Saturday, January 25, 2020

Studio C, Flecks of Gold and Tomlinson

Image result for flecks of gold

My parents were in town and like most people who come to my home they were tortured with a mix of home videos and my kids favorite Studio C skits. We watched The Devil's Dilemma and at the end of the skit my Dad said, "That is basically Tomlinson by Rudyard Kipling."

We read it, (after he quoted a bit for us). It is a great poem and a great skit and I highly recommend both. And he was right. I don't know if Studio C got the idea from the poem, but they are the same idea. I have always been amazed by my Father's wealth of literary knowledge. As I thought how amazing it would be to have his database of literary works at my finger tips, I was reminded of one of my favorite parables.

There was a young merchant who came to California to make his wealth panning for gold. He quickly grew frustrated with his lack of success. One day he yelled in frustration, "There is no gold here."

An old prospector who happened to be walking by responded, "There is gold all right." He took up a rock, cracked it in half revealing a few small flecks of gold. 

"I am not looking for tiny flecks, I am looking for nuggets like you have in your pack." 

The prospector opened his bag to reveal thousands of small flecks of gold. "Son, the patient accumulation of these little flecks has brought me great wealth."

My Father has patiently collected little flecks of knowledge through great literature. And while many like myself jealously look at the accumulation of wealth of knowledge, we all have access to all he as, much more, and much easier today. Yet, many of us, including myself, spend much of our time reading or listening to talking heads pontificate about how our favorite quarterback will perform, or how a political raise that is 8 months away may or may not turn out, or what memes our 'friends' have posted. By so doing we pass up time when we could be gathering flecks of gold, knowledge from studying great works or literature, or reading about the lives of great men and women. And maybe more importantly actually doing something to become great men and women, just ask Tomlinson.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Chapter 16- Meeting the Parents

(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14 and Chapter 15).

The two weeks since Byron’s secretary's wedding had come and gone and tonight was Byron’s turn to reciprocate. Julie had chosen to make Byron stay with her this weekend, since her parents were in town. Byron’s only encounter with Julie’s parents was on the day of their wedding and the thought of having to again see Pelham Smith made him quiver with fear. The promise Pelham had asked of him still rang in his head. He tried to forget it, and for much of the past two years he had been successful, but when he thought of again spending time with Pelham the words came back as if he had heard them for he first time two seconds ago, “Promise me you will always put her first, care for her and fight for what she needs?” Was Pelham going to ask for another interview and test how he was doing on this promise? What would he say? He assumed most parents didn’t get involved with their married daughters' personal life too much, but something in his gut made him worry that Pelham wasn’t most parents. And the more he thought of spending time with his Father-in-law the more his stomach relived the churning from his wedding day. He had thought of backing out, but Julie had held up her end of the bargain, it was time for him to hold up his.

Byron showed up just in time to hide his luggage in her room before Julie’s parents showed up. He decided pulling up with a packed suitcase was not a good look. Things all seemed to go fairly smoothly on the drive to the restaurant, during dinner and the drive home. The conversation was only on sports, weather, and food options. The only heated debate came when Julie insisted it was perfectly appropriate to have tacos on a night that wasn’t a Tuesday. Something her Father could not abide.

“When God sends us a perfectly good alliteration like Taco Tuesday, it seems a mockery to be eating tacos on another night,” Pelham argued, rather convincingly in Byron’s mind. But Byron wisely chose to stay on the sidelines. It’s never wise for the in-law to weigh in on deeply rooted family spats. So, the night seemed to roll along swimmingly.

“Good night”, her parents called out as they walked down the hall. Julie opened the door to her bedroom and walked in. Byron stood in the doorway looking at Julie trying to sense if he was supposed to follow. Julie, hoping to act before her parents looked back and noticed her husband looking like a puppy in the rain at the side door, grabbed his shirt and pulled him in, shutting the door behind them.

“I’m glad that is over with,” Byron said.

“You’re not the only one.” came back Julie.

“Well what now?” Byron questioned.

Byron got the same reply most husbands get to that question. “I’m going to bed.”

