain portions of the farm. The junk piles, the brush piles, the thorny saplings, the damaged fences. Brings me down and keeps me awake in the morning. That’s not a good use of my emotional capital. But it hasn’t been a big enough deal that I’ve bothered to do anything about it…just as Ethiopia hasn’t had to bother about their leaky water towers.

As the book came to a close I got the feeling that Jim was getting tired. His father had passed away while he traveled. Australia, NZ, South America and the US are really just blips on the radar as he passes through. I think the best part of the book was his trip through Africa, though traveling west through Russia was eye-opening in its own way.

I spent a month reading and digesting this book. Dad got through it in two sittings. I really enjoyed it. Dad did too. If you want my opinion, though, take the time to mull things over and argue with the author. His responses might offer an opportunity for real growth and self-discovery. And that’s why we read any book.

Next week I’m reading through Columella’s Res Rustica on dad’s suggestion. In this case, I’m not pausing for argument with the author, simply attempting to cover the material. I also have a hankering to read some more Wodehouse.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 12

The last two weeks have been…well…work has taken more time than usual recently. And I guess that’s going to be the new usual. Plus, traffic has been awful. Awful. I don’t know if I’m making a note to myself here or if I’m speaking to you, reader. But stuff is gettin’ real.

I have been fascinated reading and savoring Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers. What is this book about? Really. Is this a book about investing around the world? Is this a book about the state of morality around the world? Is he taking a vacation or making a case against global intervention?

Yes. Especially the morality part. Because why would you invest with immoral people?

I mean moral here, not religious. Moral. There are few investment opportunities when you are marketing time with impoverished women but he comments on market availability and price wherever he goes. I’m not kidding, man. Every chapter there is something about prostitution. Why? Because in some places there are no jobs. There is no opportunity. There is only one thing to sell. Women in eastern Siberia could sell it to tourists from the far east for a higher price than the ladies a little to the west who lacked access to tourists. But before you get your hackles up about male Japanese tourists taking advantage of underprivileged women in Siberia, flip ahead to the trip to Africa and the detail of single, young women from Europe traveling to Gambia for the same purpose. This is not an issue of race nor of sex.

Sigh.

Market demand.

But why is there no opportunity when there are so many Mercedes driving around? Because they are stolen in Brazil and shipped to Siberia. And because of aid programs that are only aiding those strong enough to muscle to the front of the line.

“I have called ahead,” he said. “You won’t have any problems.”

He had called his people two or three cities down the line to smooth our passage.

“If you do have problems, let me know,” he said, “and whoever it is, we will have them killed.”

He was serious. This was not bravado. (For the price of a decent night out in the United States, you can have somebody killed in Siberia, and in Siberia these days, the latter seems to be the more common practice.) So we had the mafia’s protection…

So this is a book about morality.

Capital has its own laws as inexorable as those of gravity. Until Russia comes to respect capital, to provide for its safety and nourishment, capital will not come to its aid. Intelligent capital does not aid thieves.

But it is also a book about investing. Last week a reader was hoping for some insight into how the author’s predictions have turned out all these years later. While in Japan in 1999 Jim wrote this:

I am convinced that the Japanese economy has hit a temporary bottom and that a prosperous time – call it a rebound – is coming. I am looking for stocks to buy for the medium term. Furthermore, the Bank of Japan – in time-honored, economically blundering fashion – has made it pretty clear that it is going to start printing money. And when governments print money, one of the first places the money winds up is the stock market. I believe that in the short term the yen will rise against the even more fundamentally weak dollar, so not only will certain stocks do well, but the currency will also advance along with stocks, doubling the impact of my purchases. Again, I am speaking of the short or medium term. The Nikkei is not a place I expect to have money for the next ten or twenty years. Japan is sailing into the wind…

Welcome to my blog about our family farm. Let’s talk about investing in the Yen 15 years ago, shall we? It may seem like a stretch but this fits the blog very well. We have to make the most of our available resources so the next generation will have the chance to do the same. I could screw this all up. I could be the generation that breaks the family legacy. I have to make the most of my opportunity to position the land, people and resources to have a positive impact on our community and our ecology far into the future. Or we should just pack it up and move back to town. SO I, Chris Jordan, in real life, away from the blog, hidden from view, read at least as many financial publications as I do farming publications. Probably more. And you know what I have learned over the years?

