April 22, 2011

Cold Spring…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:32 pm

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You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the
consequences of avoiding reality.
— Ayn Rand
______________________

They’ve been coming through our doors in increasing numbers this year at work. Shifting, lean, hungry-eyed men, pricing out a bit of trim and metal and lumber for small remodel jobs. Small time guys, probably laid off from some half-decent job they used to have, and will likely never see again. Out there slugging around for a bit of work to put food on the table. And for all those other bills.

A few weeks ago, Patrick (my boss) waited on a rough-looking guy. Well, he didn’t particularly look rough, but his clothes sure did. Ragged, worn, with patch sewn over patch. Mom used to patch our clothes when we were children, but this guy’s pants would have amazed even her. He stood there at the counter for ten minutes or so as he and Patrick talked and figured out what he might need for a certain little job. Then he left in his battered old beater of a pickup. He never returned, so he either didn’t get the winning bid, or he found his materials somewhere else.

We’re always cordial, of course, no matter who walks through our doors. Except maybe for some pesky salesmen, either the first timers or those who can’t accept rejection. But they don’t count. We are always genuinely cordial and professional, and we sell a lot of little odd job stuff to small timers. I can’t help but feel bad for some of these guys. They probably never have much left for their labor.

A persistent pulse of unease throbs in the public’s murmured conversations. It’s all around. You can feel it, sense it, taste it, speak it, hear it. A palpable undertow of suppressed panic, tinged with resignation. Silent slivers of fear. Lurking even behind smiling faces.

It’s been a long cold spring. And it’s tough out there. It really is.

With gas lurching toward $5 a gallon, things won’t get better anytime soon. Fuel costs affect all transportation, and everything transported. Food. Building materials. Getting to and from work. Family vacations. Whether or not you drive twenty miles to reach an otherwise “nearby destination.” Everything is affected, like the touch of King Midas. Except in this case, the opposite effect of his “magic” holds true. Things turn to ashes, not gold. Real life changes, big time. All for the worse.

It’s deeply perturbing, really, the shape we’re in. Not only in this country, but the world as a whole. After nearly a hundred years of deliberate currency debasement on a global scale, now comes the time to pay the piper. And he won’t lead his mesmerized flock into some mystical mountain cave. He will instead impoverish and enslave our children and their children into infinity.

Our political leaders squabble in Washington like the empty, shallow arrogant elites they are. As a libertarian, I genuinely despise both parties, and by association about ninety-nine percent of all others in that corrupt swamp who pick at the carcass of our country. The party of war and the party of Marxism. Both about equally destructive, and I really mean that.

In a time that begs for real leadership, our “messiah” Obama babbles inanely about alternative energy, as if the Left’s pipe dream could be spoken into existence. Like God created the world. Our messiah did manage to create a special board of some sort to investigate Big Oil, to make sure there is no price gouging. As if that will reduce prices by even a cent. Oh, yeah. That’ll do it. More inept and utterly senseless bureaucracy. It’s flat out asinine.

Except with Obama, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he acts. The man is determined to destroy the last vestiges of the free market that somehow managed to survive in this country. He may just get it done. I hope every single person who voted for him feels happy and hopeful about paying $5.00 for a gallon of gas. Fine change, that. (Not that McCain would have done much better, except maybe he wouldn’t have unleashed upon us the gorgon of a monster that is ObamaCare. I didn’t vote for him (McCain), either.)

I don’t hate Obama. Just his policies. I despise those with a passion. And I marvel in despair at his sheer incompetence. He’s even started his own little quagmire in Libya. Didn’t want to be outdone by Bush, I guess.

In time, there will be riots in the streets. There will be. After those desperate hungry guys out there slogging for small jobs get fed up, and decide to give it up. After it’s not worth the effort any more. After guys like that are driven to the wall and cannot find food to feed their families, that’s when it will all come down.

And right on cue, here comes Atlas Shrugged, the movie. Haven’t seen it yet, since it’s a limited release, but I plan to. I won’t go through all the contortions and disclaimers stating my disagreements with Ayn Rand. Her cold logic, devoid of any possible acknowledgment of God. Her strident atheism. Somehow, the woman wrote a timeless novel that contains a host of real core truths. Truths that will always stand, regardless of time and a myriad of political maelstroms. The book was one of the two most influential novels I have ever read.

We have stepped through the doorway into the world of Atlas Shrugged. As the clogging tentacles of government tighten their deadly grip on every aspect of our lives. Emboldened Leviathan must and will devour itself. It simply cannot sustain itself, not for long. It cannot hold. And it will never, never stand. Not in the sweeping saga of history.

Recently, a strange thing came down at work. Perhaps it speaks to the times we are in, and perhaps it doesn’t. I got an email requesting a quote for a pole building. The prospective customer was the CEO of some regional business. He wanted to erect the building on his farm. I emailed back. We chatted a time or two on the phone. And then he stopped by on a recent Saturday morning when I was pulling weekend duty.