Deciding he better get ready Byron went to the closet where he had stored his bags. As he did Julie began to change. As Byron looked up he awkwardly tried to not look, while looking. This maneuver is much like dunking a basketball, we all wish we could do it, but most simply can’t. One of the difficulties in this is that looking while not looking requires so much looking that one fails to look where they are going and before Julie’s blouse rose above her midriff he had tripped over his bag and laid sprawled out in front of her. She stopped, letting her shirt fall back to how it was, and with no shortage of exasperation said, “You wouldn’t fall if your bags weren’t so big. Don’t you ever travel.”

“I travel all the time, but not to strange wome...I mean not to other people’s home.” Catching himself in the nick of time.

“So, what did you need at my house that you wouldn’t need when you regularly travel. Do you have a baseball bat to protect you from this strange woman?”

“I will have you know that I came prepared to keep proper boundaries.”

“So you brought 2 by 4’s and some sheetrock to build a wall.”

Byron was getting irritated, mostly because he now felt dumb for bringing as much as he had, but he could easily blame her for not telling him he didn’t need it. He decided not to comment but rather began preparing for bed. As he unzipped his bag, Julie caught sight of what had made his bag so large. Inside was a small tent and a sleeping bag.

“What is the tent for?” She asked.

“I thought you might want me to sleep outside.”

“Did I say my parents were blind?”

“Excuse me?”

“You thought they wouldn’t notice a tent in the backyard?”

Byron now felt even dumber. He realized his tent idea overlooked Julie’s parents' perceptiveness and general ability to see, but why should he be taken to task for being thoughtful? This hurt Byron deeply, mostly because as he had packed the tent he imagined Julie seeing him unpacking it and saying, “Oh what a sensitive man, you care enough about me to rough it on the hard ground with no AC in the middle of the summer, you are truly my knight in shining armor.” He wouldn’t admit to wanting to be Julie’s knight in any tint of armor but he wouldn’t have minded some gratitude and maybe a little fawning.

On top of this, Byron felt a significant hit to who he thought he was. It reminded him in sixth grade when he had entered a bridge building competition. At this point in his life he had planned to become an engineer and looking at his bridge he knew he had made the right choice. It was a magnificent bridge. The two trusses on each end were simply beautiful. It was bound to be the strongest bridge in the competition. The judge took his bridge and carefully placed it under the piston that would slowly apply pressure to it until it was crushed. Byron hated to see his beautiful bridge getting crushed, but was sure it would come with the glory of having held the most weight in the class. The piston slowly began to descend when suddenly the judge sneezed and all the kids knew exactly what had happened to the first little pigs home. The judge swept the sticks into his hands and handing the pile to Byron said, “Sorry son. Next.”

Byron had always prided himself on his ability to understand the fairer sex and it hurt that when his perceived strength was put to the test he was again left holding the broken pieces. Originally when packing he had thought, ‘If only the men who came to me were as thoughtful as me, they wouldn’t need my help.’ His wounded pride now was thinking what most men in his office thought, “I bet most women would appreciate my thoughtfullness.” But rather than voice this he simply said, “What sleeping arrangements did you have in mind?”

The truth was she hadn’t really thought too much about it, because she figured it didn’t need to be that hard. “You can sleep on the floor and can use the extra blanket, or your sleeping bag since you have it. And to ensure you feel proper I will go change in the bathroom.” She said as she took her PJ’s and headed into the master bath shutting the door harder than she had meant to as she crossed the threshold.

Byron sulked for a moment, secretly upset he had caused her to retreat into the bathroom to change, but since he was going to be a gentleman he might as well go all the way. He took his blanket and headed downstairs to the living room couch. Neither party really wanted it this way, but Byron knew from many interviews that the couch was the customary location for wounded husbands. So he stretched out on the couch that he almost fit in and after going over the last five minutes in his head, 100 times, trying to think what advice he’d give himself, if he ever came to himself, literally, and more importantly what advice he’d give Julie, he finally gave up and forced himself to sleep.

Julie stepped out of the bathroom only to discover the one day her husband had been home had come to an early end. She too was upset that Byron had left and wished she hadn’t been so sarcastic or poked fun at his tent and sleeping bag, after all, it was for her. Secretly, she was sarcastic because it helped her stay in control, not allow herself to be vulnerable, and therefore not get hurt. But all this avoiding getting hurt was starting to hurt. A few tears hit the pillow as she forced herself to sleep.