Popular financial “experts” are clowns and are unworthy of my trust.

But let’s look into what may have been for the claims Jim made above. Let’s go back to 1999. I don’t know when he arrived in Japan. It might be in the book but if so I missed it. Let’s say he drove across Europe and Asia in four months…as he was in Russia during the summer. OK. That puts us in April of 1999. On April 1 the Yen was, apparently worth $0.0083. By 2007 it had not changed much…$0.0085. Maybe that’s a bigger change than it appears. Maybe I missed some major fluctuations in there along the way. But that’s the window of time I’m going to stick with. Less than 10 years, right?

So what about Japanese stocks? He makes no individual recommendations. I’m sure we could cherry pick the stars out of any bunch if we wanted but let’s just stick with the index. If he had bought the Nikkei 225 on April 1, 1999 it would have been 16,701. On April 1, 2007 it would have been 17,400. Not much happenin’ there. I guess he could have operated on a shorter window of time and done better. Of course, the book wasn’t written in 1999. He was driving then. So maybe he looked back at his notes from Japan in 2002 or 2003 and decided to buy at that time. In April of 2003 the Nekkei was at 7,831. He could have sold it at any time after that and come out ahead.

It’s not clear. It’s not our business either. But what is our business is understanding that there is no clear, straight line to riches especially when following advice written by some stranger 15 years ago.

But I do agree with his statement that equities tend to rise when money gets cheap. Apple doesn’t know what to do with their $300 billion in cash so they are buying back their own stock. They have enough cash laying around to build two copies of the international space station and they are buying apple stock as if that’s the best option.

I don’t understand. It probably is the best option. It puts money in the pockets of the executives. But it weakens the company’s financial position. If you are interested in this topic you might read this essay.

I’m not a financial adviser. I’m not an investor. I don’t own apple stock. I don’t own any part of the Nikkei. I don’t own Jim Rogers. I own cows. When I have more cash available I put it into more cows. The plan is simple. Over time, by reinvesting a portion of my profits (keeping heifers) my investment grows. That makes sense to my limited intellect. The stock market makes no sense to me whatsoever. I guess if I had no other option and had no idea what to do with a mountain of surplus cash I might consider handing it over to someone else to help build their business. But right now I have my own business to build. Mind your own business.

But I digress.

I wouldn’t look at this book for investment insight. The little it offers is neither specific enough nor timely enough to act on. But the discussions surrounding each mention are worthy of your time. We live in a complex world. Humans tend to exaggerate that complexity. It’s a level of complexity that confounds the efforts of world-improvers everywhere.

I was told that there were more top-of-the-line Mercedes in Moscow than in any city in the world…Where does this money come from? It pours in from the IMF and the World Bank, which are funded by the world’s taxpayers. In 1998 I testified before Congress, which, following the collapse of the ruble, was planning yet another Russian bailout. I said then that both the IMF and the World Bank should be abolished.

Self-perpetuation and ever-growing bureaucracies founded after the Second World War, these institutions have long since diverged from their original mandates. Their analyses are hopeless, and their prescriptions are worse. There are no external, independent audits to determine the long-term efficacy of their projects. The greatest beneficiaries of their programs are the twelve thousand bureaucrats who work for them and their well-funded and well-protected pensions. I have made a career of analyzing financial statements, and I have yet to see a financial statement of either the World Bank or the IMF that I can understand, nor have I ever met anyone who could explain them. Whenever I have found this to be true of corporations, it has always been a sign of serious problems.

At this point I’m only sharing quotes from the first third of the book. Wait till you read about his trip through Africa. And I think you should. I really enjoyed this book. I’m not reading it for ideas on where to park or invest surplus cash. There is no surplus cash and no shortage of ideas on how to “invest” any that comes my way. But the book is fascinating in other ways. The crossroads of desperation and morality. When you have nothing left to sell, apparently you sell time with your daughter.