A florid-faced man, probably sixty or so, round cheeked, slightly rotund. Confident air, as if used to being obeyed. I greeted him politely. And he was pleasant enough. Just way too suspicious. Like he didn’t really believe I was who I was, or that what I said was true.

It soon became clear that he knew just enough about pole construction to make him dangerous. And a flat-out idiot in his conversation. Somehow, he didn’t trust our normal construction standards. He wanted an option for this and for that, and an option for heavier grade metal and bigger poles. Heavier snow loading on the trusses.

And, of course, he wanted every option listed with and without labor. We sell complete building material packages. He figured he could find his own cheap crew.

I do thousands of building quotes every year. And few things are more irritating than a prospective customer blithely rattling off options merely for the sake of mild if not zero real interest or consideration. Like he loves the sound of his own voice. Buying a building is not like buying a car. Some people get that point confused. (Adding that dormer will cost about two thousand bucks. Oh, you thought it could thrown in for free, or for a few hundred bucks? Nope. Sorry.) But that day, I remained very cordial, and took careful notes. I’d have the quote to him by mid-week, I assured him. He thanked me and left.

And I got it ready, the quote. It gobbled at least an hour right out of a frantic day. I faithfully and laboriously calculated and listed each option. Even had Dave check it over, which took a few minutes of his time as well. Then I emailed my quote to the florid CEO. Almost immediately he answered, requesting a few more senseless options, then fussed when I returned the pricing. My competition was way lower, he claimed. I politely explained how I came up with my numbers, which took more time. And finally, with that, I figured he was gone.

But nah. No such luck could be mine. A few days later, another email. Maybe he was impressed with my expertise and ready to go. I scanned the page. A list, an entire page of a list. Demanding even more detailed options. Including one that would, if implemented, have destroyed any warranty against leakage on the roof. All priced with and without labor.

Some time ago, I stumbled across an essay about Pareto’s Law, which, among other things, formulates the following: “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.” Conversely, 20% of your sales come from 80% of your prospects. So 80% of your effort gleans 20% of your sales. All that time, gone, and the value of time is incalculable. After reading, I mulled it over. Where my sales came from. And where my efforts seemed fruitless. Pareto’s Law really made a lot of sense.

I was so impressed that I printed the essay and gave copies to Patrick and Dave, my two office co-workers. Well, my one boss and my one co-worker. Pat and I chatted about it. And after receiving the CEO’s second detailed request, Pareto’s Law stirred in my head. I discussed the situation with Patrick. Should I spend two hours working on a quote that had few prospects of success, or should I focus my time on more productive things? Perhaps because of my heavy lobbying, we decided to pass on the quote.

So Patrick crafted a very diplomatic letter, far more polite than anything I could ever have concocted, and emailed it to the florid CEO. Told him we are declining his request for the quote and why. And I moved on to other work, greatly relieved.

Sadly, the CEO promptly responded to Patrick’s letter in a most unprofessional manner. I imagine his face was more florid than usual as he reacted by pounding his message on the keyboard. Strident, unedited. Threatening, fuming. I wouldn’t work for the guy, that’s all I’ll say. Except for one more thing. Good riddance. He would have been far more of a pain that he could possibly have been worth, had he purchased the building. Which he wouldn’t have done anyway. Never had any intention to. Pareto’s Law. Look it up.

The reviews from the little independent blogs are slowly popping up out there, posting ratings on my book. Nope, I’m not providing any links. If you’re that curious, find them yourself, like I did. So far, the ratings have ranged from three to five stars, out of a five star scale. Seems like a few reviewers were less than impressed with the book. One said it was sad. Another said I left the Amish because I wanted a pickup truck. Funny, though, they all did compliment some aspect of the book. Guess that’s what you do when pronouncing a judgment of three stars.

And of course, most of those who rated the book four or five stars did only that, with few words. Praise slips from the shadows, almost mute, while criticism grumbles loudly. It all adds a bit of stress to the long wait.

Growing Up Amish is “heavy reading.” Sure, it’s got its light moments, but mostly it’s not light stuff. Pretty much like my blog has been since its inception, except the book’s flow is connected, not random. So if you’re expecting a breezy narrative with vapid depictions of the Amish, don’t buy the book. Oh, wait. Scratch that. Buy it anyway, just put it on the shelf. The cover alone is worth the price.

A blessed Easter to all my readers.

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(11 Comments) »

  1. Can you hook me up with a link to that essay?

    Comment by Richard Miller — April 22, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

  2. I can picture the florid CEO now. I just need a Patrick to draft diplomatic emails; by the time I draft the “we decline” email, diplomacy is on its way out.

    Comment by Reuben Wagler — April 22, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  3. Ah well- you did get your truck, right? (sorry- had to laugh. As if anyone would do something so earth shaking for want of a truck.)

