Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Deficit-Hawks Turned Hypocrites!

I wonder when the news media will unmask the hypocrisy of those who claim to be so concerned about the national deficit? These are the same folks who are eager to extend tax cuts which will cost a trillion or so dollars while opposing much needed infrastructure updates when it is known that continuing to defer maintenance is nothing more than accruing a different kind of debt.deficit-hawks

If we’re so worried about the deficit, and I am, let’s allow all of the temporary tax cuts to expire and spend that revenue taking care of deferred maintenance on infrastructure.

That sounds like “responsible, business-friendly, back to basic values” thinking to me!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Milestone Penetration Achieved By Durham’s Overarching Brand

In a little over four short years, the signature for Durham’s overarching brand, “Durham – Where Great Things Happen” has reached 92% penetration with its most important audience, residents of the Bull City, according to an early finding from the annual, scientific State of Durham’s Image survey.durham_logo-771812

To put that in perspective, in the first year of measurement, 37% of residents recognized the signature.  Now after its fourth year, that percentage alone is exceeded by just those who feel “strongly” about recognizing the signature.

Even with residential turn-over and significant newcomer arrivals during this span, the percentage undecided has shrunk from 35% to 7.5% and those with no recognition has dipped below 1%.

That level of rapid penetration is exceptional, especially by an overarching brand signature for an entire community, but some of you may be wondering why recognition by an internal audience is significant.  Here are three reasons:

  • An all-encompassing brand must be embraced, first and foremost, by those most intimate with the community’s personality.


  • Resident recognition also means they are more likely to use it and/or reinforce it with external audiences such as newcomers, relocating executives and entrepreneurs, students, businesses, commuters and visitors.


  • Resident recognition of the signature means it is embedded as a measure of both “reasons to believe” and as a benchmark as the community continues to evolve.

No amount of formal presentation of the brand and signature to external audiences, such as promotion,  can  compensate if it doesn’t first resonate with internal stakeholders.

Who’s responsible?  Of course, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, as the community’s marketing agency, is responsible for incorporating it in all community materials but also facilitating it through other messengers.  Experts are giving DCVB’s performance an A+ as a “best practice.”

However, in my opinion, the key to the remarkable success of Durham’s overarching brand is due to the widespread adoption and incorporation of the signature by almost 700 Durham-based businesses, organizations and messengers.  I’ve never seen anything close to this during my 40 years in the branding and marketing of communities.

Even very new messengers like Bull City Forward have been quick to incorporate elements of Durham’s overarching brand with their own.  Puzzling though, is the apparent slowness or reticence by one or two that one might think would have caught on from the start, but they will come along eventually.

The City demonstrated its astute grasp of branding recently by using the overarching Durham brand signature on its Bull City Connector, which involves numerous other partners, rather than using just the City’s logo or DATA’s or Downtown’s which is just one of many areas served by the Connector.

Of course, the overarching brand is much more than a signature and was distilled over two years of community input and research because it represents Durham’s personality as an umbrella in all respects, as a place to live and work, to do business and educate, to visit and innovate, to worship and create, to raise a family or retire etc.

Historically, Durham has been home to some very famous brands.  The Durham of today’s willingness and ability to distill and and embrace an overarching brand for the community would win a proud nod of approval from the pioneers of historic brands such as Bull Durham, Lucky Strike and Chesterfield…

Monday, October 18, 2010

Missed Opportunity With Street Bond Opposition!

Now that early voting has begun, a news story about one of Durham’s political action groups opposing the street bonds left me a bit puzzled.  If the newspaper report is accurate and complete, I understand the reason given, just not the reasoning.

Apparently the group doesn’t want residents to approve the final catch-up on street maintenance during a period, as columnist Ezra Klein noted recently, when it will be much less expensive than it would have been five years ago or than it will be five years from

The reason given now is that the group wants more information on the status of the current efforts.  Nothing wrong with that rationale, but unless I’m missing something, street and block by block information about what’s been completed, what’s underway and what’s under contract has been up on the Internet now for several weeks. 

Two months ago, a report quoted the group’s leader as opposing the bond because of underlying problems in the economy but in plenty of time to inform the group’s decision otherwise, a new study shows that infrastructure work is one of the quickest ways to stimulate economic development.

As Klein notes, there is absolutely no difference between the debt from government borrowing money and the debt resulting from deferring maintenance.  It is the same reason Congress should rapidly approve the President’s proposal to use this economic lull to take care of long-overdue Federal infrastructure upgrades.

So now is the time, regardless of where we are with the remnants of bonds currently being deployed from previous voter approvals.

If I were to suggest stipulations that the Durham group could have leveraged instead of a blanket opposition, they would include:

  • Insist that the contractors selected during the bidding process be Durham contractors or have a Durham presence but whether local or otherwise,


  • Insist that the contractors employ Durham residents to do the work.  The Raleigh residents working on the crew in front of my house this past summer had plenty of ‘tude about the Bull City and employing non-residents means the work did little for our economy.


It seems proposing these stipulations would have been more productive than opposing the overall bond referendum, which if it fails will result in little other than driving up the costs when the projects are ultimately executed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How Appearance Is Related To Healthcare Insurance

I fully understand how Americans can fail to grasp healthcare insurance reform and yet show up in polls so positive about the components.

I’ve watched officials do it for years with “appearance.”  Ask if overall community appearance is a priority (polls show it is for residents) and officials will often say “no” and imply it is just not substantive when we have so many “real” problems.