Maybe I have been too sheltered. Maybe my upbringing was too perfect. Too protected by my parents who did too good of a job making sure we learned the value of work, brushed our teeth, ate our dinner, did our homework, stayed active in sports and went to bed on time.

Thank God.


This Week in Other Printed Media

Our insurance company markets to specifically to farmers. We pay for membership to their little organization, they pay lobbyists to influence legislation and that’s how it goes. They write a weekly propaganda letter to send out to subscribers. There is no intention of impartiality nor of journalism. It’s all propaganda. And it’s truly amazing. Truly.

I rarely read it. When I do it’s because something caught my eye as I am crumpling the newspaper up to help start a fire. And I want to point out, whatever paper they print this on doesn’t burn well.

This week, as I was starting the fire with an empty paper feed sack and a little of the propaganda paper in question I noticed an article, “Chipotle CFO claims no fear intended.”

In short, Chipotle made some advertisements that implied that current conventional agriculture was..well, maybe not what we want to do with our resources. And Chipotle proposed itself to be the solution.

Whatever.

The Illinois Farm Bureau hopes to talk to Chipotle about the sustainable practices of Illinois farmers. Chipotle doesn’t want to talk to them. So IFB says they are doody-heads. And, just taking a stab in the dark here, Chipotle says the IFB are doody-heads because they are an extension of Monsanto…more doody-heads. And that summarizes the article neatly.

I’m not taking sides here. But the discussion can’t focus on bureaucrats vs. mega-corporations. If you want to help farming families grow and prosper, why not help them identify niches they can fill to achieve a higher profit margin? You can still grow corn if you want. You just have to do things a little differently to make a little more money. But I don’t think our policy-makers are truly concerned about helping farming families grow and prosper.

I’m also not entirely sure that Chipotle is interested in helping farming families grow and prosper. But at least we didn’t elect Chipotle to help farming families. The good news about businesses is that they can go out of business. Bureaucracies are harder to get rid of.

So it went into the wood stove.


So this silly goal of mine to start and finish a book a week in 2015…it hasn’t held up. And I’m not sure it should. The pattern is fairly simple, I get busy throughout the week. Work, farm, family, Minecraft. Then the weekend arrives. Friday night I cram in a couple of chapters. Saturday I try to read a little bit throughout the day. Saturday night I stay up late turning pages. Sunday morning I get up about 4:00 and read and write and flip back through looking for memorable quotes to share. That’s tough.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not saying it’s going to stop. I’m just saying it’s wearing on me. I enjoy reading. But I’m not sure I enjoy this pace. It is nice to be finishing so many books though.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 11

Let’s go back to January 1, 2015 together, shall we?

Julie and I are big on goals. But for some reason, when it came time to write down our goals on paper so that those who read it can run I was caught short. Normally I just write a list of things I think we should budget for and get done in the calendar year. But this year I decided I didn’t want to make a shopping list. I wanted to do stuff. On that list was one very challenging item.

Read a book each week.

Look. That doesn’t sound like a big deal. My two oldest children read a book a day or more. But they don’t have jobs.

Start and finish a book within a week…and do that every week.

Some books…well, with some books that’s just fine. There is nothing to chew on, you just gulp and swallow. Some books though, some books give you too much to think about. I recently read Malabar Farm in a week…and that was a disservice to Louis Bromfield. His book isn’t meant to be read quickly. His book is meant to be savored. I think Mr. Bromfield wanted his readers to read a few pages each morning with coffee, then lay the book aside and think about how to apply what you read. And I don’t think that’s an extension of his ego, I think the book is worthy of that level of reflection.

I made that same mistake again this week.

I was chatting with my father a few weeks ago about a book I had heard about but hadn’t read by Jim Rogers titled Adventure Capitalist. In short, a billionaire investor drove a car around the world and kept a journal of his observations. Sounded cool enough. Dad bought a used copy and got through it in a week, strongly suggesting that I read it as well.

Have you met my father? Dad worked at a mine my entire childhood. In 16 years he took, I believe, one sick day. Somehow he also found time for college classes on philosophy and community theater and home remodeling projects and playing catch and going fishing with me…in spite of the fact that he worked swing shift…his sleep pattern changed every two weeks. Ugh. SO dad, apparently, is the kind of person who can just get things done.