Byron slowly turned over and began to open his eyes, he had forgotten that he was laying on his wife's couch having spent the night before in his first official marital argument, but the stiff neck and tight muscles quickly told him he was not in his bed. As he gathered in his surrounding and his memories fell back into place he realized he was not alone in the living room. Directly across from him in the large lazy boy sat his father-in-law, holding a magazine, but looking down at Byron.

“Good morning, Byron.”

“Oh, good morning,” Byron was so embarrassed about having his father-in-law see him sleeping on the couch that he quickly tried to come up with an excuse. “Oh, I couldn’t sleep last night so I came down to get something to eat and must have fallen asleep before I got to the fridge.” he managed to stammer out.

“It’s okay Byron, you think I never ended up on the couch.” Dad said chuckling at it. “Even marriage counselors don’t have perfect marriages, right.”

“Yeah, I guess not,” Byron said, somewhat relaxing, “But honestly, this is the first time, I have spent the night on the couch.”

His father-in-law gave a deep look into his eyes. “I believe you. Hey, do you mind showing me what I could have for breakfast?” He said walking towards the kitchen.

Byron didn’t like the question, actually it wasn’t the question as much as how the question was asked. Pelham was up to something. “Yeah sounds good.” he said following him.

“So, do you have any cereal?” Byron’s eyes quickly scanned the kitchen hoping to quickly find the cereal, but it wasn’t on the counter or over the fridge, and Julie’s cupboards weren’t those cupboards made with glass doors. Byron had always thought glass door cupboards were such a stupid idea. Who wants to see inside your cupboards? Now he knew. Knowing he would only get one guess without looking like an idiot, he reasoned which cupboard would be the logical place to put the cereal. He made his choice and opened the large cupboard directly in front of where he stood. He smiled, fortune was on his side, there in plane view sat a few boxes of cereal.

“Well Dad, what would you like? We have special K, cheerios, and captain crunch with crunch berries.” Really she had Captain Crunch? He didn’t think people without kids were allowed to buy that. Now that he knew you could get away with it, he made a mental note to go home and buy some.

“I’ll have Special K. Where are the bowls and spoons?”

“Bowl and spoons? Yeah, you’re going to need those.” Byron stalled trying to mask the fact that he needed time to think. Where would he put the bowls and silverware? He had been right before. He went to the next cupboard and sure enough there were the bowls. This was going great. He handed his Dad the bowl and if he got the spoons in his first guess he would officially have three miracles and could apply for sainthood. But the devil’s advocate inside him calmly brought up that the last was the most difficult. Had anyone ever guessed the silverware drawer on the first guess? So many silverware sized drawers. Byron guessed, opening the small size drawer next to the sink, oven mitts. “Oh, I always forget, we had the silverware drawer here when I first moved here but we changed it.” He went to option two, measuring cups, then spatulas, he could forget about that sainthood. Finally after an empty drawer and placemats; ‘who still has placemats’, he found silverware. “Here you go. You know Julie, can never make up her mind where to put things. I swear it’s a new drawer everyday.” His forced smile was not reciprocated by his father-in-law. Byron tried to move on. “Let me get you some milk.” At least I’ll know where that is, Byron thought as he opened the fridge. He looked around, no milk.

“Sorry Dad, we must be out of milk. Although we do have Soymilk.” Muttering under his breath he added, “heaven knows why.”

“Why do you have Soy Milk?” Asked Dad.

“You don’t like the stuff either huh.” Byron knew he liked this guy. “I keep telling Julie it’s not that much healthier, but she won’t listen, just keeps buying soy.”

With a stern look Pelham said, “My daughter is lactose intolerant.”

Byron fell instantly silent, his mind quickly spun through anyway he could explain having said what he had just said, but nothing came to mind, so he took his shocked look, exaggerated it and said, “If only she would have told me.”

“Come on, Byron, the games up. What’s going on with you and Julie?”

Byron didn’t know what to say, perhaps pretend he was gone for the last month or so, and Julie had moved things, or say they had a few issues and were living apart, but none of that explained why he didn’t know his wife of two years was lactose intolerant. Trying to explain that you are happily married, even though you live separately and never see each other can be difficult. So rather than try he turned it back to good old Dad. “What are you talking about?”

