Monthly Archives: May 2018

Should We Forget?

By Lloyd Graff

I have been struggling to write this blog for over a year now, but it is a topic I really want to discuss, because it is so tough. It’s also about baseball – sort of.

Luke Heimlich is the best player on the best college baseball team in the country, Oregon State. He is a left-handed pitcher with impeccable stuff. He has lost only once all season. He is 22 and a Senior. He would easily be a first round draft pick at next week’s Major League Baseball draft. He would have been a first round pick in 2017 as well, but just before the NCAA Tournament last year, a reporter for a Portland newspaper accidentally discovered that Heimlich had registered as a sex offender at age 15, after pleading guilty to improperly touching his five-year-old niece.

By all accounts his behavior has been as impeccable as his control in the eight years since his guilty plea, which was expunged from his record after five years. He also now denies the incident occurred and says he pled guilty because he thought it would be expedient to avoid a trial with his brother’s daughter as the centerpiece.

Luke Heimlich

His reasoning was that his record would be cleansed after five years and he could live a normal life according to the recent cover story in Sports Illustrated. But fortunately, or unfortunately, Heimlich, one of six children from a religious family in Washington State, became an incredible athlete and earned a scholarship at the premier college baseball program in the country. When he enrolled at OSU he strictly adhered to the rules of registering in a new state as a sex offender, but evidently nobody in the athletic department checked the criminal files for Heimlich. He had been home-schooled during most of his time growing up. He did not go around campus in Corvallis with a “sex offender” sign on his back. He was just hoping after five years his record would be expunged and the stigma would go away.

I’ve been wrestling with this case for a year. It was brought to the forefront again with a Sports Illustrated story that covered the issue exhaustively without any clear conclusion or opinion.

Major League Baseball will make its judgement next week.

On the one hand, I think about a teenage boy who may have behaved inappropriately with his niece. She may be affected adversely, though she appears to be thriving now, according to the SI piece. Heimlich’s brother, the niece’s father, now divorced, is estranged from Luke. I think of my three granddaughters and how I would feel about a similar case involving them. Would I exude forgiveness? I doubt it.

But to me this case is not just about how his family regards Heimlich, but whether a kid who makes a mistake like he may have committed will ever be able to live his dream to become a Major League ballplayer or even just live a regular life. He has been incident free almost eight years now. Can he just be a ballplayer or is he forever condemned? His teammates at Oregon State have seemingly embraced him. Most likely some fans won’t.

Should my beloved Chicago Cubs draft him if he is available? I hope so, because I’m sure his talent will be undervalued.

We all have stuff in our past that we are not proud of. Heimlich’s issue is darker than most, but should it doom him for the rest of his life?

Question: Can you ever forget if someone is a sex offender?

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Hoping Against Hope

By Lloyd Graff

I read Matthew Stewart’s long, insufferable guilt laden essay last night, “The Birth of a New Aristocracy,” which is the cover story of the June Atlantic.

Stewart recounts his own background, he descended from a grandfather who was the president of Standard Oil of Indiana way back in the 1930s. He grew up well off and has the guilt of an academic liberal tattooed on his arm.

His mission in the article is to make Americans who manage to live in a comfortable home, educate their kids well and take care of their health feel like they are doing it at the expense of a large group of folks who aspire and often succeed in doing the same thing.

The article is a profoundly pessimistic, arrogantly negative screed against the American dream of upward mobility and the possibility of possibility.

I have to thank Stewart for getting me angry enough to write about the strain of negativity that has infected so much of the “respectable” media like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. Besides absolutely loathing Donald Trump, they despise the annoying possibility that anything good sprouts in America outside of the suffocating bureaucracies of Government.

Matthew Stewart’s Atlantic opus drones on endlessly about the gulf between the affluent 9.9% of America and the supposedly pathetic 90.1% who are falling further and further behind. Stewart implies that life is stacked so heavily against the 90% that they might as well give up, swallow more opioids and accept their inevitable decrepitude.

