Friday, September 30, 2011

“Exhaust Notes” Are a Part of Loving Historic Cars

There is one collector who understands that a love of historic automobiles involves sound as much as beautiful design.  Right now, someone must be working on an after-market way to simulate sound for hybrids, I just know it.RL Collection

The designer Ralph Lauren (Polo) has an incredible collection of historic automobiles.  He makes this public not so that not only can you view them on line but, by clicking the “listen to the engine” icon above the image for each car, you can listen to it start and run through the gears (click on the icon in upper right corner if you want to skip around.)

I missed the exhibition in Paris that ended a month ago but for the entire time I’ve been writing this, I’ve been listening to the sound of one of my favorites, the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, which is the one shown in the image in this blog.

Many people refer to the 550 Spyder as the James Dean car because the young, posthumously-Academy Award-nominated actor was killed on this very day in 1955 when his car, one of 90 550s, was hit head-on at the intersection shown at this link when an on-oncoming car took a fork from highway 46 to highway 41 about 21 miles from Paso Robles, California and apparently didn’t see Dean’s car.  Click here for a documentary that begins with a safety PSA filmed with Dean.

To hear the exhaust notes of a car similar to this, you can click on this link or the image in this blog and go to the first automobile and then page through by clicking the arrows to the side of each page to go to the next.  The series begins with a 1938 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic and represents only 17 or so of the cars in Lauren’s collection.

Some don’t reach their classic note until they get up to speed such as the 1954 Ferrari 375 Plus so it is recommended that listeners go beyond hearing the cars start and idle.

You can also see a documentary on October 6th at 8 p.m. on the Discovery Channel or you can buy the new book.  But for me, I’m just happy to listen to the incredible exhaust notes as I work.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Myth of the Ghetto Army

Anecdotal opinions are tedious and in most cases useless.

I guess that’s why I am such a fan of research. It liberates us by allowing our beliefs and perceptions to be perpetually informed and updated by broader perspectives, especially today when it seems so much of the news is dominated by he-said-she-said sound bites, bumper sticker solutions and increasingly, recycled myths for the ideologically cocooned.

A good example was published this week in the Wall Street Journal by a free-lance writer and blogger I follow for insight into places like Afghanistan and Libya. Ann Marlowe is also currently a scholar at the Hudson Institute.

She is also an expert on the military as well as a lot of stereotypes and dated perceptions that are frequently expressed today. Her editorial uses the findings of an analysis by The Heritage Foundation to break down the socio-economics of those who have been fighting for us for a decade now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Contrary to what a lot of people say or think, America’s soldiers are not primarily “poor and black:” Here 10 tidbits from what she writes:

  • 25% come from what were the wealthiest one-fifth of America’s neighborhoods in the 2000 census.
  • 11% came from the poorest one-fifth
  • 40% of Reserve Officer Training Corp enrollees come from the wealthiest neighborhoods
  • Low-income families are under-represented in the military and high-income families are over-represented
  • Blacks comprise 17% of military-age Americans and make up 21% of enlisted soldiers
  • Whites comprise 58% of military-age Americans and make up 64% of enlisted soldiers
  • 64% of new enlistees are white and 19% are black
  • Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islander-Americans are under-represented.
  • While 74% of military-age Americans with bachelor’s degrees are white, 72% of Army officers are white.
  • While 8% of military-age Americans with B.A.s are black, 13% of Army officers are black.

The op-ed is well worth reading, as is the original analysis, both for more facts but also as a reminder of how stubborn misperceptions can be when they rely on anecdotes or dated opinions alone.

As Ms. Marlowe notes at the end of her piece: “The myth of the ghetto Army is as nastily racist as it is false.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

America’s Future Relies on the Radical Center

There is probably only one group more lonely than the 10% of Mormons who are “liberal," American’s most politically conservative religious denomination and that’s the remaining 3% of Republicans who are liberal. 

So the Democratic base must be all liberals, right?  After all, that’s what’s pounded into our brains from the superficial, conflict-driven news reports that mold this as public perception.

Nope, analysis shows that the true numeric base of the Democratic Party are moderates, not liberals, which must be why Republicans have become pathologically adverse to compromise or any sort of “third-way,” moderate solution.Moderates

They fear it will benefit Democrats but in reality this aversion may be isolating that party more and more from the ideology of the largest segment of Americans, “moderates.”

The reality that conservative Ronald Reagan understood and rode to victory on in 1980 has been the key to winning every election since then.  It is all about winning over moderates and by nature moderates are less concerned about political power and more concerned about what works and understand that what works is compromise and bipartisanship.

Remember, only a 5 point swing among “moderates” saved George W. Bush from being a one-term president.

Jon Huntsman Jr. gets it and so do the 24% of Republicans who are moderates.  But Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are playing first to the nearly three out of four Republicans who are far to the right of Reagan, let alone the American mainstream, and predominantly driven only by orthodoxy.

A poll earlier this month revealed that Democrats view both themselves as individual voters and their party as “moderate.”  Independents also predominantly view themselves as moderates although they view other Independents as a group as a little more conservative.

Republicans?  They view themselves to the right of their party and Democrats as all liberals.  They are cocooned in this misperception by devotion to myside-biased-news consumption and marooned in an inflexible closed-loop view of their beliefs as possessions.

A positive sign for moderation was the 23 point decline in favorability for Republican leadership among extreme Tea Partiers following the debt ceiling agreement and a 37 point decline in opinion for the Tea Party faction among Republicans overall.

Unleashed, maybe the Congressional Super Committee will be more open to a bipartisan deficit-reduction proposal by the moderate Third Way organization.

But even if a faction of that group chooses to remain isolated, cocooned and marooned, Republicans aren’t doomed as long as they remember that moderates also represented the largest share of the electorate in 13 of the last 14 congressional election cycles.

The 2012 elections will all come down to three things in the opinion of many:

1) economic despair blinded to its origins by rhetoric and memory loss,

2) whether the mainstream news media can see past its obsession with balance to distinguish fact from fiction, and

3) how susceptible my fellow moderates are to memory loss and massive doses of distortion-laced attack adds by 527-organizations and other anonymous groups that thanks to an extremely narrow Supreme Count decision can be anonymously funded by corporations.

Regardless of whether the final outcomes of next year’s presidential and congressional elections ultimately favor Republicans, Democrats or Independents, the final arbiters will be moderates, not conservatives or liberals.

Un-grid-locking America will depend on electing people open to a third-way, regardless of political affiliation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Artificial Boundary Between Work and Play

At age 5, work for me meant also looking the part. After helping my grandfather dig postholes and repair fence line on the now-100-year-old Idaho ranch he had homesteaded but back then had turned over to my parents, my face didn’t show how hard I had been working.

So while my grandfather was reloading tools, I flipped the windshield visor down in the Jeep I was to inherit as my first car a decade later and, using both hands, transferred the dust I found there to my forehead and cheeks.

Even though my Dad would come in from working the ranch each night “feelin’ about half past dead” to borrow the great line penned by country-rocker Robbie Robertson, it was never lost on me, as we all gathered around to watch him eat “bread and milk” from a glass, that as we did we could see in his face how much he thoroughly loved working livestock along the Henry’s Fork in that Yellowstone-Teton nook of Eastern Idaho.

I was surrounded by adults for whom the boundaries between work and play were clearly artificial, something researchers later documented just after I came of age, yet it remains an area where business still lags behind science today. It is part of the fascinating story about motivation in Daniel Pink’s 2009 book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Back while I was working at “looking the part,” I was also working up to getting to ride in my first cattle round-up at age 6 while also learning the lesson that researchers have since documented: For people who find passion and engagement, work can be even more fun than play.

I was also a little puzzled as an adult by people who only worked as a means to go play when I was having as much or more enjoyment in my work.

At an early age, I experienced what Pink adapts from the groundbreaking work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) about the three pillars of passionate and engaged work:

  • “autonomy - the desire to direct our own lives,”
  • “mastery - the urge to get better and better at something that matters” and,
  • “purpose - the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.”

Most were seasonal, some for only a few weeks or months but these pillars were reinforced during nearly every one of the 31 jobs I held in the years before starting my now-concluded four-decade career in community/destination marketing.

Ironically, two hundred years ago early pioneers in tourism may have contributed to the notion that is still so deeply embedded in today’s workforce that work and play are polar opposites. These people are easy to spot because they see work only as something you have to do and play as something you want to do.

Today there are many, even members of younger generations, who seem to work so incredibly hard at taking vacations, often requiring a “sick day” to recuperate before they return and then complaining mightily that they have fallen so far behind. They can’t fathom how people like me get as much or more pleasure from our work as we do from leisure or how 46% of us now can find peace of mind by occasionally checking in via email while we’re on vacation.

In her 1999 book Working At Play, Dr. Cindy Aron, a professor at the University of Virginia which is a three-hour drive north of where I live, chronicles the history of vacations in America.