I am not.

I sat down with Jim Rogers several times throughout the week to discuss his world travels but I couldn’t finish the conversation. He kept saying things that I couldn’t digest. Things I needed to think about. The writing style is approachable. I didn’t need to deconstruct his sentences to find meaning. But I could only read so much in one sitting. Let me give you an example from page 8. He has decided to have a custom-built Mercedes to drive around the world by merging two different models, a 4WD chassis mounted to a convertable top.

Even in the absence of a warranty, I knew, I would find Mercedes service everywhere in the world. Even in the developing world one is never far from a dealership; every dictator and mafioso in the world drives a Mercedes. Even in countries with no roads to speak of, Mercedes service is available…

OK. I’m going to stop mid-sentence here. The author has identified a pattern and is seeking to leverage it to his advantage. He could go around the world in a Toyota. Sure. But he has decided to go with a Mercedes. Why? I dunno. Cause he’s a billionaire and he wants to have the top down while driving in comfort and style. But he is, at least, practical. If he needs a mechanic, he believes he can find one anywhere in the world if he drives a Mercedes.

Then he goes into why he thinks that is. You should be sitting down.

…Mercedes service is available – often to the exclusion of things like food – thanks to all the US foreign aid, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank money being shipped in. It is no secret that this money is aimed at nourishing only those corrupt enough to get their hands on it, while at the same time fattening bureaucrats on both sides of the transaction who diligently work the trough. And none of them is driving a Chevy.

I knew much of this from my last trip. The upcoming trip, especially as it took us through Africa, would be an eye-opening education in to the workings of the latest foreign aid scam: the nongovernmental organization, or NGO. As an American taxpayer I would be amazed to discover that a lot of the money we send to these countries goes to support Mercedes and BMW dealers and various Swiss bankers.

So. Yup. That just happened.

I don’t feel that the paragraphs above are the kind of material you just read and move on. You have to stop. I stopped. I read it to Julie. I read it to Mike, my boss. I read it to John at work. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. First, make sure you can get your things repaired. Good lesson. Second, actions – even well-intentioned ones – may have unexpected consequences. Is he right? Is there too much obfuscation? I’m happy to share with those in need…but am I actually meeting needs? That money they take out of my paycheck before I even have a chance to say, “no, thanks – not that I have the option of saying “no, thanks” – ends up going through a number of hands, each taking their cut before heading off to its final destination. What percentage of dollars involved actually accomplish their mission? Our author suggests a great number of them successfully filter their way to German car manufacturers. I guess that’s mission accomplished.

That’s just on page 8. Later he gets through China and into Korea and, later, Japan. He talks at length about protectionism and how damaging it is to the economy. As an example, he discusses the lack of real free trade between the US and Canada at the time…in spite of Free Trade agreements…by pointing out the absurdity of tariffs on tomatoes imported from Canada. If a farmer anywhere in Canada can produce a tomato cheaper than a farmer in America…well, maybe they should. Henry Hazlitt talks about this quite a bit in Economics in One Lesson. (If you haven’t read that book…well, you should.) Keeping tomato prices artificially high benefits American producers but hurts EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO EAT A TOMATO!

Same thing happening at the time in Korea and Japan. Let’s say you are a Korean Billionaire and want to drive a Toyota. Can’t. Let’s say you want a Sony phone. Can’t. Hafta buy a Samsung. Why? Cause it’s good for our domestic producers. Sure, it’s bad for everybody else in the whole world but we have to protect our own manufacturing. And we are so bad at producing stuff nobody would buy it if the government didn’t force people to.

Sigh.

Have you ever driven through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa in the summer? Have you ever wondered how much of that corn would be there if your tax dollars weren’t being used to grow it? How many John Deere dealerships exist as a result of government action? What is that costing the world? What would be growing there if we were free to pursue our own interests and weren’t growing corn? Would there be endless fields of hemp? But it goes beyond that. We have policies in place to keep interests rates low so prices will be higher. Yeah. So buying a farm is almost impossible. And that’s good for the economy somehow. Who needs new farmers anyway? They’ll probably want to do something crazy and not plant endless seas of corn. What would we do then? How would we pay for a Mercedes without our government contract to ship corn to Africa?