“What am I talking about?” The question was repeated in such a way as to say you know exactly what I am talking about, but if you want me to spell it out for you I will, and spell he did. “You look as if you have never entered this house, you know where nothing is. The rooms, the lawn, the garage, show no signs of a man. The only tools in the shed are a set of pink screwdrivers and crescent wrench Mom got Julie three years ago. Your cable subscription doesn’t even include ESPN.”

“It doesn’t?” Byron said in shock.

Pelham picked right back up, “The bathrooms are full of better homes and gardens, Martha Stewart and Vogue magazines. There are far too many throw pillows, covered in far too many flowers. Which I’ll admit is a plague most men can’t even stop. But look at this bookcase.” He said as he walked back into the living room where there was a bookcase on either side of the entertainment center. “A few romance novels, some of Julie’s college books, some Jane Austen’s. But here you are with a doctorate and I can’t find one book on counseling, psychology, or marriage and family therapy.”

Pelham was right the game was up, but just to ice any chance Byron thought he might have had of getting out of this Pelham added, “In fact, haven’t you written some books?”

The pause was pregnant, delivered a baby and raised it, by the time Byron finally said, “Yes.”

“Can I see one?”

Bryon had thought of bringing one of his books. Not fake bookshelf material, but rather a gift for Mom and Dad, but then thought a book titled, “Your last chance: Saving a wrecked marriage even when your man seems like trash,” didn’t seem appropriate. But if only he had brought it, he could have pulled it out now, knowing that even if he did have it, it would have been likely pulling out his supersoaker to try to stop a forest fire.

The pause was now having twins and Pelham was glad for it. Because with the silence came the reassurance to Pelham that Byron was toying with honesty.

“All right son, since I can tell this might be a long story, how about you and I go out and discuss it over breakfast. I’ll go tell Julie and Mom.”

Dad ran upstairs and although it was muffled Byron could hear most of it.

“Julie, Byron and myself are going to run out to get a bite to eat.”

“He’s here?”

“You sound surprised, why wouldn’t he be here?”

From the tone Byron could tell that Pelham enjoyed catching them in this lie.

“Well, I thought.” Julie stammered out. “That he had to go into work this morning.”

“No, he is very much here and I thought we could go have some male bonding over bacon and syrup. Tell your mother where we have gone if she wakes up.”

Byron suddenly realized he could have just made a run for it when Pelham went upstairs, but unfortunately the thought didn’t enter his head until Pelham was headed back down. All he could do was take a deep breath and hope this interview went better than the one two years ago, but Byron saw little chance of that.

“Shall we?” Pelham said, opening the front door.

Byron slowly stepped out.

Here is the link to Chapter 17

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Those Over Specialized Chickens

Image result for golden egg
Sometimes I feel like this is how the eggs out my chicken should look given how much they cost me

This is a follow up to my Miracle of Pineapple post so if you haven't read it, I suggest that one first.

Given it’s pitfalls it is easy to pick holes in capitalism, and perhaps someday I will write an essay on it, but today I wish to tackle the dangers of over specialization. As stated in my earlier post a lot of credit has to go to specialization. Without a man being a great crane operator and one who knew exactly how to run the plant, and scientists who spend their lives trying to improve crop yields on pineapples there is no way it would come to me for $0.99. This system maximizes economic output, and it does it well, but what it does not maximize or have any incentive to do so is Human Development.

This lesson came home to me recently as I have had the exceptional joy of raising chickens. I love my little flock. Every morning I or one of the kids goes out and opens the barn and my ducks and chickens run out to get their fill of chick feed I got from the local hardware store. Before I had chickens I had a few neighbors who had chickens. One day they offered to sell me some eggs. I said sure, how much? $5 a dozen. I nearly choked. There are on sale down at my local grocery store for $1.99, I thought I was going to get an inside deal. They explained something about organic, happy chickens laying better tasting eggs. Could happy chickens really be worth and extra $3 a dozen?