Ask then if they think public health or crime reduction or economic development or clean air and water or community confidence or longer lasting streets or wayfinding are important and unless they are brain-dead, they typically sing a different tune.myopia-2

The problem is a failure to think strategically.  From a tactical or “little picture” viewpoint, it is easy to dismiss things like “appearance” or “health insurance reform.”

That’s why we need more not fewer, elected officials who can and will do more than look down at their feet.  We need folks who can and will solve problems strategically, using “big picture,” over-arching approaches and solutions that focus energy on resolving  numerous problems at once.

We need more officials who can stand up to special interests whether it is behind-closed-door lobbying by millionaires and their sycophants or thirty angry people in orange shirts showing up at meetings about an isolated issue. We need more officials who think strategically about what’s fair and equitable to the community overall.

That’s why “appearance” is so important to 9 out of every 10 residents…they viscerally grasp that a well-kept community is:

  • A well run community,
  • A more healthy community,
  • A community with less crime,
  • A community that is appealing to talented, creative people and the businesses that pursue them,
  • An easier to get-around, more productive community,
  • A community that is better able to market to visitors and lessen our tax burden with the revenue they generate.

Typically though, it isn’t the officials who can’t or won’t think “strategically.”  The problem starts with “US.”  “We” fixate officials on crises…pet projects, or obsessing about isolated aspects rather than holistic solutions to overall issues.

This in turn feeds the cycle of news coverage all too preoccupied with anecdotes vs. data, fads vs. trends, demanding quick, simplistic solutions to complex problems, obsessing with whiners or momentary winners and losers or the crisis of the day or hour or minute.

So everybody jumping up and down with signs and simplistic bumper-sticker dismissives or hammering thoughtlessly on listservs or seeing red because someone told you to and marching robotically to the polls – – these all symbolize our malady of short-sightedness and they’re all examples of how we do not see the forest for the trees.

The first step to improved government is to accept that “we’re” the problem, we’re the reason we have short sighted officials….we’re the contributors to the very things we fear and the perpetuation of problems.

Keep Polluting, Uhhhh…Just Because We Can?

I’ve been reading a lot of people including scientists voicing opinions on the other side of the pollution issue.  Typically, these are well thought out opposing or mitigating arguments about global warming.  It is good to know both sides of the issue.

I read in last week’s issue of Newsweek a fact-filled column by conservative and very dry-witted commentator George Will providing compelling evidence that, as in the past, the predictions about running out of oil may be too conservative.1286555317578

His column is well worth reading…but yup, I got the impression he’s arguing that liberals are too conservative when it comes to global warming.  At least that was my inference.

These opposing arguments including Will’s provide some fascinating details to inform the overall discussion but  they appear to be saying we should continue polluting because…we can?   Uhhh, that we should continue to be over reliant on oil…because we can, regardless of the problems inherent on burning it as fuel?

I understand market forces play a role but I also keep hoping that somewhere in the conservative or libertarian (ultra-conservative) world there are some think-tankers trying to make arguments for something other than just sitting tight with the status quo while nit-picking at efforts to make a better world!

Are they out there?  Tell me where and I’d love to read or see their stuff.  I just don’t see the logic in continuing to pollute a planet and be over reliant on a particular source of energy…just because we can.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Remember An Anecdote Isn’t Data Nor A Trend!

Even with a new study from the University of Massachusetts showing that infrastructure like roads is an even quicker and better path to economic development than tax incentives, I’m not taking for granted the success of the Durham street bond which is on the ballot next month.

I hear good things on the street but as a polling expert on NPR heeded the news media this week, “an anecdote isn’t data nor is it a trend.”  I’ve heard the results of two recent and well conducted polls about the Durham street bond.

One, using only respondents who fit traditional voting patterns, shows the measure passing and I believe it will.  But the turnout in the 2008 election was unusual and from news reports, it appears the upcoming election could also be unusual but for different reasons.  Another poll using all respondents who “say” they are likely to vote in this election shows passage of the street bond could all come down to who actually votes this year.67436_1686245959862_1349064936_1849506_7743062_n

Ordinarily you can trust the traditional approach which doesn’t ask you if you’re going to vote but assumes you that you will by the nature of your demographics and past voting patterns.  This is especially true in a community like Durham where turnout traditionally tends to consist of a somewhat small but passionate lot of pro-Durham voters.

However, the 2008 election was anything but traditional in Durham and judging by other polls around the country it appears this one may not be traditional either, but for opposite reasons.  One election used optimism to pull many more voters into the process and this time it appears negativity may well pull more “anti” voters into the process.

Just click to enlarge the humorous image above to see the disconnect many voters obviously have between taxes paid and benefits received (shared recently by Rob Gillespie on Facebook.)  Apparently, to the people depicted it won’t matter that the Durham bond will only cost each taxpayer about the same as a cup of coffee each month.

I still recall mid-90s when this happened and we’re still living with the consequences.  They gerrymandered districts to eliminate some great statesmen, did stupid things to drive up the trade deficit and generated some peculiar opinions such as the one asked me at a public hearing by an elected official from the self-proclaimed, pro-business party: When will Durham have enough visitors and no longer need promotion?

This question is humorous because a community theoretically may reach a point at when it doesn’t need more visitor revenue but to sustain that level, each visitor would still need to be re-drawn from scratch each year, so there is no guaranteed par when it comes to visitation.

Hopefully this election won’t take us back to those days…we need all of the optimistic and “can-do” thinking we can get out of this mess.

If you’re interested in public opinion polling as I am, a good blog that I enjoy  which was recommended to me by some friends is FiveThirtyEight .

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Durhamster’s Walk Down Waffle Street – A Must Read!

I’m not sure I’ve ever met James Adams but his just published book Waffle Street is a great read and makes him seem like an old friend. Not just because Jimmy’s a Durhamster (the affectionate term I coined for myself and other residents of the Bull City) but because it makes a primer on personal finance and economics and the story behind the recent melt-down, as thoroughly entertaining as it is enlightening.

I learned more reading the nearly 300 pages of Waffle Street than I learned ten times over from college macro and micro economics or years of reading WSJ.Capture

I like James partly because he wasn’t above taking a job at Waffle House, a 55 year old chain of 24 hour restaurants in highway friendly locations. No one works harder than folks in foodservice and they really see it all. Thus the name of his book and a play on Wall Street.

James definitely isn’t one of the financiers from whom I recently blogged that we still deserve justice but he makes a great case that serving a year or more working at Waffle House as he did after losing his job in that sector may be just what those yahoos deserve.

In fact, working at Waffle House should be a mandatory dose of true humanity for anyone getting an MBA or rising into management at a bank, investment company or any other element of the financial sector.

Waffle Street is also a great read about how to land on your feet following the crushing disappointment of losing a job.

I highly recommend this down-to-earth, informative and very humerous book. Now I’m hungry and thinking about running the Cross Bones up to Waffle House for some chops and browns and a start on my next book, The Last Boy; Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood!

Don’t Ever Let Anyone In Who Looks Like Me!

It was great to see a photograph of artist Jacob Cooley on the front page of the Durham newspaper yesterday and it brought back some great memories and a humorous story.

Jacob’s mom, Gretchen along with Ann Gregory are the two board members who first interviewed me via a telephone call more than two decades ago for the job from which I retired last December. Instrumental in bringing me to Durham, where I still live, to jump-start DCVB as the community’s official marketing agency, Gretchen also served several terms as chair of the governing board.

Remaining a good friend, Gretchen volunteers to edit this blog.Jacob Cooley Painting

My first house here was in Old North Durham near downtown and Jacob, on his way to an MFA at UNC down in Chapel Hill volunteered one night to run over and let my late dog Jack out and feed him when I was trapped longer than expected at an engagement down in Pinehurst

Apparently I had transposed the numbers or the sequence for the house alarm and it went off on Jacob, sending the dog running out the door and instantly lighting up every house on Shawnee St. Cell phones were still uncommon then so with my landline tied up, Jacob ran down the street a few doors to 80+ year old Momma “D’s” to borrow a phone.

Jacob is very tall and was extremely thin and angular then with long, wild, very red hair. Momma “D” let him right in but once he finished getting the correct code and cancelling the arm, he took little Momma “D” by the shoulders and said:

“Mame, don’t ever let someone in your house who looks like me!”

She just chuckled telling me the story later because an organic part of Durham’s appeal is that it so “accepting” among many other traits, all part of why Durham is ranked so highly across such a wide range of measures.

Because of the alarm issue, Jacob then scooped up my dog and took him over to his mom’s house where Gretchen was hosting some dear old friends who were visiting from out of town that night. Jack took a look at her dogs, sniffed out the entire room and promptly peed right in the purse of one of the guests prompting waves of laughter that greeted me as I returned to pick him up.

Now that’s really “accepting!”

The image above by the way is a favorite painting of mine created by Jacob.

Tea Partier Reveal Makes Perfect Case For Health Insurance Reform!

Okay, I get it now. Supporters of tea party candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky have clarified that he only opposes “victimless crimes” like riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

Uhhh Really!

How on earth can anyone believe that there will be no victims when someone is killed riding without a helmet…?helmet%20and%20glases

  • Can they really think his or her family isn’t victimized by the rider’s untimely and unnecessary death? No hidden social security disability or other publicly funded services will be drained?

  • Can they guarantee that no one else as a passenger or in other vehicles is hurt during the accident involving a reckless driver without a helmet?

  • Can they guarantee that everyone who doesn’t wear a helmet is still smart enough to carry health insurance?

  • And even if rider has insurance, can they can guarantee that a fatality won’t arbitrarily drive up everyone else’s health and vehicle insurance rates?

  • Or if they do or don’t have insurance can it be guaranteed that absolutely no hidden public costs will be expended on emergency response, hospital emergency rooms, investigating officers, claims adjusters or clean up after the fatality?

I get it that by nature people resist being required to do something even when it is a no-brainer (pardon the expression) but this guy just made the case for both helmet laws and healthcare insurance reform.

We all value our freedom…but freedom comes with responsibilities especially when others may even remotely be forced to pick up the costs for our actions.

Wearing a stupid helmet and carrying insurance isn’t a surrender of freedom…it is doing the minimum to mitigate actions for which someone else or the public-at-large may be forced to pick up hidden costs.

No one lives in a vacuum, not ultra conservatives, not libertarians, not tea partiers, not even Republicans. No one!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It Is Clear Now That Mark And Mel Were Both Cool!

I know now that I was prejudiced about my grandfathers.

My parents were only a little over 5 years apart in age but my grandfathers were 16 years and a turn of a century apart. As I was being born, Mark White was just 44 while Mel Bowman had turned 60, retired and already a grandpa.00263_p_10aeuyf6sw0394_b

During my early years, Mark was intense, just turning 50 as I entered first grade. In many ways he as like my Dad, intense and driven. Mel had retired from ranching and spent nearly every day palling around with me, teaching me, guiding me.

Mark was modern, a dapper dresser, always first to have newer cars, like the first “hardtop” Ford convertible in 1959. He even took me to Las Vegas in a 1965 baby blue Ford Mustang convertible to celebrate my graduation from high school with a Johnny Mathis show at the just-opened Caesars Palace. He loved tinkering, technology and gadgets.

Mel was a homesteader/rancher and a man of the land. To me he was always as old fashioned as he was kind, always dressing head to toe in khakis with a Stetson and suspenders. He was ultra frugal and drove an old, beat-up Jeep.

I recall riding through one of our meadows next to my Dad on a brand new tractor pulling a state-of-the-art hay baler but poking along at little more than a crawl behind Mel who stubbornly insisted the only way to rake hay in preparation for baling was with a team of draft horses.00457_p_aaeuyfyqe1754

Mel died when I was 16 after giving me that old Jeep and as Mark was just turning 60 and more grandfatherly. I was privileged to spend a great deal of time with Mark all the way through college and my mid-twenties.

I learned that he was as passionate about history and genealogy as he was technology. He too had a love of the land and animals, including prize Black Angus before they were cool.

I had always credited Mark with my inclination toward technology and gadgets but now as I dig deeper into family history, I realize Mel was just as eager to embrace those things. As his grandfather had while homesteading northern Utah, Mel was the first to bring a modern threshing machine to the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho.

Mel’s was the third family in our county to have a telephone and he was quick to adapt electricity when it was run to rural farms and ranches in the 1930s. He is also credited with engineering solutions to fight crickets and low-cost irrigation dams. His family boarded eight different teachers to foster a one-room school. To top it all, he owned one of the first of the sporty Whippet automobiles.

Now in my 60s, those early prejudices have vanished and I can see clearly my inherited traits from each of these men who at first seemed so different. I owe so much of who I am to each of them and as I write these histories for my own grandsons, I hope I can be a fraction of the grandpa Mel Bowman and Mark White were to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The First One Didn’t Even Make The Cover of SI!

I reflected longer than usual last week on how I became a life-long Yankees fan as I stood in the bar area of Nana’s, a restaurant in my neighborhood, watching the final outs of a no-hitter pitched by the Phillies’ Roy Halladay in the MLB playoffs. It was the second in history and the first one didn’t even make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

My Dad was a Yankees fan so we always listened to Mel Allen broadcasts while we were doing work in the barn and adjacent corrals. Allen’s voice was a soothing part of the soundtrack to my early years and by 1956, the magic of transistor radios made it possible to even hear it out riding herd.514HxbS66nL._SL500_AA300_

I had just turned six the month before the magazine Sports Illustrated was launched on August 16, 1954. My Dad, then just 30 years of age and still playing church ball, was an early subscriber and avid reader but it was the photographs that captured my imagination.

Each image told a story in itself and even the advertisements - such as the ones for my first love, a turtle shaped Porsche 356 Speedster or the bug-eyed Triumph TR-3 - opened a whole new world to this ranch-bound Idaho boy .

In memory I did, but I don’t know if I actually saw Yankee Don Larson’s PERFECT GAME in 1956 on television or if I just heard it on the radio and then later fused it with images of catcher Yogi Berra’s memorable leap into his arms at the end. Unless I caught it on page 33, I doubt I saw it at the time in Sports Illustrated because the only perfect game in World Series or even playoff history didn’t even make the cover 54 years ago.

Compared to today when a normal play seems cause for chest-thumping, I liked it much better back then when it took a lot to be a cause for celebration!

However, two Yankees had already made the cover in the months preceding Larson’s perfect game: one of my earliest heroes, Mickey Mantle in June and his soon-to-be traded and trouble-maker friend Billy Martin in April.

Sports Illustrated has always been about more than just documenting events. If you missed it, I recommend an excellent article in last week’s issue about THE MICK, who in that magical year of 1956 had become only the 12th player in history at the time (only 14 today) to earn the Triple Crown – most home runs and runs batted in and highest batting average in the Major Leagues.

The article is an almost lyrical excerpt from Jane Leavy’s new book, THE LAST BOY: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood.

Here are few memorable quotes from the excerpt, especially the last one:

  • “Mantle didn't want to stick out, but he did. He didn't wish to be treated as special, but he was. He was uncomfortable being the center of attention, but he was the centerfielder for the most famous franchise in sports.”

  • “For Mantle, the Yankees' locker room was a sanctuary, a safe haven where he was understood, accepted and, when necessary, exonerated. He was a guy's guy who called everyone "bud" or "pard." But he was unafraid to show tears, whether they were generated by a country-and-western song or a dying child placed in his arms outside Griffith Stadium in Washington,D.C. Gentle was the word his teammates used most often to describe him.”

  • “Mantle was the Last Boy in the last decade ruled by boys, when it was O.K. to laugh at them for being themselves, and O.K. not to know and O.K. to forgive what you did know.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Those Three (4) Raleigh Hypocrites - They Are Now Suing Durham!

As if being huge hypocrites isn’t notorious enough, the three Raleigh hoteliers about whom I blogged on September 21st are now suing Durham, apparently under the guise of the six member Hospitality Alliance.

Remember, these are the folks who gave their hometown a pass when it purchased the land ( in reality an equity position) to get a hotel built next to a mega-center. The trio has also played dumb as fence posts as their home city stokes a fund with half a billion to “pay” planners to host events in the two facilities, using tax revenue collected by lodging properties throughout that community.

Oh my, but now these brave souls want to come down on Durham, with a ton of bricks, for doing something far more conservative and thoughtful and without using taxes collected by other hotels here. Their misunderstanding of Durham’s action is supposedly what gave the three whiners a heartburn in the first place.hypocrisy

They were identified by the Durham Herald-Sun from a letter over their signatures as Bob Winston, Doyle Parish and Roddy Jones. Carrying the water for the three is lobbyist Jim Hobbs, a former Raleigh hotelier.

Maybe I’m being unfair and the three have been ignorant of what goes on under their noses in Raleighville. Or maybe they just didn’t want to crap where they eat and feel safer messing around with Durham instead. Or maybe, just maybe, the three are peeved that overcoming their resistance Durham long ago transcended Raleigh as a distinct visitor destination.

Or maybe Mr. Winston who serves as chairman of the UNC at Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and also has a hotel in Chapel Hill is just trying to distract folks in the hometown of its nemesis, the reigning and four-time national champion Duke University on the eve of basketball season?

Mr. Parrish owns a hotel in the Southpoint District of Durham which was also incentivized by Durham and now recognized as one of the best in the nation. I wonder if he will sue over that as well?

Mr. Jones owns the Sheraton Imperial Hotel & Convention Center in the southeast corner of the city which is aggressively promoted by the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. I wonder if he is going to sue another Raleigh resident who recently misrepresented a national convention in that part of Durham as being held “in Raleigh.”

I also wonder if Mr. Hobbs, who manages the six member alliance, will sue Durham for hosting the touring Broadway musical Billy Elliott in a downtown facility which is truly subsidized by up to $1.4 million annually from a tax collected on Durham hotels or would that step on the toes of another Raleigh resident?

Come on boys…get out of Durham’s face…if you really feel that strongly, start with suing your home town of Raleigh where there are definitely grounds, rather than trying to beat Durham down for doing something far better and wiser.

“Now I Too have slipped the surely bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings!

Apologies to poet John Gillespie Magee for the adaptation but over the last two weeks ending Friday, October 8th, I did actually learn a lot about flying an airplane, including 11 intense hours of air time over 8 of those days and twice that many hours completing and successfully testing on14 segments of online ground school, sprinkled with several hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

Eleven hours may not sound like much but it’s nearly three quarters of what you need to qualify for a sport pilot license.  Just try to give full, and I really mean “full” concentration to something entirely new in every aspect for 11 hours and believe me learning to fly in a real airplane requires that and more.67205_592682078642_44104945_34212074_4915969_n

Yup, I know, all of that over just two weeks?  Admittedly, I go at things a bit intensely.  And your point is – as I often reply to friends with sarcasm?  Actually, I was delayed a bit by a couple of days of heavy rains and a root canal.  Can’t fly on pain killers.  Well, yes you can but not in an airplane:-)

Thanks to a great instructor, learning to fly an airplane was everything I had hoped it would be and more.  I admit, at my age and given everything I still want to experience and learn, my goal was never to pad my resume or actually become a pilot, although my mind was open to the latter.

I do have to admit, now that I’m finished, to feeling a definite twinge of exhilaration every time I spot a plane or a photograph of a plane.

Just as I did with learning to ride and enjoy handling heavy motorcycles at age 61, with learning to fly, I just wanted to challenge and immerse myself in learning something entirely new while at the same time, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, to try to “do something every day that scares me.”37956_592682243312_44104945_34212085_7031027_n

My flight training was in two separate and extremely responsive, German-made, light-sport Remos GX airplanes under the tutelage of Ben Plowman, a 23 year old instructor and WCU engineering technology graduate from up near Waynesville, North Carolina.

Ben is as great a teacher as he is a pilot.  He took me through hands-on learning of how to preflight, taxi, handle the radio and transponder, calibrate barometric pressure, take-off, maneuver with rudder, stick and throttle, bank sharply, leaning into the turn so I could look straight down with the door open to the ground below, land, climb, descend, stall, maintain course and control the plane without the stick.  

We flew out of a quiet but well maintained little airport in Franklin County (KLHZ), just south of Louisburg, NC so I also got in several 75 mile roundtrip motorcycle rides (mostly rural) along North Carolina Highway 98 as well as flight time over some incredible rural countryside.

It has been renamed Triangle North Executive Airport so I get the feeling it doesn’t intend to remain quiet which in my opinion will be too bad.

In that intense two week span (8 days of actual flying) I flew from both runways, flew when it was hot and when it was colder, flew right after a heavy rainstorm with high overcast and on days with some cross winds and even when it was a little choppy up there.  I even learned to relax and have fun once in a while;-)

I admit, as a lefty, it took a while to learn that more throttle is “in” and less is “out.”  For some reason it seemed opposite to me but shouldn’t have.  Most likely, that comes from having to learn to transpose while learning everything from birth from righties.  Just tell me to turn left while we’re talking about something and you’ll see what I mean.

I also had to learn during the first day or two, not to push on the left pedal to stop…that just turns you hard left.  I admit feeling a bit dumb that it took a day or two to get accustomed to taxiing, not too fast, not too slow, up and down hills, and  keeping the airplane centered but it came to me.  As with riding a motorcycle, you have to think ahead and feeling dumb is just a part of learning.

Keeping track of all of the instruments and also keeping track of the horizon and looking out for any other airplanes was mind-boggling but became easier.  You are constantly monitoring the radio, altitude, attitude (mine and the airplane’s:-) air speed, vertical speed if climbing or descending, engine sound and RPMs, course and heading, oil temperature etc.  Flying an airplane is both all—consuming and a blast.

The ground school by Gleim Aviation was excellent.  Believe me though, it is a bit like going back to every science class I had through elementary, junior high, high school and college and successfully navigating nearly 800 questions on practice tests and final tests spread out over the 14 sections in the same two week span.  I definitely did some noodling.

I recommend this learning experience to anyone and I definitely recommend Ben as an instructor.  He is prompt, good natured, exacting, patient, demanding, makes great use of every minute and definitely knows flying which became his dream during his first few years of his life….which, let’s see, would have been about the time I moved to Durham:-)

I may find that I’m permanently hooked but for now I cut it off because I had achieved my goal and because of the expense involved in terms of time, dollars and logistics and because the next stage would deserve full commitment for the rest of my life to do it right.  I also had some scheduling conflicts.  I know, I’m retired, right?

Moving up on 63 years of age, my health is excellent but I’m much less likely to take time for granted and I have many more things to learn and experience.

I would do one thing differently.  Knowing what I know now, I sure wish I had taken up flying airplanes in my 20’s when I became friends with a guy who restored and flew old Stearman biplanes on a grass strip near Spokane, where I worked or especially during my 30’s when I lived and worked in Alaska.

Anchorage actually has several air strips in addition to Anchorage International which is owned by the state including Lake Hood for seaplanes (shown here live on webcam and also state-owned) and Merrill Field owned by the Municipality.

However, as I recall, during those periods I was going about the craft of community marketing with this same intensity as I just did learning to fly.

Don’t worry, though, I’ll still be honing what I learned, flying on FSX, in a very similar airplane and even landing and taking off occasionally at Franklin County Airport.  I’ll probably make my home port,  a cool little grass strip at Lake Ridge in Durham, just northeast of RDU airspace.

Oh, and you can schedule an orientation ride with Ben Plowman online by registering at NC Rotor & Wing’s website, picking a time that is convenient and selecting Ben as the instructor.  Tell him hey!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bellwether Shows Strong Recovery – Time Will Tell if Some Changes Were Structural!

Serving as a “canary” of sorts, the performance of the “travel” economy was first to signal the recession from which we’re recovering as much as two years before it was clear to some experts or the news media.  In my opinion, the current strength of this sector’s recovery is also far better reason for optimism than trying to keep up with each morning’s OMG report of micro indicators and knee-jerk reactions by computer controlled market reactions.suitcases

Business travel, the smaller but far more seriously damaged segment during the recession, was up nationwide by nearly 14% in July based on airline seats while lodging rooms-sold in communities like Durham (which draw a larger proportion of air travelers than nearby or competitor cities) were up 9% that month and have increased over last year during each of the last nine months through September.

Steady recovery in “demand” or visitation is pushing up air fares nationwide and overall hotel room revenue in Durham is up now six straight months.  When overall travel volume is back to pre-recession levels, we’ll be able to say just how much of the change to the 10% convention and meetings sub-segment are “structural.”

Even before the recession, the “meetings” sub-segment of the travel economy was undergoing a gradual but structural transformation due to advances in technology substituting for many meetings.  It has been apparent for many years that the “arms-race” in meeting facilities between communities was ill-founded with some cities (not Durham) subsidizing conventions to the point they had zero or negative return on investment in terms of local tax revenue.

Recessions typically accelerate and entrench changes and it will be interesting to see how much of this has further decreased the convention and meetings sub- segment of travel.  It is much too early to tell right now.

More interesting will be whether communities and their respective destination marketing organizations (DMOs) have learned any lessons during the recession and begun to diversify away from over reliance on conventions and meetings and/or jonesing larger and larger meeting facilities.

My guess based on nearly four decades as a DMO executive over many recessions is that my peers as a group haven’t learned a thing and probably won’t until new generations of both DMO executives, local officials and enablers emerge, unencumbered by old school egos and rhetoric.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Editorial Needed To Go Deeper and Further

A Winston-Salem Journal editorial published a few weeks back and reprinted in the editorial section of the Durham Herald-Sun came up short in my opinion.

It supported making a new law applicable not just to motorcycles but scooters and mopeds. I agree but…

The editorial needed to go further and at the same time the data used in support was so general as to be alarmist. Here are some clarifications from my viewpoint:Capture

  • There are 14.53 deaths per 100,000 vehicles in the nation according to the NHTSA. To get any perspective though, it is important to disaggregate the rates of 50-60 for motorcycles.

  • Sport and supersport motorcycles run 11-23 deaths per 100,000 even though they amount to only 9% of registrations a few years ago according to the Insurance Insurance Information Institute .

  • Cruisers like my Harley Cross Bones and Standards run far lower than sport bikes and vehicles as a whole with 5.9 deaths per 100,000 although they make up half of all registrations. That is far lower than cars and vehicles in general.

  • 59% percent of motorcycle fatalities were not wearing helmets, 35% were speeding, 25% had an expired license and 29% of fatalities driving motorcycles involve alcohol compared to 23% in other vehicles.

  • I may have misunderstood the editorial but endorsements are already required to ride a motorcycle. The problem is learners permits which require little effort and people just renew rather than get an endorsement.

People shouldn’t be apprehensive about riding but it is a good idea to look at the safety record of various types of bikes. Driver safety is a major point of emphasis for manufacturers and they should make measures like anti-lock brakes and air bags either on the bikes and/or in jackets universal.

More importantly, in my opinion, completion of a rider safety course should be mandatory to even get a learners permit for any of these vehicles.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Angry Voters Subject To Brain Freeze!

Many people can’t distinguish intense passion from anger. They have usually labeled me as “angry” as they do now my daughter who shares my passion.

There is one big difference between anger and a passion for debating and exchanging ideas. Scientists have learned that the brains of people who are angry tune out anything that differs with their opinions and neutral forums like news media just cement their brains.brainfreeze

People like Dr. Hank Jenkins-Smith term it in this Newsweek quote as “motivated reasoning.” Apparently angry people’s brains ignore any information that doesn’t reinforce or defend their prior perceptions and unfortunately prejudices, however unfounded in fact.

In my experience, there is an easy way to tell angry people from passionate or intense people. Agree with an angry person and they get even angrier. But match their body language or tell them you take it very seriously and a passionate person who just appears angry dials down the intensity.

That’s why angry voters can’t understand or grasp President Obama. He too “cool” under fire. Instead, angry voters rally instead to the soap opera antics of a Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck or the gubernatorial candidate who threatens to “take people out” or the candidate who made a fortune as CEO of World Wrestling (another type of soap opera, featuring vulgarity and hostility as entertainment!)

This must also explain why angry voters can’t grasp that the TARP bail-out funds are well on their way to being reimbursed and will likely make a profit for taxpayers. It is why they refuse to accept that the country and the world would have fallen into deeper recession if not depression and full economic gridlock had leaders at the time not made the tough decisions. In my opinion, they probably don’t believe we ever really landed astronauts on the moon.

That is also why they are so dangerous to a democratic republic. Sit home on voting day if you wish but keep in mind that while the people for whom angry people will vote make for great fodder for late night comedians….it won’t be funny at all what they can do to America.

Angry people are not only self-destructive, they are dangerous to others as well as themselves because they don’t believe there is much to lose. In my opinion, we don’t want America run by people who get their kicks by tapping into or amplifying angry people.

Remember, as an elected official once told me as I tried to reason with him: politics is personal, not logical. If you’re feeling anxious right now about the state of affairs or your own personal circumstances, just sit on your butt come November 2nd and let the 23% of voters who are angry and vengeful control the election.

You’ll soon be plenty angry!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Some Bankroll Anger – Others Bankroll Compassion

There are more than 400 billionaires in the United States but being a billionaire doesn’t make a person generous or compassionate.  In fact, research shows the rich give a smaller proportion of income to charity than those who are poor.

While three of these billionaires are bankrolling the so-called spontaneously angry Tea Party’s effort to roll back a new measure that will make healthcare (not just life) within reach of nearly “everyone” rich or poor – two others have vowed to give away 90% of their wealth during their lifetime and have enlisted 41 others to follow their lead in an effort to, among other things, reduce poverty.gates-foundation-logo

A quote by one of these progressive billionaires has been running repeatedly through my head since I heard it uttered last Sunday in a television interview:

“Education is the thing that will determine if this country is as strong and JUST as it wants to be.”  Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes

I’m sure Gene Nichol couldn’t agree more with the word “JUST” and he has information on his website breaking down North Carolinians in poverty by educational attainment: 

  • No high school diploma: 25.8%
  • High school diploma: 12.9%
  • Some college or associate degree: 8.6%
  • Bachelor degree or higher: 3.3%

    Nichol, who heads up the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity, at the law school located on a nearby campus (one of sixteen) of the University of North Carolina, also knows why it is so easy for white Americans to be oblivious to the issue of poverty:

    Poverty by Race in North Carolina
    • White: 10.3%
    • African American: 25.1%
    • Hispanic: 27.1%
    • Native American: 24.2%
    • Asian: 11.2%

    It seems to me that we can’t truly live up to our self-image as Americans, if we continue to tolerate poverty.  We must stop hiding behind the self-righteous fiction that any of us is “self-made” and/or that all people need to do to emerge from poverty is to “get with it.”

    For every person in poverty who is there due to laziness or dependency or criminal behavior or skipping school or gaming the system or milking safety-nets, there are thousands and thousands of earnest, well-intentioned individuals working several jobs, raising kids, fighting through economic and medical hardships and given the “right” opportunities could have become middle-class and some even billionaires.

    Just as for every billionaire or millionaire who got there with hard work or as Bill Gates modestly credits, great access to opportunity, we find many others just inherited wealth or were beneficiaries of dumb luck or ran scams or obtained it by ripping others off.  In other words, many missed falling into poverty by a split-hair.