I wish Stewart would actually walk out of his dismal ivory tower into the machining world, for instance, where a person without a fancy degree has a real opportunity to advance, and even start her own business with ten grand, a customer and a dream.

I doubt miserable Matthew has watched a lot of Shark Tank on that plebeian bastion of optimism, the television set. If he watched he’d see tons of folk, young and old, trying stuff and dreaming the dream.

Stewart mocks the American public schools. He decries the fact that the 11 best public schools in American are supposedly in Palo Alto, California. As someone who spends a lot of time in Palo Alto, I see the kids walking and biking to schools, and a large percentage of them are of Asian descent, the children of immigrants, not the offspring of joyless country clubbers he seems to envision.

There is an educational elite in America, but the barrier to entry is far from impenetrable. The hiring frenzy in Silicon Valley is not one of exclusivity, nor is it confined to people with advanced degrees. The companies in the Valley are casting a wider net, because they know from experience that college does not necessarily produce original thought, which is not to say that they don’t have a big challenge with political and social orthodoxy that stifles daily conversation in the new office palaces of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

One reason the Silicon Mammoths are building second and third headquarters outside of the Bay Area is to get access to more diverse idea generators.

The thrust of the Atlantic cover story is that the United States is a hopeless aristocracy of the rich, educated and healthy, dedicated to keeping itself closed to outsiders who are stupid, angry and White.

While I did not vote for Donald Trump and find him a lout and a scoundrel as a person, I would vote for him today, if just to protest the intellectual sterility of negativists like Matthew Stewart. The no-nothing popular media hammers Trump mercilessly, and he provides ample juicy material. Yet his popularity is rising, and the Mueller vacuum cleaner cannot suck up the right dirt to impeach him.

The conception that America is hopeless and failing is the grist of the commentators who think everybody is as sour as they are.

If Matthew Stewart actually talked to the people he thinks he is defending he would find that optimism and belief are quite alive in America today.

Question: Were the people who voted for Trump hopeful or pessimistic?

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Talking Steel with Miles Free

By Noah Graff

Two weeks ago at the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) Tech Conference I interviewed Miles Free, the association’s Director of Industry Research and Technology. He’s a guru of machining industry world politics and one of the world’s foremost experts on the steel trade.

In March when President Trump tweeted his intentions to implement a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum coming into the United States, Free was bombarded from news outlets around the globe for his analysis—he really knows his steel. I came into the interview knowing very little about global steel trade, so it was a great opportunity to get a solid breakdown of the effects of Trump’s proposed tariffs on the machining industry.

Below are a few interesting points I gleaned from the interview, which in a few weeks will be released as a Today’s Machining World Podcast!

Target of President Trump’s Proposal for Tariffs on Raw Material Imports

Miles Free says that the proposed tariffs target China. The Chinese have overbuilt their capacity to make steel. They can produce more steel than they can use and more steel than the entire world can use. This gives them power over the prices of raw materials used to make steel and also makes them vulnerable.

A steel foundry on the outskirts of Beijing. (abc.net.au)

Also, solely owned American companies are illegal in China. An American company must have a Chinese partner, and that Chinese partner is supposed to have full access to the American company’s technology. The Chinese have just relaxed the regulation for ownership of car companies. The press is speculating that Tesla is going to build a plant in China, and this probably would not have been announced right now had the tariffs not been brought up.

Quality of Chinese Steel and Other Raw Materials Versus that Produced in the United States

Free told me that it would be difficult at times for even experts to be able to take a certificate of analysis and say if a batch of steel is from the United States or China. However, the Chinese have different production systems and inconsistent regulations in their manufacturing processes. The quality of Chinese steel is not legally guaranteed like it would be from a steel company in the United States. As a result, when Chinese steel is bought off the dock, a purchaser cannot know the quality of the product. Also, as opposed to big hot roll coils, steel bar stock used by machining companies is notoriously difficult to maintain in good condition when transported by sea because it has a lot of surface area that can rust.

Sanctions on Ourselves

Despite the desire of American companies to buy steel in the United States for reasons of both quality control and economic patriotism, there are certain grades of steel used for machined parts that are no longer produced domestically. Thus machining companies have no choice but to import those grades of steel. The tariffs may make certain types of steel cost prohibitive for American manufacturers.

If Trump’s policy of a 25% tariff on raw material were implemented, it would mean that if General Motors wanted to order a batch of steel parts, an American supplier would not be able to price the parts competitively with a foreign supplier who didn’t have the 25% penalty tacked on. General Motors would then be tempted to produce the parts in China or another foreign country and import the finished parts to the United States. Miles Free compared this potential raw material tariff debacle to the economic sanctions on imports that the United States would inflict on an enemy like Russia or Iran.

“Nobody would have dreamed that the White House would ever use an entire industry as a negotiating technique” Free said.

Hopefully the tariff threat will remain solely a negotiating technique and not something the U.S. government follows through on. The current postponement of the tariffs until June 1 and the many exemptions already discussed in Washington to protect machining companies from the tariffs are reasons to remain calm.

Question: Have the proposed tariffs affected your business already?

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The Retirement Question

By Lloyd Graff

Is retirement a curse or a blessing? Obviously, there is no single answer to the question.

I have answered the question for myself without a lot of soul searching. I enjoy the challenge of working, of pushing myself, interacting with people and creating new stuff.

If I can be productive I would like to work for the rest of my life. I am 73 years old. I find the number scary, but doing the mundane of “showing up” everyday still stimulates me like nothing else that I have discovered. I am very conscious of having the enormous asset of working with my son, Noah, and a cadre of bright reliable caring people who have my back and challenge me to be smarter than I am.

I am also acutely conscious of the fact that the year that somebody is most likely to die (other than the year they are born) is the year they retire. I’m sure that is partially related to folks retiring because they are ill, which may skew the numbers, but I also believe that for many people, the loss of interaction with peers, the boredom, the solitariness, the lack of purpose is a curse.

72-year-old Finn Esko Ketola. Four-times World Champion Weight Lifter.

I think the self-professed financial gurus who preach the virtues of retirement to feed their advisory services tend to be a group of circling vultures.

The traditional retirement age of 65 is totally outdated today. It was an invention of unions and do-gooders when the lifespan of workers (many of whom smoked cigarettes regularly) was rarely past 65. Today if you live to 65 you have a good chance to pass 80 in reasonably good health. With 4% unemployment now, there are many interesting job or gig opportunities as well as an infinite number of volunteer possibilities.

I want to identify my own biases at this point, because I do write this piece from a position of white privilege in America. People in failing health, weak in skills, or chronically depressed certainly lack the opportunities that I have. For them, retirement may be more of a blessing than a curse.

But I think that the notion of retirement has been sold to people from childhood, partly as a job preservation tool for workers and unions that see older people hogging the prime jobs. In an economy that increasingly is filled with service jobs and people doing part-time gigs, I think there will be loads of interesting opportunities for older people if they are not crippled by the notion that the world undervalues them.

My view of the world is colored by my wife Risa’s passion for Taekwondo at 67 years old. She is a 4th Degree black belt and is proceeding with the long test protocol to get to 5th Degree. She drives 37 miles each way to her school twice a week, partly to train with other women who have a similar commitment. She also maintains a private practice as an educational therapist in which people pay her $100/hour to help their children learn. Her clients do not care about her age.

I certainly know about the fragility of life. “Man plans, God laughs,” is the line I live by, but understanding how blessed I am to be alive and live in America makes me determined to keep squeezing the juice as long as possible. For me, that means to write, make deals, expand my networks and have fun.

Question: What’s your plan at 65? Keep working, retire, volunteer, hang out?

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