So, when I got chickens I decided to do a little analysis on what it costs me to farm for eggs. I had to pay a few bucks for each bird, some died, then I had to raise them for 16 months before they laid any eggs. My flock is the size such that I pay about $80 a month on feed. Admittingly, I think the doves run off with about as much as my chickens do. Also, Coyotes have made off with some of my birds from time to time. That led to at least $500+ in fence costs (not that it help, I'll make this a link to explain at a later date). I bought feeders and medicine from time to time. And I live in Southern Nevada, so during high heat they slow down laying eggs. I also don’t use artificial light so they slow down in the winter. Then once and a while one gets broody and my wife, thinks of a chicken wanting to be a Mother and she gives in and lets it hatch a few chicks. Needless to say, when it came time to sell our excess eggs I charge $5 a dozen, and am still losing money.

I was whining about this to one of my friends, wondering if I had lost my sanity, because Dr. Ballif who had taught me engineering economics would wonder if I had learned anything in that class. He said, “but you’re not raising chickens, you’re raising children.” And he is absolutely correct. My monthly egg budget has gone from $6 a month, to over $100 a month, but that’s not why I do it. I love the chickens some, but not that much. It’s for the kids. I think them getting up, feeding the chickens, teaches them regular importance of work. Seeing that if we forget to put them away, they can literally die from coyotes, teaches that there are consequences for our actions. They begin to understand where their food and meat comes from. They and I have had many lessons on mortality that are becoming more and more rare in our society.

I am reminded of what my mission president always told me, that the best missionaries came from farms. Why? Because they knew how to work. I want my kids to know how to work.

So, back to my point. Specialization. It has done some amazing things for us, given us great economic output. It has made it so I can spend my whole career focused on Dam Safety Engineering, or being a construction defect lawyer or an auto mechanic who only works on Fords. And I will be paid very well to do that. In fact, often the more we specialize the more money we make. A general practitioner will make a lot of money, but become a specialist in oncology, or radiology and make much more.

So, I have enough money to focus on my area and pay someone to work on my car. When I have a plumbing issue I can pay a specialist to fix it. If I want a fence put in my yard I can get a guy with all the right equipment to go out and put it in for me. I understand this might maximize economic output. After all, he could fix the leak in an hour and it will take me all day Saturday. (Time that I would of course productively spend catching up on Netflix.) But is that what is really best for my development as a human. Were we better off when the average person knew how to change a carburetor, fix a leaky faucet, and turn wheat into a loaf of bread?

If you think this is an anti-capitalist post you are incorrect. Capitalism and free markets do their job well, but they don't do everything. This is simply saying that while we live in a capitalistic and fairly free market society that incentives us to maximize economic output, perhaps we need to think a little bit more about our own development from time to time. This is easy to see with our kids, it’s always easier to do their jobs for them, but you know they need to learn. The same might be true for each of us. Once and a while we need to still make something from scratch. Have a little garden, even if all it leads to is the world's most expensive salad. Go ahead and fix the sink, even though you will have to call the plumber and it will cost two times as much because he has to correct all the mistakes you made. Or raise your own eggs and meat even though it will be the most expensive, time intensive food you will ever consume. We need to use some of the time and money that this wonderful economic system has given not just to pursue our unique profession or entertain ourselves but rather do many of the things our forefathers had to do, so we can not only develop our economy but also ourselves.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Miracle of Pineapple

Image result for can of pineapple

Today I am writing about the joys and sorrows associated with specialization. I want to start with speaking of the joys. To do so I want to write about the miracle of the pineapple. I have to admit that I stole this from "I, pencil", an essay by Leonard E. Read, but I like pineapples more than pencils, so mine is better. (Okay his is better and you should read it if you haven't, but please read mine too.)

Pineapples only grow in tropical climates. Because most of us have spent our lives outside tropical climates we may have never seen a pineapple plant. But for those desert dwellers like myself, they look much like a Yucca plant. From the time a new pineapple plant is planted in the ground it will take two years of watering, providing proper nutrition and other care for it to get one pineapple. It only grows one pineapple at a time. Then the next year the pineapple plant will get a second pineapple, and if you are lucky you will get one the next year. Then the plant will die. Plantations usually clear the field after the second harvest because it takes too much work for the third harvest when only some will get that third pineapple. So, it takes one plant three years to get you two pineapples.

