Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A world without Boy Scouts

Last week’s appearance by President Trump at the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree and his trademark non-scripted remarks caused Scouting’s boo-birds to come out in full strength on social media. You could find on Twitter and Facebook countless souls using his remarks to paint the Jamboree as a “Hitler Youth Rally.”

Never mind that Presidents have long been invited to speak at Jamborees and Trump is known to meander off message, no matter the audience or guidelines before him. The biggest naysayers chose to ignore that because they already had a vendetta against the organization, one that saw them over the past few years paint the BSA as being too traditional in their ways or not being inclusive enough.

It’s a topsy-turvy world when you see how many people would love Scouting to go the way of the dinosaur. I really can’t understand how some people could feel threatened by a youth organization that transforms boys into excellent husbands, fathers, citizens, and leaders. God knows this world needs more men to be better at those responsibilities.

The Scouting program is an excellent supplement to good parenting and good schooling and when either of those is lacking, Scouting fills the void and becomes something greater.

It gives boys the male guidance that might be missing from a broken home, it develops the confidence they need to overcome their perceived weaknesses and fears, and it shows them the paths of careers and service they may not have been exposed to in the home or classroom.

That’s a pretty spectacular impact.

What if the naysayers’ wishes came true?

What if there never was a Boy Scouts of America as we know it?

Here’s how our world might be different:    

There might not have been artificial hearts: Doctor William DeVries was instrumental in developing artificial hearts and it was with his skilled surgical hands that the new technology was first tested on animals and then put into a human. He paved the way for saved lives and longer lives. It just so happens DeVries is an Eagle Scout. Scouting gave him the drive needed to work through high school to help his mother and grandmother raise his sixteen siblings and then tackle some of the most rigorous medical theories in universities.  

Hank Aaron might not have broken Babe Ruth’s record: Hank Aaron’s assault on the most sacred of sports records – the all-time home run record – would never have happened were a weaker man (physically or mentally) in his baseball cleats. Aaron received thousands of racist, hateful letters as he approached Babe Ruth’s total, and many of them were death threats against him and his family. He weathered that incredible stress and disgusting hatred by rising above it thanks to the life lessons and confidence he gleaned from being a Boy Scout.

There might not have been an Indiana Jones, Jaws or ET: Some of the most iconic films of all time were developed by Steven Spielberg who was an Eagle Scout. He likely would have gone on to an entirely different career path without the BSA’s impact. In a 2010 interview with Scouting magazine he said: “When I went for a Photography merit badge, I made a little 8mm movie. And the Boy Scouts in my troop liked the movie, made a lot of noise, laughed, clapped, and all that. I got that great virus of ‘I’ve got to do this the rest of my life.’”

There might not be a Wal-Mart: Sam Walton founded the world’s largest and most impactful department store chain in 1962 after years in sales and retail. His loyalty to the customer, emphasis on thrift and value, focus on sound business practices and tireless work ethic allowed the business to grow dramatically and he became one of America’s great entrepreneurial stories of the twentieth century. Those life skills and business traits were ideologies honed in the Boy Scout program. Walton was a Life Scout – almost an Eagle.

There might not be a Microsoft: Another Life Scout, Bill Gates, become a multi-billionaire by founding Microsoft, a company that is part of our everyday lives, one that has made work and computation so easy. He then devoted his earnings and life to philanthropy through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which impacts millions of lives the world over. That attention to community service was developed in his Boy Scout career, as was his interest in computing. One of his former scout leaders liked to recount the tale of one event where all the boys focused on outdoor skills while Bill gave a presentation on computers which were only in their embryonic stage at that time.

Other scouts you might be familiar with are Eagles like Neil Armstrong, Gerald Ford, Ross Perot, Mike Rowe, and William Sessions.

That’s an impeccable list of men who accomplished much…men who changed the world because they were changed by Scouting.

It’s pretty tough to imagine where we would be without Boy Scouts.


From the 31 July 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers

Friday, July 21, 2017

Health care could use a dose of responsibility

A report was issued last December by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noting that the average life expectancy for Americans dropped for first time since 1993. For those born in 2015 it was estimated that a woman could live to 81.2 while a man could live to 76.3 years of age. The previous report showed expectations of 81.3 and 76.5.

While the changes might seem small (we’re talking a couple of months or less), it’s an entirely unwelcome and unexpected situation. Unwelcome in that everyone wants to live as long as they can and unexpected given that Americans spent a mind-numbing $3.2 trillion on health care in 2015, which was 6% more than 2014.    

The reason behind outcomes not matching expectations is a marked increase in death rate not attributed to old age. Eight of the top ten leading causes of death saw increases in 2015, some of them reversing years-long trends. The usual culprits were front and center: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory diseases, etc. 

How could this happen? After all, shouldn’t all that money we’re pumping into the health care system through insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and more lead to longer, healthier lives?

Not necessarily. Expenditures continue to grow because we are managing those afflictions rather than preventing or inhibiting them. Americans make themselves sick rather than healthy.

That’s the reason why we rank a pitiful 26th in the world in life expectancy.

The nations that lead us in that regard (such as Japan which comes in at just under 84 years of good living) eat less fat and processed sugars and consume much healthier foods. The standard American diet has become calorie-rich and junk-heavy (just look at how ubiquitous the deadly high-fructose corn syrup has become).

That bad dietary behavior, coupled with a growing disinterest in physical activity, has caused two-thirds of all American adults to be considered overweight and staggering third of our population to be labeled as obese.

Their kids are following their lead as approximately one-third of children and adolescents ages 6 to 19 are considered to be overweight or obese. That’s frightening, given that many of us have fond memories of energetic childhoods with time spent outdoors or playing sports.