    As I scribbled in notes recently during a speech in Durham by Nichol (and paraphrased pretty closely here,) we need to live up to our defining nation-promise by recognizing our neighbors as brothers and sisters rather than strangers removed from the fates we claim as our own.

    That’s just what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing.  Rather than hoarding wealth or whining about issues around inheritance, they’ve already explained to their three children what they plan to do instead with 90% of their wealth so these young people can be free to find their own passion and purpose.

    Rather than regurgitating the zero-sum rhetoric puppeted to them them by those covertly fueling the Tea Party, more journalists should reveal it as a selfish ploy and direct attention instead on those who are using their wealth to so something constructive about poverty.

    Poverty is indeed a shame on us all as Americans!

  • Tuesday, October 05, 2010

    We Had To Save The Banks BUT Deserve Justice From Bankers!

    Okay, I’ve had enough with bankers.  I’m talking about the ones who got us into this mess and the ones retarding the recovery.

    It’s about loaning money, stupid (to adapt a blast from the past!)

    Until now, I was always a bit embarrassed that my parents and grandparents appeared to embrace whole-heartedly the adage not to trust bankers (if I remember correctly, they threw lawyers and doctors in as well) but I wrote it off to the Great Depression and thought those days were behind us.

    Actually, over my lifetime, I’ve been impressed with many individuals who were and are bankers and have come to know several as very good friends.

    I’m also very firmly persuaded that we had to bail-out some large financial institutions to avoid spiraling into depression and it worked.

    However, I’m mad as hell and getting more and more angry by the day at:

    • Those bankers and other financial executives who got us into this mess,
    • Republicans who spearheaded deregulation,
    • Codependents and other enablers like academics and regulators,

    I’ve never been drawn to revenge and more than wary of scapegoating.  Those things are better left for action-films.  But I’m a huge believer in “JUSTICE.”  I’m not talking Tea Party stuff.  It is becoming clear to me that’s just a manipulation for a power grab.

    Watch the trailer for the new documentary, Inside Job and read reviews and interviews and see if you don’t agree that we need our own Nuremburg for the jerks who perpetrated this.  Thank you Charles Ferguson!

    Monday, October 04, 2010

    Amusing Irony Behind Street Bond Opposition

    I read with amusement the logic in a recent op-ed in The Durham News by the head of Young Republicans for the four-county Durham metro area asking readers to send a message to Durham officials by “saying no” to street bonds while I might add, taking a cheap shot at Mayor Bill Bell.

    Don’t get me wrong, while I don’t know the author or agree with him on many things, it certainly isn’t his free speech or civic engagement that amuses me. I applaud that. First a clarification or two before I get to what amused me.Print

    I’m not just sticking up for Bill Bell. While he’s a friend and one of the first people to greet me when I moved here in the 1980s, he would be the first to see the irony of partisanship bleeding through the op-ed. I disagreed when he did something similar to defeat another friend, incumbent Nick Tennyson, at the start of this decade.

    For those who don’t know, Durham at the city level is supposed to be non-partisan when it comes to political parties. It runs under a “city-manager” form of government, one of those pesky little progressive reforms in the early part of the last century. The city council is the board of directors and the mayor is chair of the board when everyone stays clear on the roles.

    The street bond is being championed by the city manager, Tom Bonfield, the professional retained to keep this city one of the most highly rated in the nation. I know, trust and respect him. He and I agree with the author that bonds typically shouldn’t be used for street maintenance.

    However, I admit to being easily amused by irony and this “send the message NO” is the very thinking that got us into this mess with streets. Officials in the 1990s were intimidated by people demonizing taxes so while juggling a full plate of priorities they deferred street maintenance. Big mistake in my opinion but I wasn’t in their shoes!

    And repeating the mistake by saying “no” now to a bond that finally catches us up on 200 of our 660 miles of the paved roads and puts Durham on footing to pay for future street paving out of operating funds is just as bone headed as the “no” in the 1990s.

    “No” is never an answer to anything. The only message it sends is the one we send when we “shoot ourselves in the foot” or to use another idiom, “cut off our nose to spite our face.” Retarding the remaining 200 miles of catch up for political purposes will just exacerbate the problem.

    We all want good streets and roads…who in their right mind wants to say “no” to streets just to end up paying much more in vehicle repair and in lost productivity due to traffic slow-downs?

    To me, the issue of why the past street bonds are still not fully expended is just people not understanding the process. While the city manager is obviously greatly accelerating that process, it seems like just good business to get the next one underway while the remnants of previous bonds are being deployed.

    I also disagree with the op-ed’s author when he tried to play the Bull City Connector against street maintenance. One of the arguments for the Connector is to move people efficiently between several employment, residential, educational, medical and entertainment centers while reducing street congestion and the need for parking.

    To me the decision is easy to vote “yes” on street bonds in November.

    Oh, and for our friends in nearby communities who look down their noses at Durham, most of the metros in the nation have the same problem. Durham is just doing something about it!

    Friday, October 01, 2010

    How And Where Ideas Source

    The quote below really resonates with me.

    “Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks.  They form clusters. – Kevin Kelly, author of What technology Wants.innovation-moment2

    The source is one of two authors interviewed in the current issue of Wired Magazine.  The second interviewee is Steven Johnson, who’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation  comes out next week.

    These are two must-reads for anyone interested in innovation and creativity.

    Each book takes a different but historical look at the evolution of ideas both through the places they have incubated and the inter-relationships of people who generate them.