    Comment by ann — April 23, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  4. Am I missing something? I found the independent reviewers you mentioned, but how have they managed to get ahold of copies of your book? I thought it is being released this summer (I’m moderately patiently waiting for my pre-order copies to arrive from amazon… in July, I think).

    Ira’s response: Publishers send out ARCs (Advance Review Copies) to reviewers. And near as I can tell, there’s some sort of electronic download for the little bloggers like the ones I mentioned and you read.

    Comment by Mark Graham — April 23, 2011 @ 8:10 pm

  5. I was impressed with the book “Atlas Shrugged”. The only other books to have similar impact on my life were a technical work on automatic control systems, my life’s work to date, and another technical work on central chilled water distribution systems, my bread and butter. I have a long history of reading science fiction by militant atheist authors so I have learned to tune out the attack on faith and pick up nuggets of wisdom in between the droppings. I am a producer, a working engineer that actually makes things work. There may come a time when I decide enough is enough and join John Galt in spirit, not offering my services to support a corrupt system that eats its seed corn and refuses to understand that the light at the end of tunnel is on the front of an on rushing locomotive. My work entirely stands on reality, namely does the air handler keep the occupants comfortable or not? No long speeches on why the air handler really isn’t too noisy or white papers about why the air handler really does control the room’s humidity, despite the loud complaints of the users. It works or it does not work. As Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

    Comment by Mark Hersch — April 25, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

  6. Pay no attention to critics. Except where you can learn from them somehow. If it makes you fret, fume, or otherwise wastes your emotional capital, it is no help to you. Probably most of them never wrote a book. But no sour grapes, either. This book is an accomplishment, and you can, as you said elsewhere, begin thinking about the next one. You have built an audience, and will build more. In the end, that is what will count. The more influence, the more criticism expected. And if you get a big head from rave reviews, that could expend emotions in the wrong way as well. That’s my pontification for today!

    Can’t wait to read it. I’ll have criticisms, suggestions, disagreements (as with everything), but you will be glad I’ll keep them to myself, and also that I have no platform from which to take what you’ve done and make hay for my own ego.

    Comment by LeRoy — April 27, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  7. Ira, for such a good writer I cannot follow your politics. You have no problem whatsoever with the Big Boy Banksters and Corporatists who have been the main cause of our economic problems? Really??? Had you been in Pres. Obama’s shoes, what would you have done differently, after being handed such a giant mess? My problem with libertarians is that they simplify everything and pass judgment so easily, without understanding the intricacies. A huge traffic jam does not start moving with someone’s clever, simple idea, just as a country with a huge population doesn’t get back on track with the idea that all our problems will be solved if we could just get rid of our government. Do you read any other opinions than those similar to your own?

    If you’ve read this far without deleting, please know that I think you are a marvelous story-teller and have a way with words. I intend to buy your book.

    –Erin

    Ira’s response: Of course I won’t delete your comment. Have you EVER heard me defend any corporate welfare? Ever? You have not. Corporate lobbying for special favors is as distateful to me as any other government program. The “problem” is not with libertarians. The problem is that both sides, the Left and the Right, believe that state interference with the market can bring solutions. It cannot, does not, and never will. The laws of the market do not change, regardless of “intricacies.” As we’re all about to find out.

    Thanks for buying my book. I greatly appreciate all readers.

    Comment by Erin — May 2, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  8. But don’t you find “the laws of the market” manipulated hugely? I won’t continue a political discussion here, but do check out Thom Hartmann, a well-read, thoughtful radio host and author.
    I just pre-ordered your book and am looking forward to reading it.

    —Erin

    Ira’s response: Thanks, Erin. I promise to check out Mr. Hartmann’s stuff. In return, I’d like you to peruse my favorite site. http://www.lewrockwell.com/ Six days a week, these guys post what I consider the very best economic/social commentary out there.

    Comment by Erin — May 5, 2011 @ 3:58 pm

  9. Ira,
    Good stuff, thanks.

    Beginning in the twentieth century this country has cranked out unchecked paper money. Nothing tangible like gold is backing the money supply. We don’t have “just weights and measures” anymore. Now only computer blips. The nasty consequences are debt, lying, cheating and long term politicians.

    Couple that with a socialistic educational system, which for years has tossed out the Bible as an absolute moral compass. Almost everything is a gray area, rights and wrongs are sneered at, and deifying man–humanism is the result. Unless the Lord God intervenes, America as a free country will become fragmented and insignificant, or worse yet, a jack boot dictatorship.

    Comment by e. s. gingerich — May 6, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

  10. Garrison Keillor can talk but you can really write, Ira. Many thanks for these insightful and sometimes lyrical posts. Times are hard and getting harder here in England too.

    Looking forward to your ‘pre-ordered from Amazon’ book due out over here in the UK next month.

    Best Regards.

    Pete

    Comment by English Peter — May 12, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  11. I hate dealing with arrogant people. You have a boss who is respectful of you. What a rare quality these days and in all the days that have passed.

    Comment by Francine — December 10, 2012 @ 1:29 am

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