So you see, this was a difficult book for me to finish. I tried. I really tried.

But beyond the time spent reflecting on his words I had a difficult week. I am staring at some major changes at work and I’m afraid it wore on me all week long.

So this week I didn’t meet my goal of reading a book in its entirety. I am still averaging more than a book a week on the year but the average wasn’t the goal. I wanted to finish a book each week.

I’ll continue chipping away at the book over the next week or so. I hope it shows that I’m having a lot of fun reading it and hope that counts as a recommendation.

Please comment below to let me know what you are reading and feel free to offer additional recommendations.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 10

Let’s listen to Glenn Miller for a minute.

You know what I wasn’t this week? I wasn’t in the mood for reading. In the novel Dune Gurney Halleck says “Not in the mood? Mood is a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset, not fighting!”

I love Dune. That’s one of those books I can read over and over. But, in spite of Gurney’s rebuke, I did little reading this week.

Oh, I read blogs like flipping through pages of a magazine but my week sort of just zipped past. My commute home on Friday took several hours longer than normal, I have a few projects going on at work….on and on the excuses go. It’s not that I’m emotionally down, it’s not that I’m burned out…it’s that I have allowed other options to consume my time. And maybe some of those options were less than optimal.

So yesterday I picked up a motivational book Julie read some time ago called Mach II With Your Hair On Fire: The Art of Vision and Self Motivation. Yes, this is one of those cheesy lightweight business motivational books. Yes, it’s a book about network marketing. But it was just what I needed. And I have more to say about network marketing later.

Let’s start with a quote from chapter 3. I hope this challenges you too.

Most people have goal setting confused with desire. People think that if you write down all the things you desire, that’s goal setting. It’s not. Everyone is a goal setter and a goal achiever, whether consciously or not. Goal setting only works when your goal becomes your MINDSET or EXPECTATION. If all you do is think of things you want and write them down, your “wanter” will be working really well, but your “getter” will still be asleep. Goals have to become beliefs and expectations. You have to believe what you want is actually inevitable.

He talks about his tendency to believe he would fail…he expected to fail. And he did fail. Now you, reader, know better than to believe in all this “attitude” mumbo-jumbo. You have read this stuff before. You don’t believe in it. It doesn’t work. Successful people are born to be successful. For example, I was recently told I am only successful because I am blonde, tall and male.

You are right.

Absolutely right.

You will never amount to anything – but not because of your sex or height or hair color – but because you are a victim. He talks in the book about it isn’t enough to want something, to work hard, to be good and to become educated. Those are great things for you to do but hard work and education do not always lead to success. The author says you have to factor in attitude. My critic focused all attention on envy and gave no attention whatsoever to opportunity…let alone reason.

He goes on in that chapter to talk about the importance of policing your thoughts. It’s easy to focus on negativity. It’s easy to say your idea will never work…and so you never try. And when you finally get enough energy and focus to start that project you have delayed…well…then what? Who would want to read a book I wrote? Tall people have insecurities too.

And those things you repeat to yourself become reality.

To the degree there is clarity, the mind does not distinguish between an actual experience and one that has been vividly imagined!

Prove it to yourself.

Have you ever cried at a movie?

Have you ever screamed at a movie?

Have you ever laughed at a movie?

For further emphasis he retells a story of a mild childhood embarrassment. The event happened once and caused no lasting injury but he has replayed that embarrassment over and over in his mind to the point that it has, effectively, happened to him thousands of times. That sounds familiar. In fact, it is worse than he says. As I relive each bad event I tend to make it worse than it was. Not only did the event happen once, it happened differently than I remember it. And I’m probably the only person who remembers it. I have it memorized. I can see it clearly at this moment. And I can tell you, it holds me back. But the truth is, there is a beautiful, supportive, intelligent woman who loves me. My 15 year old self could not have imagined that happening. I met her when I was 16 and still couldn’t see it. Honestly, it took me until I was nearly 30 years old to believe that she married me out of anything other than pity. I’m not kidding. Every day I thought she would realize her mistake and walk away.