The plants are rough and ask anyone who has ever spent any time harvesting the plants just how hard this can be. It has been known to be so hard on workers that they often lose their fingerprints from constant removal of skin in that area (not sure why they don’t use gloves). Whenever I speak of the miracle of the pineapple anywhere within a mile of my Uncle Preston he is quick to remind me that many pineapples are often harvested by teenagers who get swindled into a summer of labor so they can get a free trip to Hawaii. But I have no doubt that the back breaking labor well prepared him to be the great business man he is today, so he can’t complain too much.

Once the pineapple is harvested it is shipped to a processing plant. There it is cut and sliced. The juices are saved and then the pineapple is canned in a tin can with its juices and stacked and shipped. The shipping is no small feat. Most pineapples are grown on the islands, so after they are canned they are stacked, wrapped and loaded onto a truck and taken to a port. Then they are unloaded, and reloaded on an ocean liner. From there they again arrive and port and do the same thing in reverse order, from ship back to truck. And then once loaded on a truck they are sent out to a grocery store, where they are again unloaded, unwrapped and taken out by your local grocery stocker. Then you show up and by it for 99 cents.

As a side note fresh pineapple is only possible in the states because of air transport or refrigerated transport. Most comes over by air.

Everytime I bite into a pineapple fresh or canned, I can’t help but think what a miracle it is that I get to be enjoying, what I feel is, one of the most exquisite taste on this planet. Think for a moment how many people were involved to get that to you. There was a farmer/land owner, likely farm hands in planting, nurturing and caring for the plant. There was time, two years while it was grown. Then someone had to harvest, drive to the packing plant. The plant is full of operators, managers, and logistics personnel. The machines that are made specifically to chop and save the juices had to be designed, manufactured and maintained. The plant needs clean water to run, that has to be treated and pumped to the plant and there has to be infrastructure to take away the waste and garbage. They are put into tin cans, a metal that had to be mined shaped and go through it’s whole process. Then you need someone to pack the truck (did I mention there is another whole factory somewhere building the packing material that has it’s own story), trucker to drive and then off to the docks. Here there is another set of hundreds of employees who move containers around, work on timing of ships getting into port and what containers go where, millions of dollars in cranes and other equipment all specifically made to get things unloaded and reloaded quickly. Then to a vessel, that takes a whole crew to operate, to say nothing of the work that went into designing, and manufacturing it.

Next step is again at a port with the same costs and man power needed as on the other port. Then to a truck which travels a highway infrastructure that literally cost billions of dollars to put into place. And what about the gas it takes for these transportation to move? The mining, refining, and shipping to get it into place.

Then off to the grocery store with all its staff and logistics. And you get that can for what someone on minimum wage can make in less than 10 minutes.

Think for a minute what it would take you to get that pineapple and enjoy it with your family if you lived in Kansas and you had to do it alone? You couldn’t, is possibly the simplest answer but for fun think through it. Step 1 get to the coast. Without the benefits of refined oil, and manufactured machines i.e. a car, this would be very difficult. Step 2 cross the ocean, again on your own this to would be difficult if not impossible. But say your Nephi and built and then voila, a month later you arrive in beautiful Hawaii. Step 3 Plant a pineapple then care for it for 2 years. Step 4 harvest the pineapple. But remember the goal is to enjoy it with your family. So, you have to hope your wife hasn’t remarried in the past 2 years and figure out a way to preserve it why you take your month long journey back to Kansas. I could go on, but you get my point. That is the miracle of capitalism and made possible in large part by specialization. No central planning effort, no matter how good or how long could have possibly gotten you that can of goodness for any cheaper.

What has made it possible?

Mostly the fact that every person has an incentive to maximize profits and economic output. That is the real beauty of capitalism, I have an incentive to get you what you want, the more I get you what you want and need, the more products I can sell, the more money I can make. One of the ways this has been accomplished is specialization. We have become ultra-specialized and are only getting more so with time.

This has led to an amazing and miraculous economy. One that continues to stretch the limits of what economic output can be created. But unfortunately there are down sides. As the quote goes, “Capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the others.” My next write up will be exploring one of the many limitations of capitalism, specifically specialization, but for now I think I’ll go open a can of pineapple and enjoy it.

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