Monday, April 28, 2008

What Food Crisis?

In my wealth
I am concerned
That the price of fuel
Has increased significantly.

In his poverty
He has no money
To buy the food
To feed his children.

If I drove less
And bought less
And paid less
For the things I desire

Would he have
More funds
With which to buy
What he needs?

Sadly, no.

In my compassion
I give of my plenty
To those who would
Feed the needy.

Greed siphons
The compassionate gift
Until the trickle remaining
Is almost meaningless.

What is the answer?

One camp says
That we should
Redistribute the wealth
Among the needy.

The other camp says
That we should
Teach the needy
To feed themselves.

The greedy,
The powerful,
The politicians,
The bureaucrats,

All seek to exploit,
Pushing their own agenda,
While I continue to worry about the price of fuel
And he still can't feed his family.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Straw Hat Weather

On a recent trip to Corpus Christi, I acquired a new straw hat. It was during the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers annual meeting and trade show. It was definitely straw hat weather in South Texas although it was prior to Easter – which came early this year. OK, so where am I going with this? Traditionally, in most parts of cattle country, Easter marks the beginning date when it becomes acceptable to wear a straw hat rather than a felt hat.

While felt hats are appropriate at any time of year (especially on formal occasions) straw hats generally are worn only after Easter and prior to Labor Day. Those are the dates that basically define the period of warmer weather when the greater airflow through a good straw hat is more comfortable than the heat generated beneath a felt hat.

Easter came early this year. Add to that the early time change and my clock got off somewhere. It is just now warm enough to start thinking about straw hats rather than felt.

Most of the time I wear a cap to cover my bald head. Caps are easier to keep up with, the brim doesn’t hit the headrest on my pickup seat, and they don’t catch as much wind as a hat. But when it is hot outside, you can’t beat a good straw hat. It keeps my neck and ears from broiling.

Some people wear hats for decoration. I never really bought into that. I wear a hat for shade or to keep my head warm. Some people wear hats to keep the rain off of their head. That’s usually not an issue in the Texas Panhandle. It would be nice if it did rain. Then I could test that particular theory.

People seem to have lost sight of proper hat etiquette over the years. I fear that it is a symptom of the general coarsening of behavior. It is tied to a loss of civility in society.

Some years ago the John B. Stetson Company published guidelines for appropriate hat etiquette. These guidelines are appropriate today – whether the wearer sports a felt, straw or a cap.

* The hat should be removed from the head when the National Anthem is played, when entering a building, when you are being introduced – especially if it is to a woman, at a funeral, or when beginning a conversation.

* The hat should be tipped, or lifted slightly from the head, when a woman thanks you, after getting directions from a stranger – especially if the stranger is female, when you excuse yourself to a woman, when you are walking with a friend and he says hello to a woman that he knows and you do not.

* You are not expected to remove your hat in public buildings, in entrance halls or in elevators. The exception being that it is polite to remove your hat in an elevator if there is a woman present – unless it is too crowded to do so. You are expected to remove your hat in any situation where a show of respect is appropriate. This would include removing the hat in public buildings if the building is a church, courthouse, or state or federal capitol.

* Hats should be removed for meals if there is a safe place to put your hat while eating.

Hat etiquette is something that has been lost. I see hats everywhere. Our kids wear them to school and even to church functions. They think nothing of leaving them on their head unless someone in authority asks them to remove them. They have no concept of the lack of respect that wearing their hat shows – or maybe they do.

It’s springtime. The weather is finally turning warm. I believe it’s time for a straw hat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Portland Head Lighthouse

The rocky ledge runs far out into the sea
And on its outer point, some miles away,
The lighthouse lifts its massive masonry,
A pillar of fire by night, of cloud by day.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Lighthouse"

This past week I went to Portland, Maine, for business. Fortunately, I was able to have a little time to take a trip out to the Portland Head Light. The weather was gorgeous.

The lighthouse sits on a promontory of rocks jutting out into the ocean. It is adjacent to what was once old Fort Williams.

Construction of the lighthouse was completed in January, 1791. President George Washington appointed Joseph Greenleaf, a Revolutionary War veteran, to be the first keeper. The original keeper's house was of stone. The current Victorian house was built in 1891.

This is a fishing boat returning to port. The photo was taken from the observation area at the base of the lighthouse.

For more on The Portland Head Light click here.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Competition for Beef

While traveling in Kansas this past week I had the opportunity to meet with several cattlemen and feedlot managers. The mood among them is somber to say the least. The market doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the realities of the new energy economy very quickly.

Transportation cost is one of the biggest factors impacting every industry across the country -- especially livestock feeding. When trucking companies are dealing with diesel prices in the neighborhood of $4.00/gallon, the cost of moving grain or animals or boxed beef becomes significant. If calves are being shipped from the Southeast to feedlots in the Plains, the cost of transportation must be figured into the price of those calves. The same issue affects corn – if it can be purchased at all.

On the other end of the supply chain we have the consumer. When gasoline prices are at record levels, groceries is one area where household costs are cut. We should be looking at ways to drive less or improve fuel efficiency but instead, we cut back on spending for higher priced food items such as beef. We don’t give up our gas guzzling habits very easily.

The result is that packing plants are looking at cold storage filled with boxes of unsold beef; the feedlots are looking at cattle that need to go to market but the packing plants aren’t willing to give them a price at which the feeder can make any money; cattle feeders are unwilling to buy calves to put on feed – and on and on. It all is driven by fuel in one form or another.

What is driving the fuel prices? I am amazed that our Congressional leaders in all of their wisdom feel compelled to bring the heads of multiple oil companies to Washington to berate them over the cost of fuel. Of course, most of the Congressmen and Senators don’t have much training in economics. In fact, I think they must be trained in anti-economics – or at least anti-free enterprise. Most of the laws coming out of Washington seem to hinder business rather than help. The cost of every regulation and every hair-brained pork-barrel scheme gets passed on to the consumer in some form or fashion. Sometimes it is a direct tax but more often than not, it as an indirect tax created through regulatory action on business.

It is the growing economies in India and China, domestic regulations concerning fuel additives, mandatory targets for bio-fuels, market uncertainty due to political unrest, burdensome regulation on building new refineries and infrastructure, the high cost of building refineries, environmental regulations, closure of certain areas to oil exploration, the devaluation of the dollar, and all of the other global factors that impact the energy business that are driving fuel prices. Why do we think we can solve the problem by making ethanol from corn? Oh, and did I mention the booming economies of India and China? A few hundred million individuals with the most disposable income at their finger tips that has been seen in those countries ever – want to spend it on some of the finer things in life – like automobiles and meat.

Our consumer spending habits are enabling those countries to build thriving economies that produce goods that must be transported to the U.S. by ships burning diesel. I’m happy their economies are growing. We just have to realize that we are paying for that growth.

The current ethanol mandates drive up the price of corn. That’s really all they do for our energy situation. Has the price of gasoline come down? The high price of corn was good for corn farmers – last year. The cost of farm inputs has now normalized (adjusted) due to the higher fuel costs and the margins for farmers will be much slimmer this year. Their business is extremely fuel intensive. Their input costs – such as for fertilizer and diesel – have gone through the roof.

The mandates are hurting cattle producers. They are suppressing demand for beef because now – put this in your pipe and smoke it – beef is competing against energy. The consumer dollar will choose energy over beef because of the need to heat and cool our homes and drive to and from work. In the past, beef competed with pork and poultry. Now it must also compete with energy because the primary cattle feed ingredient is being converted to fuel.

Isn’t it great what misguided regulations do for you?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Petition in Support of Our Troops

Sign the petition started by Senator John Cornyn in support of General Petraeus and our troops. You can do so at:

Show your support!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Lunch Time

Through the years and various jobs, I’ve had the privilege, or maybe I should say was required, to travel throughout a large portion of this beautiful country. In those travels there has often been the opportunity to strike up a conversation with perfect strangers. In sales, you never know who might provide the next good lead.

It is amazing to me how many times during such conversations, the subject turns quickly to what each of you does for a living. I look at it as an opportunity. It may be a sales opportunity or it may just be a chance to learn more about the local community. It is almost always interesting. It sometimes leaves me a bit chagrined.

A good example of this occurred a few weeks ago in a restaurant in a town which shall remain nameless. I had stopped for a bite to eat.

Most people when traveling tend to stop at places that look familiar. They will stop at chain restaurants or fast food signs where they have a good idea how the food will look and taste. I have traveled enough that my tendency is to stop at the unfamiliar. My favorite restaurants are better described as the local cafĂ© – often downtown on Main Street America. They provide the best opportunity for sampling the local fare and getting a taste of the local atmosphere.

I will frequently pass up a number of good eateries to find that special hole-in-the-wall where the parking lot is filled with pickups sporting brush guards and cow dogs and dragging stock trailers with saddled horses. It is a sure bet that the food will be good and the conversation at surrounding tables will be interesting.

Often the tables will be set up in a manner that encourages group seating. Why not? Everyone knows nearly everyone else in the place. They frequently come into town in ones and twos and appreciate the company. They may not have had a conversation with anyone but their cow dog all morning. It was in such a place that I met Fred. (Now, Fred isn’t his real name but it will suffice for purposes of my illustration.)

I had been driving for a while since visiting with my last prospective customer and needed sustenance. On the outskirts of town was a run-down looking white board building that had been blessed with numerous additions through the years. The parking lot was full and it appeared a likely place for good food. I walked in and saw only one seat available in the place – at a long table down the middle of the room – across from Fred. So, I asked if he minded if I sit down. The “help yourself” response led me to sit and order a glass of tea and the special – enchiladas.

Fred wore a dirty felt hat that looked like it had seen a lot of use. He had a handle-bar mustache and suspenders that held up faded jeans beneath a belly that was evidence of too much time sitting and not enough time exercising. I’ve lived long enough to learn not to judge a book too hastily by its cover. Often the most successful individuals don’t look the part. In fact, it’s the ones who flaunt their appearance of whom I’ve learned to be somewhat leery. So I thought perhaps Fred might be a local rancher.

Fred didn’t say much for awhile but eventually asked the inevitable, “you just passing through?” My reply of course was yes, which led to further questions of what do you do, etc. Upon learning that I was involved in a livestock related business he began to ask questions more specific to my business. I thought to myself that maybe he might even be a potential customer. I began to ask questions of him.

As the conversation progressed, I noticed an occasional glance from one of the gentlemen sitting just down the table from us. This gentleman was obviously interested in our conversation so I thought to myself, “this is great. I may find lots of business leads.”

My questions began in a very general tone but soon became more specific – such as, “what kind of processing regimen are you using on your calves?” His response left no doubt that he was clueless about processing regimens. I eventually got him to admit that he was a truck driver for an oilfield service company.
When he got up and left I looked down the table at the gentleman who had appeared to express interest in our conversation and just shook my head. He grinned real big and said, “I wondered how long it would take you to find out he didn’t know what he was talking about!” With that I knew it was time to hit the road again.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Finding Your Voice

I am amazed at how often people become caught up in being what they are not. I don't mean to say that they deliberately put on an act. What I mean is that they become enamored with what others are doing and seek to emulate them on some level.

Writing is one area where I think this is common. Writers want to be read. They want to be popular. They want to be accepted into the realm of recognizable personalities. So, they write about things that they perceive will be popular.

It is a great exercise in learning the art of writing. Typically, though, by emulating someone else, the writer never finds his own voice. He never truly expresses himself. He writes for someone else.

I think great writers are like great artists and musicians. The best are unique. They express themselves through their work in their own unique style. Their work stands out from the crowd because it isn't "cookie-cutter" work; it is apart from the crowd. It stands out. It is the single red shirt in a sea of blue. It is the cowboy hat at the opera.

Writers should write about what they enjoy. If you like history, write history. If you like music, write about music. If you like television, write about television. You get the picture.

The blog world is an area where I think there are lots of pretenders. I believe this is especially prevalent among political blogs. Many political blogs were started because the writer saw that political blogs received lots of attention. The writers really don't have their heart in their work. They struggle with every post. It shows.

I am learning to recognize my own writing voice. It is something that I've struggled with just as do many others. I don't know yet exactly what it is. I believe that it is an evolving thing. I hope that when I find it, it will be recognizable by others.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Congressional Earmarks

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has posted an interesting commentary on the Earmark Game. Click the link to read the article.

Everyone Loses in the Earmark Game

I agree that many worthy projects are funded through the process of attaching earmark appropriations to spending bills. The problem is exactly that pointed out in the Senator's remarks: "...the system we have now is broken, and it’s not being fixed."

For some time now I have felt that a line-item veto power by the President would be a good method for fixing the problem of Earmarks. I no longer believe it is the appropriate tool. I would like to think that the President would be above wielding such a tool in a political manner, but given the "quality" of the current candidates for that office, I'm not so sure. I can just see a situation in which the political party that holds the White House would receive the benefit of Earmark spending while all others suffer.

I am happy to see that Senator Cornyn is aware that the Earmark issue is one with which the taxpayers and voters at home are concerned. A sincere effort on the part of Congress to stem the abuse and correct the situation would help to begin the process of rebuilding the faith of the American people in our elected officials to represent their best interests.