That kind of held me back in our marriage. What is holding you back? What reality have you invented for yourself?

So here I am writing in my reading journal. As he points out in chapter 6 I have committed to something. I’m going to get it done. Even if I journal my reading of “The Little Red Hen”. I have a goal to read a book each week.

A commitment is a decision to do something, to be something, no matter the obstacles; no matter whether you still feel like it next week, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many times you fail, no matter what results you are creating. A commitment pays no attention to the outcome, other than to refine strategy. Results do not alter the commitment to persevere.

So I am writing this post. Also, I am still married.

Bing will tell you all about it.

Let’s make up a new world. Let’s imagine something big. Something wonderful. Let’s imagine a Christmas surrounded by our parents and children and grandchildren in a warm home. Both ham and turkey have been roasted and smell wonderful. Presents are piled near the tree and the children can hardly wait. My children and I reflect on the year that has passed. We sold our first thousand calves in April and brought in enough money to meet our operating expenses for the year. The remaining calves, eggs, chickens and lumber sold from the farm were just extra. In fact, it’s time to expand again…this time we are going abroad. I sit at the table talking big but doing nothing. Julie looks beautiful even as she manages the work in the kitchen. She is always working. I decide it’s time to sneak up behind her and give her a kiss. The grandchildren blush and turn away…but they know I love their grandma. She asks me to wash the dishes. Oh well.

What do you see? As the book asks, what movie do you create in your mind?

Julie has a similar vision. She has it written on paper. Look man, don’t discount writing things down. Write the vision, make it plain so he that read it may run with it. It’s in the Bible, man. Not only has she written it, she listens to the audio of it each morning. I would love to share it with you but I can’t. Maybe she will but I can’t. It’s hers. And it’s quite personal. The point is, she has it on paper where we can see it and she plays it for herself each morning. That recording, though personal, is VERY POSITIVE. And that’s how she starts her day.

But she sees it outside of writing too. I have shared a portion of her vision board before.

FamilyVision

It’s all over our house, man. Reminders of where we are going. And we are going up. It is inevitable.

In a way, as pointed out by the book, we are telling ourselves lies. But are you honest with yourself about your failures? His example is that someone may imagine themselves as a 150 pound person. When you lose 25 pounds you still see yourself as a 150 pound person…so you soon become a 150 pound person again. Even when 125 pounds was the truth, you couldn’t see the truth. We lie to ourselves…good or bad. What lie do you want to believe?

This is a powerful thing, man. Do you hate your job? Do you want to love your job? List out the positives of your job. Only the positives. Write out your ideal day. Every morning before work play out a movie while reading your list. Soon, your dream will come true. If you dwell on the differences in your marriage you will soon be divorced. If you focus on alignment, you will soon be aligned. That’s how it is. Go ahead. Tell her she’s fat and ugly and can’t cook 20 times each day. Tell her to her face and you’ll probably get slapped. Tell her in your mind and you’ll probably get divorced. True or not, your mind makes it real.

The whole book is summed up early on with one simple quote.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.


Now, concerning network marketing. We seem to have applied a negative connotation to the phrase. And, maybe, for good reason. But let’s network market some eggs. First, I give a free dozen eggs to a random lady at work. She says, “Um…thanks?” A week later she buys two dozen. She tells a co-worker. That co-worker buys two dozen. My network is spreading. Networking is good business. The issue we have is with pyramid schemes. Some central person at the top raking in the dough by setting up some tool at the bottom. I’m sure that happens. But sometimes, word of mouth is just a good business model. Pay commissions instead of paying for advertising makes for more targeted, personal advertising. Not that I’m here to sell you on a network marketing company. Just sayin’.

Thanks for taking time to read this today. I know I have lost focus on my farm blog…I tend to write more about life issues and video games. But I put a lot of myself into the blog. The cows are in the barn. Chicks in the brooder. Snow is melting and it’s muddy outside. We just can’t do much so our time is being spent in close proximity. And that’s cool. But it can’t help but bleed through on the blog.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.