Staying Clear of Scoundrels

A guy selling gutter screens stopped by the house last week. We had inquired about his product because we need something over our gutters so we don’t have to climb high ladders several times a year to clean them out. The surrounding maples and those darn helicopters they spawn are a royal pain in the a**. In any case, the product this guy’s company sells is highly rated and seemed like it should do the trick. If it hadn’t been for the sales guy.

In short, he was a liar. I’m sure he thought he was smooth and that his tactics were effective. And perhaps they were. Most of the time. But not with me. Not this time.

Earlier in my life, Vera, I may have been more inclined to overlook his conduct as salesman puffery. Or just the manipulative way some sales people operate. But no more. Because of what he said and how he acted, I couldn’t trust him.

Unfortunately for him, I no longer will do business with people I can’t trust. It’s as simple as that. Even if they’re a client — a former client, that is. For if I can’t trust them, I don’t want them as a client either. Even if it means I’d be forgoing money.

I was reminded of something I’d heard Warren Buffett say. Buffett, of course, is highly successful, as judged by society’s standards: money. He’s one of the world’s richest men. While I don’t embrace all of Buffett’s principles, I do find a lot of wisdom in most of them. And this is one.

Shane Parrish has this to say about this particular principle: Continue reading

Things I Think This Morning

Inflation has heated up, meaning your dollar won’t go as far, which is bad news for savers, retirees and working-class people. At least in the short run, the president’s tariff policies are bound to increase costs, hurting more people than they help. As always, oil and gas prices matter, too. There’s no consensus on where they’re headed.

Roundup was found to have caused cancer this week, a reminder that people are too cavalier about all those home and garden chemicals. People fail to appreciate how toxic and hazardous many chemicals are. We need to be careful what we inhale and what we allow to come into direct contact with our skin. I was thinking quite a lot about cancer this week. I have a friend who is battling it, and my dad died from it. It’s a hideous disease. I hope we defeat it soon.

The stock market had a bad day yesterday. There’s a fierce debate raging over whether the market is a bubble or not. By historical standards, it’s certainly pricey. Whether that means we’re in for a crash at some point or merely a decade of poor returns, I have no idea. But it’s probably not the time to be taking too many risks. That said, I continue to cherry pick some stocks here and there, all the time being mindful that it’s more important not to lose money than to make money. I’m constantly surprised by the risks some people are willing to take. Given the debt people and companies have taken on the past few years, there will be a lot of pain when the market eventually corrects (or craters) and when interest rates rise significantly. When will that happen? I have no idea. Perhaps this year; perhaps well into the future. But it will happen. Someday.

For anyone considering a European vacation, there is good news: the greenback is continuing to strengthen.  We’re planning on going to England next year so I hope the exchange rate continues to improve.

We were at Costco yesterday. It’s my favorite store by a wide margin. I struck up a conversation at the gas pump with the attendant. Nice guy. He’s worked there 13 years. I asked him if Costco treated its employees as well as it’s been reported. He emphatically replied, “Yes, it’s a great company to work for.” Costco and R.E.I. are living proof that you can treat your employees well, do business the right way and still succeed. Indeed, you can excel. I don’t know why so many employers treat their employers so poorly. It’s short-sighted and, frankly, stupid from a business standpoint. Yet it’s prevalent. I suppose we simply have too many assholes running things.

Wife and I took another walk last night through center city Carmel, as we frequently do. It’s great to see so much happening here, proof that progressive community leadership can make a difference. When I compare it to ultra-conservative Loveland, Colorado, where we last lived, the difference is night and day. The people were great in Loveland, and we have some super friends there. But the community leadership was poor. Very poor. If I were young and starting out, I’d want to be sure to put stakes down in a place that was going somewhere, and not a place that was desperately trying to cling to the past. We live in the present and prepare for the future. The past is the past. Let go.

 

The Paradox of Baseball

Saturday I attended my first professional baseball game in the last two years. The weather was perfect. The seats (first row along the first-base line) nearly so. It was a triple-A, not a major league game, but I was surprised by the quality of play. The star, who emptied the bases with his double to the base of the wall in right-center and drove in five of the six runs scored by our hometown team, the Indianapolis Indians, was a catcher who had just been sent down by the Pirates.

The game, which lasted about two and a half hours or more, confirmed for me what I already knew: there are few things in life that can be as boring and as exciting as a baseball game. Continue reading

How Will the Lack of Privacy Affect Your Life?

Your world, Vera, will be very different from mine. And I wonder what it will be like. Sometimes, I’m excited by the possibilities; sometimes, I fear the possibilities. One thing that concerns me the most if the utter lack of privacy you’ll encounter. And the power that puts in the hands of others, particularly, those who are intent on using power only for their own self interests. The glimpses we are already afforded into that world are disturbing. Continue reading

My Oh My, How Things Have Changed

(Thanks to Harry Stevens at Axios for the above chart.)

I’m still pissed at the way our Attorney General ripped our youth yesterday. So I thought it would be helpful to share some data on the ways life was so much easier for Mr. Sessions and me back in the day.

You’ll see how the cost of college has skyrocketed, Vera. And, yes, we are comparing apples to apples: all the numbers are inflation adjusted.

What isn’t shown here is the roughly $1.5 trillion of student-loan debt that our youth and others carry on their backs thanks to misguided policies emanating from Washington (both Republicans and Democrats).

You’ll see above how the median income hasn’t budged in all these years, despite the huge increases in education and health care expenses. How did we pull it off? By going deeply into debt. Which makes Sessions and his cronies happy, of course, because where some see debt others see profits.

People also have dealt with the economic headwinds by putting off marriage and buying a home. And more of our youth are living at home with their parents longer.

Yes, Mr. Sessions, let’s ridicule our youth. If we get everyone to focus on them, perhaps they won’t notice how you and your party are destroying the middle class so the wealthy can have an even larger share of the pie. Glutton!

I’m done venting now.

The Art of Changing the Subject

President Trump has been criticized harshly over the past week because of his performance in Helsinki with Russian President Putin. So yesterday he tried his best to change the subject. By tweeting this:

Predictably, the pundits pounced.

The fact that the tweet came out of the blue and had nothing to do with anything matters not. It worked. He changed the subject. The focus. Twitter lit up, not about Russia or the president’s dismal performance but about this unrelated, contrived tweet.

Mr. Trump is a master at dictating the public discourse. He’s better at it than anyone I’ve ever seen. And from that we can learn, Vera. Continue reading