Despite society’s deep knowledge of the cause of our problems we continue to pursue excess with food and drink and pass on the gym or getting out into nature. This is because we have a healthcare system that rewards bad behavior and causes individuals to always think and act in the short-term.

There’s always a quick fix to health problems, be it through medications, surgeries, or equipment. It’s so much easier for people to rely on a crutch rather than make the minimal personal sacrifices necessary to maintain a health way of life.

Since all the education levied upon this problem – be it through schooling of our youth, public service announcements, or scolding from doctors - has done nothing to suppress this behavior the most efficient way to address this dire trend would be to attack the thing that people value more than their health…their pocketbooks.

To do so, we need a wholesale reform: Health insurance must truly become health insurance. By any definition of the word, it is anything but "insurance". It is more appropriately designated as "health coverage" since all individuals investing in it pay the same rates, regardless of their situation. It is quite unlike the real insurances of the world (automobile, liability, life) that require higher-risk individuals to pay much higher fees than low-risk individuals.

If the industry and laws were they applied a risk assessment to each individuals’ investment in their health care, then and only then, can we limit poor choices and promote good behavior.

The current way of doing things is counter-productive since a relatively healthy and safe person is not rewarded for his or her approach to life, paying just as much as people who smoke, have been arrested for questionable actions (DWI, hard drugs, gang activities), get infected via unprotected sex, don’t exercise, and eat grease or sugars.

If a high-risk individual had to pay 10 to 30 percent more than a health nut (which would amount to thousands of dollars per year), then chances are very good that they would change their ways and pinch pennies by pinching the fat (or ditching their vices). This would set off a welcomed domino-effect that would lessen our nation’s pervasive need for expensive medical services and pharmaceuticals.

Money drives the American economy and, sadly, our personal and societal cultures. Leveraged properly, it could also drive heath care. Were it taken away from those who want good health care but not good health then we could change the overall healthiness of our nation, righting our sinking ship and preventing further reckless and unwarranted investment in a system that is currently buoyed by stubbornness, disinterest, and, in many case, a lack of personal responsibility.

Health insurance must become insurance by action -- and not just by name.

From the 24 July 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Only government could mess up the gas tank

Have you purchased a portable fuel tank for your garage or boat in recent years and wondered why they are, respectively, such pieces of garbage or so expensive?

You can’t help but be frustrated with what has happened to the once-simple gas can.

The modern no-spill units you use to fuel up your mower, chainsaw or ATV are anything but no-spill, as the clumsy spouts and necks lead to immeasurable amounts of wasted gas ending up on your power equipment and garage floor. You likely approach the same gas cans with trepidation because they look like bloated little powder kegs ready to explode on hot summer days because they are no longer manufactured with vents.   

Then there’s those portable tanks that come in a variety of sizes for your fishing boat. They could be purchased for under $30 prior to 2011. Now, they come in at $50 to $80.

The mark-ups don’t end there. Consider what became of the fuel tanks that you don’t make direct purchases of, such as those built into your equipment. The newer tanks and accompanying hoses and accessories have add $50 to the cost of push mowers and $100 to riding mowers over the past decade. Those same changes added $280 to the cost of an outboard engine and $360 to jet skis.

Don’t blame manufacturers for this.

Blame the government.

It all started with the California Air Resource Board and their purported efforts to save the environment which in the case of CARB is always done with truly-ridiculous regulations that micromanage the minutia of consumerism.

CARB somehow got it in their heads that fuel tanks and power equipment not only contribute to global warming when they’re open or running, but also when they are not. They believe that plastic tanks and hoses breathe incredible amounts of gas fumes to the air on a non-stop basis.

Cans might pass gas through a vented cap or a loose-fitting nozzle, so that’s what forced CARB to call for non-vented tanks that use self-closing spouts that require you to clumsily flick a lever to open them. Never mind that all those fumes still escape every time you open your gas can to fill it or put the spout back into the tank for safe transportation and storage.  

That rule was bad enough. Then CARB analyzed the gas molecules that might gradually work their way through the walls of the tanks or the bodies of the hose. CARB became adamant that those ultra-microscopic particles are killing the atmosphere so they required tanks be made with molded-in barriers or special materials to prevent permeation that was already negligible to begin with.

Sadly, the Environmental Protection Agency ate this up and decided to introduce similar standards at the federal level for gas cans, mowers and watercraft beginning in 2011 which accounts for the ridiculous and pricy changes you’ve encountered.

At my factory, we’ve lost business in a few waves because we didn’t have the technology necessary to meet these crazy regulations.

In 2010, we made the last of our portable fuel tanks for marine use. The production of those tanks kept 8 people busy for three-quarters of the year.  

That same year, fuel tank business for lawn mower manufacturers also tanked for us. We were making more than 60,000 mower tanks a year. Once the law went into effect, our customers’ tanks could be used only for aftermarket repairs of old mowers and production dropped to only 2% of what it was.

This week officially marks the end of an era for us at Confer Plastics as we will be making the very last of those aftermarket items. We had been making gas tanks since the early-1970s. Going forward, we’ll never make one again.  

We could have stayed in the gas can business, but it would have required a $4 million investment in a high-tech multi-layered machine necessary to make them. There are far better ways to invest such money and we certainly couldn’t have made such a purchase when those laws went into effect: We were in the throes of the recession, a truly scary time to do business.  

Sometimes, with laws like these, you just need to sit back and ponder how oppressive – and stupid – governments can be.

Leave it to them to ruin the simple, basic red gas can.

Think about that the next time you spill gasoline all over your shoes and hands.

 From the 17 July 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers