Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Are You a "Rowan" or Just Another Soldier?

Funny how things that happen today can put your mind in reverse and call back a distant memory. Elbert Hubbard wrote a classic essay I have recaptured below. He called it "A Message to Garcia." The history behind the story is outlined here if you're interested. The setting of the account is the year 1898 during the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Its message is as timely today as it is timeless. See if you don't agree if you're reading it for the first time..

I was first introduced to the story during "goat week" as a Sigma Chi pledge yearning for initiation into what we all considered the best boys club on campus. We were admonished to live our lives in such a way that we could be considered a "Rowan." In Rowan's own words, here's his account of HOW he did it.

Perhaps others have encountered the story in other settings. When I first heard the story it made a lasting impression. The lessons to take away from it are numerous, but the author sums it up better than anyone who has moralized its value since then.

A Message To Garcia

IN ALL THIS CUBAN BUSINESS there is one man stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba — no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

What to do!

Someone said to the President, "There is a fellow by the name of Rowan will find Garcia for you, if anybody can."

Andrew Summers Rowan
Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How "the fellow by name of Rowan" took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia — are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail.

The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing — "Carry a message to Garcia."

General Garcia is dead now, but there are other Garcias.

No man who has endeavored to carry out an enterprise where many hands are needed, but has been well-nigh appalled at times by the imbecility of the average man — the inability or unwillingness to concentrate on a thing and do it. Slipshod assistance, foolish inattention, dowdy indifference, and half-hearted work seem the rule; and no man succeeds, unless by hook or crook or threat he forces or bribes other men to assist him; or mayhap, God in His goodness performs a miracle, and sends him an Angel of Light for an assistant.

You, reader, put this matter to a test: You are sitting now in your office — six clerks are within call. Summon any one and make this request: "Please look in the encyclopedia and make a brief memorandum for me concerning the life of Correggio."

Will the clerk quietly say, "Yes, sir," and go do the task?

On your life, he will not. He will look at you out of a fishy eye, and ask one or more of the following questions:

Who was he?

Which encyclopedia?

Where is the encyclopedia?

Was I hired for that?

Don't you mean Bismarck?

What's the matter with Charlie doing it?

Is he dead?

Is there any hurry?

Sha'n't I bring you the book and let you look it up yourself?

What do you want to know for?

And I will lay you ten to one that after you have answered the questions, and explained how to find the information, and why you want it, the clerk will go off and get one of the other clerks to help him find Garcia — and then come back and tell you there is no such man. Of course, I may lose my bet, but according to the Law of Average I will not.

Now, if you are wise, you will not bother to explain to your "assistant" that Correggio is indexed under the C's, not in the K's, but you will smile very sweetly and say, "Never mind," and go look it up yourself. And this incapacity for independent action, this moral stupidity, this infirmity of the will, this unwillingness to cheerfully catch hold and lift — these are the things that put pure Socialism so far into the future. If men will not act for themselves, what will they do when the benefit of their effort is for all?

A first mate with knotted club seems necessary; and the dread of getting "the bounce" Saturday night holds many a worker to his place. Advertise for a stenographer, and nine out of ten who apply can neither spell nor punctuate — and do not think it necessary to.

Can such a one write a letter to Garcia?

"You see that bookkeeper," said the foreman to me in a large factory.

"Yes, what about him?"

"Well, he's a fine accountant, but if I'd send him uptown on an errand, he might accomplish the errand all right, and on the other hand, might stop at four saloons on the way, and when he got to Main Street would forget what he had been sent for."

Can such a man be entrusted to carry a message to Garcia?

We have recently been hearing much maudlin sympathy expressed for the "down-trodden denizens of the sweatshop" and the "homeless wanderer searching for honest employment," and with it all often go many hard words for the men in power.

Nothing is said about the employer who grows old before his time in a vain attempt to get frowsy ne'er-do-wells to do intelligent work; and his long, patient striving after "help" that does nothing but loaf when his back is turned. In every store and factory there is a constant weeding-out process going on. The employer is constantly sending away "help" that have shown their incapacity to further the interests of the business, and others are being taken on. No matter how good times are, this sorting continues: only, if times are hard and work is scarce, this sorting is done finer — but out and forever out the incompetent and unworthy go. It is the survival of the fittest. Self-interest prompts every employer to keep the best — those who can carry a message to Garcia.

I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him. He can not give orders, and he will not receive them. Should a message be given him to take to Garcia, his answer would probably be, "Take it yourself!"

Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular firebrand of discontent. He is impervious to reason, and the only thing that can impress him is the toe of a thick-soled Number Nine boot.

Of course, I know that one so morally deformed is no less to be pitied than a physical cripple; but in our pitying let us drop a tear, too, for the men who are striving to carry on a great enterprise, whose working hours are not limited by the whistle, and whose hair is fast turning white through the struggle to hold the line in dowdy indifference, slipshod imbecility, and the heartless ingratitude which, but for their enterprise, would be both hungry and homeless.

Have I put the matter too strongly? Possibly I have; but when all the world has gone a-slumming I wish to speak a word of sympathy for the man who succeeds — the man who, against great odds, has directed the efforts of others, and having succeeded, finds there's nothing in it nothing but bare board and clothes. I have carried a dinner-pail and worked for a day's wages, and I have also been an employer of labor, and I know there is something to be said on both sides. There is no excellence, per se, in poverty; rags are no recommendation; and all employers are not rapacious and high-handed, any more than all poor men are virtuous.

My heart goes out to the man who does his work when the "boss" is away, as well as when he is at home. And the man who, when given a letter for Garcia, quietly takes the missive, without asking any idiotic questions, and with no lurking intention of chucking it into the nearest sewer, or of doing aught else but deliver it, never gets "laid off," nor has to go on a strike for higher wages. Civilization is one long, anxious search for just such individuals. Anything such a man asks will be granted. He is wanted in every city, town and village — in every office, shop, store and factory. The world cries out for such: he is needed and needed badly — the man who can "Carry a Message to Garcia."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Detroit, Bankrupt, and For What?

This past week a new chapter in history was written in America, and it's not a happy chapter. The once-proud Motor City of the 50s has become the poster child for the biggest Chapter 9 bankruptcy of a municipality. The city fathers managed to run up $18 billion in debt that could not be repaid.

Many will clamor for the federal government to bail out Detroit. By the way, the "federal government" here should be translated - YOU! Taxpayers will soon come to realize it's really THEIR money at stake here whenever the topic turns to "bailout." I'm wondering if finally someone in Washington will draw the line in the sand and say, "No. We will not bail out ANY reckless spending by cities, counties or state governments." Then, having set THAT precedent, we might be able to establish a precedent for the federal government too.

Detroit’s bankruptcy filing is only the latest chapter in a long slow-reading book that has been written over a period of decades, but it should serve as a model for what NOT to do if you're running a city government. We used to study GM in business school as a model for American ingenuity and good old fashioned know-how when it came to making automobiles in the post-World War II era.

But Detroit's greatest strengths (its workers) became Detroit's greatest weaknesses (the unions those workers belonged to). The manufacturing decline in America had its roots in the factories of Detroit. The basic economic math became immutable as the city once bristling with economic wellness lost more than 60 percent of its population (2 million down to 800,000) because it gave exactly the wrong response to the manufacturing decline. On a grand scale we've seen Barack Obama doing the same thing at the federal level.

Detroit’s city fathers, as Mitt Romney documented so well in his campaign for the presidency, attempted to do the impossible by shifting resources from the private sector to the public sector. It's straight out of the socialists' play book. It's never worked ANYWHERE, and least of all in America. The leaders in Detroit failed to realize people who worked there would react predictably when they raised taxes and increased regulations, simultaneously growing their city government like the consequences would never come home to roost.

The tragedy here was the city was following the lead of a doomed GM, Chrysler and Ford. Rather than implement sound financial and economic policies and promote a vibrant private sector to help rejuvenate the city, Detroit's leaders did exactly what the Big Three automakers were doing - growing their city government through generous promises to their workers with unaffordable future pension and health care benefits. Just as the auto unions drove the Big Three to their knees, by far the biggest portion of Detroit’s debt comes from these unaffordable promises: $6 billion in health and other post-employment benefits for retirees and $3 billion in pensions. Mind you, these are public employees unions who won their concessions through collective bargaining, again mirroring their brothers in the private unions. They ignored the warnings of the past that public employees should never be granted collective bargaining powers.

Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker taught the nation a powerful lesson when he stood up to the public unions in his state. Detroit's failure is only an endorsement of Walker's approach to responsible government having to take principled and difficult stands. By doing what he did, Walker helped Wisconsin avoid a similar fate.

Today I read an interesting article about which states are running down a fast track to financial oblivion. You might want to check to see if your state is on this list. Do you want to guess which states headline this list?

For many decades, Detroit had sustained itself by bad fiscal management: unaffordable borrowing, state grant schemes, raising taxes, and deferring public pension contributions rather than cutting city spending. And now the end has finally come. The piper always demands payment. With all tax rates close to their statutory max and dismal public services that discourage individuals and businesses from remaining in or coming to Detroit, the city simply cannot continue to fund its operations and service its debt. The population voted with its feet, and the population is who pays the taxes. As Margaret Thatcher once accurately warned, "The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of people to tax." And once the population vacated Detroit, there was no way to keep its promises to the public employee unions. It used to be Economics 101 where I went to school.

It is likely Detroit’s creditors and pensioners may receive pennies on the dollar to what they are owed. That is the sad but irreversible reality. Certainly there will be cries of “unfairness.” But a federal bailout in which we the taxpayers who live in fiscally responsible cities and states have to pay for the services and promises made by city and state governments that waived such discipline for decades, would be the height of "unfair." The "pooling of risk" is a principle applied to insurance policies, where through no fault of their own premium payers can expect to be covered from the larger pool of policy owners when tragedy strikes. Such is NOT the case, and must NEVER be the case here.

Let's be honest, Detroit is not the only city facing serious financial trouble. By setting the precedent of offering NO help for fiscally mismanaged municipalities, it is hoped the representatives of the taxpayers in Washington could learn a lesson from Detroit and begin to put their own fiscal house in order. I am aware this may be wishful thinking and nothing more, but let's start here in Detroit. Further, remember all that bailout money that was spread around in 2009? If it had been helpful, wouldn't every state now be on a more firm financial footing? Bailouts for smaller governments by BIG government simply don't work. PERIOD.

In Utah, a state where leaders are routinely lauded for good management because they are good stewards, any idea of bailouts for cities as poorly managed as Detroit would be punitive and would fail to achieve the intended goal to force local governments to confront and deal with their own mismanagement. If that kind of discipline is required and demanded of the average citizen, is it too much to expect that our public officials should be required to do less? Facing the natural consequences of our poor choices is a childhood lesson, one it seems government officials at all levels seem loathe to learn.

Washington must learn by embracing and valuing what has happened in Detroit. Total national debt is over $17 trillion. For your convenience, I am tracking it day by day here at The Goates Notes (see the window on the right). That debt load is larger now than the whole U.S. economy. It is unsustainable. It is reckless. The profligate spending will ruin this once-great country if allowed to continue in the name of "stimulating the economy."

Look at the factors that drove Detroit into bankruptcy, as I outlined above. Beyond escalating growth in nearly all federal programs, future spending will be driven to the breaking point by our own federal retiree spending programs — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. You can add Obamacare to that list now.

It won't be enough to draw the line in sand by discouraging other troubled state and local governments from seeking federal bailouts. They must be compelled to put their fiscal houses in order through their own best efforts at reducing spending.

And those we placed in control in Washington must establish a good example by fixing their own fiscal problems.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The "Random Audit" Power of Obamacare Enforcers

These pages have documented my disdain and abhorrence of Obamacare since its inception, all to no avail. Today's guest blogger is my brother, Jon, who wrote in November 2012 on election eve about his concerns for the implementation of Obamacare and its impact on the small family group practice where he is the Chief Executive. 

Today he updates us with another real-life example of the impact of the enforcement arm of Obamacare and what seems to be the Obama administration's scheme to extract penalties through audits from the healthcare practitioners who have complied in good faith.  

He writes:

The double standard of the current administration is all too obvious… the business of healthcare has become dirty politics.

Dr. Obama knows all
Whether we know it or not thousands of doctor’s offices throughout America are now considered corrupt institutions according to the Obama administration. Recently, I was made aware that a local medical group of about 15 dedicated physicians were notified that an audit of their corporate books is in their immediate future. This medical group is a reputable institution with an excellent reputation for appropriate medical care to their patients. 

Like many of their peer organizations they qualified for Meaningful Use incentive payments for the proper use and configuration of their electronic medical record (EMR) system. The incentive performance payments are directly tied to quality standards and regulations as dictated by the administration (who know nothing about dispensing medical care) as a way to streamline, automate and create quality benchmarks – all in an effort to lower the cost and improve the quality of healthcare. 

These incentives are offered to physicians during a four-year period. The original intent was to put enough incentive money in the hands of physicians to facilitate the purchase of new servers, networking, printers, scanners, laptops or iPads and to pay IT professionals to configure the new systems. No doubt many of the classic medical group activities are improved through the adoption of an EMR as a direct result of the annual payments to each physician that can range from $5,000 to $18,000.  

There are severe financial penalties beginning in 2015 for physicians who do not adopt an EMR. One of those major penalties that could be imposed is an exclusion from the Medicare program at a time when, according to AARP, nearly 8,000 new people per day qualify for Medicare.

In addition to the Meaningful Use incentives, Medicare has a similar approach in that they will incentivize physicians to adopt new ways of reporting (e-file claims instead of faxing or mail) and transmitting secure prescriptions (known as e-prescribing) directly to your pharmacy. In Medicare’s incentive package they structured it to be a 2% add-on to the claim reimbursement for the first year; 1.5% the second year; and in subsequent years Medicare would deduct up to 2% if physicians could not demonstrate that they had fully adopted the new transmission technique. Essentially, if you don’t adopt the only way we have given you to participate, you will be penalized.

Back to the medical group of 15 physicians. After having worked hard to navigate through the numerous and stringent Meaningful Use regulations, carefully measuring their hourly compliance to the mandated quality standards, logging hours of analysis of performance reports by physicians, changing daily behaviors in how and when the physicians treat their patients, they submitted their results to the administration and expected payment for their compliance. 

Payments were received within six weeks. Fast-forward about six months from receipt of payments, and this same medical group has now received a certified letter from a local regulatory agency with the news they have been selected for a “random” audit. They were selected as part of their 10% compliance requirement from the current administration. 

Healthcare insiders have come to understand the word “random” in these types of letters is really bureaucratic doublespeak for the real meaning of “show me the money” and, “did you do what we think you ought to do with it?”

The incentive payments had been received and funds disbursed to the physicians, IT professionals, hardware vendors and staff. All the appropriate payroll and income taxes were paid on the incentive funds. When the monies were placed in the bank account of the medical group there was no mention or stipulation that Uncle Sam would be lurking about to see what they would do with the money, nor were there any rules that stated the funds received must be funneled through only authorized ledger line items of the private corporations who met all the criteria. 

In similar instances to the receipt of the audit notice of the 15 physician medical group, regulatory auditors will often times arrive with a scope of work in mind and they draw their own subjective conclusions to a medical group’s compliance that may be much different to the understanding that the EMR software vendor had when they created the code for the often ambiguous regulation and/or the understanding that a physician uses to measure his compliance to new behaviors during the attestation periods. 

A medical group being audited has no appeal against the mandate of the old adage: “He who owns the purse strings makes the rules… according to his own desires.” 

While the final chapter has yet to be written in the case of the group of 15 physicians who have received their notice of “random” audit selection, many other similar groups, ours included, have been examined under the “random audit” nomenclature and been required to refund to regulatory agencies cash that was rightfully and honestly earned.

The overreach of these “random” audits are routinely conducted under the justification that the administration holds the right to enter any private corporation in America with the intent that we all “follow the rules” according to those who preside over and pay for mandated compliance. How many times do we hear from Mr. Obama’s lips that everyone has to follow the same set of (his) rules in order for (his) plan to work – and then when our vote against (his) rules does not match-up to his we must suffer his scorn at the bully pulpit? 

Once inside the doors of Main Street businesses like your doctor’s office, regulatory compliance auditors will often jump the fence of the original scope of their audit to request additional records and therein find other subjective infractions of the “rules” that may or may not apply to the initial audit scope. Refusal is a futile effort, since the physicians who received incentive funds with honorable intent did their best to comply to the often-shifting regulatory definitions of Meaningful Use as defined by the current administration. 

The obdurate juggernaut of social policy-making from inside the beltway has now spilled over into the exam rooms of our local doctor’s office, whether we like it or not.

While the final chapter of the audit has yet to be written for the medical group of 15 physicians even though they reported to the regulatory agency their honest effort at full compliance to Meaningful Use regulations, they are certain they will be forced to forfeit some of the funds they earned under the guise of an incentive payment from the government for what once purported to be a "cost-reduction" piece of legislation now known derisively as "Obamacare." Once those funds were dangled in front of them to become more automated and efficient and they complied in a good faith effort, the threat now exists they will be reclaimed through a regulatory power play. All in the name of decreasing medical costs and improving quality. Yikes!

With my eyes wide open that I may be next for a “random” audit …

* * *

Let's hope the NSA isn't reading The Goates Notes, Jon - we'll see if free speech in America is still a valid 1st Amendment right or if you're pushing the envelope of freedom a little too far.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hanko Kiessner named "Rainmaker" by DC Velocity

Hanko Kiessner
Hanko Kiessner is chief executive officer of Packsize International, a privately held "on-demand" packaging company he founded in the United States just over a decade ago. Packaging is in Kiessner's blood — his family's business in Germany has been providing corrugated materials since the 1960s. In a bid to expand the marketing opportunities for corrugated material, Kiessner started to experiment with corrugated converting machines in Europe in the 1990s. In 2002, he introduced the machines, which produce cartons tailored to the exact dimensions of their contents, to the U.S. market.

Kiessner is a member of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, Warehousing Education and Research Council, and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Ernst & Young recognized Kiessner with its 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Manufacturing and Distribution category for the Utah region. He holds undergraduate and graduate business degrees from the University of Utah.

Q: Packsize is your family's business. Can you tell us how it came to be?
A: My father started in Germany as a supplier of corrugated material, the same basic product that now feeds our machines. We developed the machines in the 1990s and introduced them to the United States in 2002 with a new business model that provides day-one savings. The corrugate and the equipment are a complete solution.

Q: Your company's business model is rather unique, in that you supply customers with the corrugated converting machines at no cost, as long as the customer buys its corrugate from Packsize. How did that model come about?
A: Well, it was born out of several years of no success. While I was in Europe trying to sell the packaging machines, it was not working. It was just too much for companies to make the initial investment. As I was driving on the autobahn one day, I had an epiphany, and this model was born. I concluded the machines were not yet saleable, but I believed in the product. So, we would have to give away the machines. I called the office and told them this, and they laughed at me. Then, when we opened the office in the United States, we tried this model and it worked.

Q: What are the advantages of this model?
A: The benefit of this model is that it makes it easy to become a customer of on-demand packaging.
Customers get the benefit of the machines without having to justify the upfront capital investment. It also provides ongoing savings on corrugated and fill materials, since less volume is used. Other benefits are reduced product damage and some labor savings. It also reduces shipping volumes by up to 40 percent, which translates into transportation savings. And the end customer's experience improves significantly since that customer receives a right-sized package.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you and the supply chain profession face today?
A: For us, the biggest challenge is that not everyone adopts the same technology at the same time. Usually, to get mass adoption, you need 15 percent or so of early adopters. We need to be patient to work through the early adoption phase.
On a grander scale, energy is the biggest challenge. Moving products will always require energy, but we need to be able to switch to new forms of energy.

Q: What has been the most satisfying part of your career?
A: The single most satisfying piece is that we have a product that meets sustainability objectives. Staples, for instance, is saving some 122,000 trees a year with on-demand packaging. That is less pollution, less bio-mass—basically, we are able to keep a small forest intact. We have also helped companies cut costs, such as in manufacturing, which has helped to save jobs here in the U.S. And lastly, we have a team at Packsize that is passionate about what we do and the impact we can make. It is exciting to build a business that can make money while doing the right thing.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why the Church is as True as the Gospel

Several years ago, Eugene England published a series of essays he titled, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986). It's a serviceable title, and remains intriguing as I borrow it for today's post. He also wrote another compilation entitled, Dialogues with Myself. (Midvale, Utah: Orion Books, 1984).

Eugene England
Said England: ". . . the Church community is blessed, not fractured, by those who express themselves sincerely and openly — even their disagreements and their vulnerability — rather than those who keep silent in public but criticize in private or harbor resentment or guilt or gnaw alone on the bones of their failures and hurts." (Dialogues, 55). I believe that's a useful message for us to consider.

In the Church we encounter imperfection in all its stripes and hues. Each month that diversity is on full display in our fast and testimony meeting, where anyone in the audience who feels so inclined can either walk to the pulpit and testify, or stand in their pew and share whatever they feel inclined to discuss. It's free-wheeling unscripted worship at its best and routinely inspiring, as it was again today in the Woodland Ward. Some people who leave the Church say they still can have Jesus without His Church. I guess that's true for them, but I have always rejected it.

We are prone to believe in the Church that the gospel in its purity and perfection is somehow superior to the messiness we find in the organization of the Church. It isn't so much the institutional organization itself with which we take exception. The organization of the Church is really rather tidy in its vertical top-down efficiency. Rather, it's the people who are messy. We give them all stunning responsibility to administer in all facets of the ordinances necessary to salvation. We teach and instruct on a regular basis, then we get out of their way and allow them to do their very best using their agency and their divinely-appointed gift of revelation. It's awe-inspiring to me that we entrust all these truths in the hands of eighteen-year-old young men and nineteen-year-old young women and turn them loose throughout the world to invite all who will to come unto Christ and learn more.

In conversation late one night last week with a visiting son-in-law who is currently serving as a bishop, this theme was re-born in my mind, inviting further examination.

He spoke of a dear friend who had left the Church after being shattered by a book written about plural marriage (popularly referred to inaccurately as "polygamy.") I commented that I had read the book years ago when it was first published, and felt it to be not only faith-building for me personally, but I believed it represented the de facto best book ever written on the topic. It's highlighted at the right on my recommended reading list, entitled In Sacred Loneliness, by Todd Compton.

I was inspired and deeply edified by the multiple accounts and compelling evidence of the supernal spiritual gifts of these incredible women. That their lives were hard is an understatement. That they endured what they did is testament to their faith. That's what I was focused on, to the exclusion of what to some would seem abhorrent behavior in the Victorian age. Seriously, compared to what we observe today, can what happened in the Mormon experience in Nauvoo in the 1840s even be compared?

We mused together about the differences in his friend's and my reaction to Compton's book. It has been my experience with many, many people over the years that a little knowledge about Joseph Smith is a dangerous thing. Reading one book about plural marriage is not advisable. If you want to know, really know, about the Prophet Joseph Smith, you're advised to do a very deep dive. Get your hands on everything you can find about the man, the times in which he lived, the contemporaries who knew and studied him carefully, and then calculate the long odds against the stellar achievements of one so young.

Joseph Smith
If you are the least bit objective after that degree of effort, even if you can't muster the faith to believe he was a divinely-appointed prophet of God, you must conclude Joseph Smith was no ordinary man. What made him tick? Why did he do the things he did? Where did he find his motivation, his devotion, his native optimism in the face of the almost insurmountable opposition he routinely faced?

He was dead at age 38, assassinated by the hands of men who believed they were doing the will of God to dispatch this pretender from the face of the earth. Gather your sources as you research his life from his avowed enemies, his devoted apologists and his staunchest advocates. Consider long and persistently his mission and his legacy. It isn't enough to encounter your first jolts in the ride, then leave it alone and wander off disillusioned with your first taste of something sour. I've described my journey of discovery in that advice to you, and I can testify the man was everything and more he purported to be, imperfections and all. What he left for all of us was solid gold revelation from God and he penned it in spite of his imperfections.

With Joseph and all his successors, one must overcome the initial bite of the bitterness of lemons, it seems, until one acquires a taste for lemonade.

The reason one must persist in their quest for understanding of mortal men who are called to the work in this dispensation is the perfection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Church we rub shoulders with one another to learn to forgive our contemporaries. It isn't enough to come to know the gospel is true. That's the easier task. No, we must learn on a deeper more cognitive level by experimenting on each other in overlooking the sins and follies of our fellow saints, nurturing, serving and loving them as Christ would and did in the meridian-day Church of Jesus Christ.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Frankly, in some people we encounter in the latter-day Church there is little of "saint" and a lot more of "sinner." It seems we must see the Church as a hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once reminded us. We can learn to love one another in spite of the stench of each others' sins. That includes most of all our leaders. I remember being seated on a plane years ago when I traveled a lot and was routinely upgraded to first class. Across the aisle was a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, who was served a cup of coffee "black without sugar." That was his order and it was not decaffeinated. Shock. Bitter lemons. But who was I to judge that act? I had my own list of cherished sins that maybe weren't quite as obvious.

That's why the Church is as true as the gospel. One must come to appreciate and value the mess in organized religion. Be wary of those who say they have no use for organized religion. I used this rejoinder to some who told me that: "Then come join the Mormons, we're as disorganized as you can imagine!" When we have learned by long years of experience to validate one another despite everything that is so obvious in shortcomings and backsliding, then and only then are we becoming "truly converted" mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

I routinely ponder the imperfections I observe in how the Church gets administered. Yes, I see things done differently than how I would do them, but for the most part these are minor irritants and don't amount to much. For some it's a parlor game to point out the obvious dereliction so readily available to all observers. On the macro level, think of all the departures from the procedural norms one has observed from Joseph to Thomas S. Monson. Avowed enemies of the Church love to point out the differences in the statements of earlier dead prophets compared to the living oracles among us. It is a test for many to follow the living prophets.

On the micro level, regardless of which granular ward to which we belong, there are sometimes jarring experiences to which we are exposed that try our faith and challenge our testimonies. To those who are jarred by their discoveries of the dereliction of others, including Joseph and all his successors down through and including local leaders, I would say hold on, anchor yourselves in the scriptures, and continue your search for truth on both the macro and the micro level.

Seek to become flexible enough that your testimony is not "brittle," as son-in-law Phil Sharp described it. Brittle testimony seems unable to allow for imperfection in others. Making that accommodation and pointing it out publicly without harboring and festering in quiet solitude or whispered gossip is what an active faith requires. I have little use for private critics of others and Church policy, and I routinely have to remind myself to bite my tongue when so tempted. I hate that fault in me when the words escape my lips and I work to stifle those expressions. I've noticed my negativity when allowed to escape my lips rarely affects anyone but me.

In both cases at the micro and the macro level, change is inevitable. Change in individuals comes in the form of repentance, and in the institutional Church it also involves almost constant adaptation in policies and procedures in a changing world as the growing Church expands around the globe.

Being anchored in absolute unchanging doctrine, however, will help you absorb the shocks that often accompany a dynamic organization filled with people who routinely are mired in addiction, ineptitude, sin, even deceit and fraud.

I grew up in a home where scathing criticism and judgment of others was routine. As I got to know those people later in life, I discovered that many of the faults and frailties of which they had been accused by my father were simply not true as I formed my own opinions of those people. To the degree my own children may have detected that fault in me, I am repenting. Please forgive me. To them and to myself I would say, don't be the voice of private criticism. Instead, be the public voice for testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel principles as they are being tested and tried in the hearts and minds of imperfect people among whom you serve, love and follow in faith.

That's why the Church is at least as true as the gospel. I don't believe you can have one without the other.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why I Celebrate on the 4th of July

There is perhaps no other place on earth where the annual celebration of the birth of a nation is done in such a unique way. We don't line up our armaments and parade them past the White House with everyone in America cheering our collection of long-range missiles with nuclear warheads as thousands of troops goose-step down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Instead, we have picnics in the backyard and we light off fireworks. At least we used to light off fireworks - now Utah is so bone-dry only the bone-heads light off fireworks.

We celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. It was no small feat for a fledgling group of diverse colonies to agree to condemn the sitting King of England in such scathing terms. We opposed what we believed was tyranny and taxation without representation. Funny thing is THAT form of taxation doesn't even hold a candle to the tyranny one could assert now exists in America WITH representation. But that's a story for another day, isn't it?

I celebrate the glorious gift of freedom on this July 4th. I celebrate the ability to put some thin-sliced marinated beef briskets on the grill with chocolate brownies and congo squares and grape ice cream for dessert. I remember and I am grateful for the sacrifice of so many men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for my family so we could enjoy one another's company as we gather at the Ranch this weekend.

I'm grateful to all those who fought in the heat of the summer and the bitter cold of a Valley Forge winter during the Revolutionary War to give life to the words of the Declaration of Independence.

It was 150 years ago this week in which the bloodiest battle of the Civil War was fought in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Both sides fielded courageous advocates for what their version of freedom looked like.

War-worn and long-postponed plans for life were the common lot of my father's generation. Some called it the "Greatest Generation." That global conflagration, once considered the war to end all wars, was only the prelude to a sustained period of years that saw unparalleled growth and expansion of freedom's blessings worldwide.

As I grow older it is increasingly more difficult to take the hard work and sacrifice of all those who came before me for granted. I stir with emotion every time I sing the National Anthem. I tear up when I think about the flag that flies a few feet from my home and realize what it represents in blood, toil and courage.

I checked the other day about who reads this blog. I've had readers represented in 22 countries so far. To them I would say, don't give up on the ideals America represents. I pray all may remember the sacrifice of so many who have gone before to make freedom a reality beyond the ideal.

I have freedom to get up every day of my life in America to try and make something good happen, something that but for me would not exist.

I have the unrequited joy of seeing my children and grandchildren succeeding and prospering as adults who are making a contribution for good to their own families, their country, their Church and their employers. They are amazing people who emerged from a simple idea, "Patsy, I love you, will you marry me?"

I am only beginning to understand what it means to be a father, but understanding the meaning that goes behind "Grandpa" is so much easier and fulfilling.

My wife of 44 years is growing older at my side day by day, and as we laugh about our deteriorating body parts, we can share not only that but so much more together in relative peace and tranquility compared to so many others in our strife-riddled world.

Oakley, Utah, not far from where we live, puts on a stellar parade every year. The highway is closed all morning long, then the fabulous new rodeo arena sponsors the Oakley Rodeo at night for a continuous feast of Americana at its best. There is nothing to compare with John Wayne's booming voice over the loudspeakers declaring "America, Why I Love Her."

The Woodland Ward sponsors the annual 4th of July breakfast, complete with flag raising ceremony and a huge American breakfast of pancakes, eggs, hash browns, bacon, ham and all the fixin's any way you want it.

I will never tire of celebrating the 4th of July. To be sure, America has her problems, and many predict her demise, but I choose to remain optimistic about her future. As long as God's children can muster enough gratitude for blessings received, we will continue to find a majority who value the cause of freedom. .

Happy 4th of July!

5 Reasons Why Packsize Qualifies as "Disruptive Technology"

Five Reasons Why Packsize Qualifies as “Disruptive Technology”

July 3, 2013 | 0 comments
By David B. Goates

The first time I heard the term “disruptive technology,” it was associated with Clayton M. Christensen, a business guru at Harvard in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. The theory stated that in order to be considered a disruptive influence in the marketplace, an innovation would not necessarily have to be “new” in the sense it had never existed before, it would only have to offer better value for an existing process.
Clayton M. Christensen

Such disruptive innovation can be seen in the commodity markets for corrugated materials handling. Most companies have been buying pre-made corrugated boxes the same way for the last fifty years. They figure out what sizes are “pretty close” to accurate for the goods they needed to ship out, then they negotiate the lowest prices possible by pitting the suppliers against each other. Corrugated has long been viewed as a commodity, and the lowest cost wins. End of discussion. Left unaddressed in this conversation, however, was the void space inside the box; and whole industries sprung up to fill the void with Styrofoam peanuts, wadded up paper, or recycled cardboard. 
Without knowing he was describing Packsize at the time, Christensen stated: "Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream."
And so it began for Packsize founder and CEO, Hanko Kiessner. Today, there are at least five significant reasons his company qualifies as “disruptive innovation.”
  1. The barriers to accessing this technology innovation have been removed because there is no capital acquisition cost associated with adopting it.
  2. The freedom and flexibility to create and mass produce corrugated boxes on site in an endless array of possibilities have freed up valuable floor space so ordered box sizes no longer need to be inventoried.
  3. Producing the right-sized box has eliminated the need for fillers of all kinds, thus cleaning up the environment of unnecessary waste.
  4. Companies who now ship their products in the right-sized boxes are reporting the ability to put 15% to 20% more products on each delivery truck, sharply reducing gas consumption and infrastructure impact.
  5. The elimination of waste means companies are now buying significantly less corrugated material, reducing the environmental impact up to 66% from forest to landfill and every step along the way.