Over the initial objections of religious leaders, early marketers first promoted vacations “from” work for health reasons beginning in the late 1700s to mid-1800s. When vacations accelerated after the Civil War, especially between 1870 and 1900 with the emergence of the middle class, they expanded to include recreation (amusements were still considered wicked) and then for self-improvement and education and then sightseeing for scenery, history and culture or to rusticate.

Even the dawning of large meetings, conventions, congresses and assemblies were rationalized as “working” family vacations and spurred the formation of the first community/destination marketing organization (DMOs) in 1896 to draw visitors to Detroit.

By 1914, the idea of community/destination marketing had caught on the what is now Destination Marketing Association International was formed. Now evolved to pursue every type of visitor-centric economic and cultural development DMOs exist in more than a thousand communities in North American and several thousand more worldwide.

Today, within the United States alone, each year Americans log 1.5 billion leisure person-trips over and above the 448 million person-trips taken for business purposes each year (including conventions and meetings,) and 62% try to also tie leisure into at least one trip a year with two-thirds bringing family or friends.

Increasingly though, an economy driven by the Creative Class is beginning the long-overdue upgrade of what Pink terms the “operating system” for work and leisure to “motivation 3.0.”

In her new book Now You See It: How The Brain Science of Attention Will Transform The Way We Live, Work, and Learn, Cathy N. Davidson traces the origins of the now-dated “operating system” that still artificially segregates work and play.

She also makes a compelling argument that, in order to be relevant and effective both public education and the workplace must transform by rapidly adapting to the Internet.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blessed By “Two Hearts On Fire”

One of my favorite country songs was first recorded in 1990, a year after I moved to Durham to jumpstart community/destination marketing here, a job from which I retired after more than two decades.

There are three reasons that Hugh Prestwood’s “Ghost In This House” resonates with me, both in the original version by Shenandoah and as interpreted a decade later by Alison Krauss.  On three occasions during my life, if only for a day or two, I’ve felt as low as the lyrics in this song describe but for other reasons three lines in particular resonate with me.

I’m just a whisper of smoke

I’m all that’s left of two hearts on fire

That once burned out of control

It also describes my parents relationship but, of course, I’m not all that’s left.  I have two incredible younger sisters.  We’re fortunate to be the children of two parents whom we now realize were and are (my Mom’s still living) incredibly passionate, strong-willed, full of life and laughter and ideas and who sacrificed so much for us.

By age 14, I knew they were burning out of control but they held on until I was on the backside of 30 and we were all of age with lives of our own before they went their separate ways.

The lyrics have another meaning for me.  They represent so many people I see who seem to sleep walk through life, afraid of their shadow, rarely if ever making a difference, sometimes barely disturbing the air through which they walk, like a “whisper of smoke.”

Over the years I’ve worked and dialogued at length with many of these souls who sadly never seemed to feel really passionate about anything, let alone fully engaged. Many were good workers, some weren’t but that didn’t stop me from futilely trying to breath fire into them.

Maybe they are trapped in a way articulated in another favorite song that was co-penned and recorded just a year after “Ghost In This House” by Travis Tritt and Jill Colucci, entitled “Anymore.”

Maybe lines from that song are really about a relationship with life such as “I can’t hide the way I feel…I can’t hold the hurt inside…I’m afraid of pretending…I’ve got to take the chance…If I expect to get on with my life…I’m tired of pretending I don’t love you anymore.”

I always thought I had picked up my passion, drive and sense of engagement through imitation from my parents, but from the seemingly inherent nature I see in my single-mom-healthcare lawyer daughter it seemed like these traits were inherited.

But maybe it is both/and, as Jim Taylor expresses in his new book, “…the new understanding of genetics, contrary to the old argument of nature versus nurture is nature via nurture.”

I’ve also learned that passion and engagement and drive seem mystical to those without those traits which is why they so often mistake them as anger or conflict or confrontation.  Sadly, as all children seem innately passionate and engaged, I’m certain at one time these people must have felt what researchers call “the flow” and then shut down at some point in their lives, maybe for the same reasons they seem to “fear failure.”

In his excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink reviews scientific evidence that people who are passionate and engaged are motivated intrinsically because they were given an incremental vs. fixed mindset about intelligence that “prizes learning goals over performance goals,” something one of the researchers he cites, Dr. Carol Dweck reviews in detail in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Maybe Graham Nash got it right with another favorite of mine that he penned while with The Hollies of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” fame (that’s Elton John on piano) and later made famous with CSN&Y as Teach Your Children (for those who love pedal steel as much as I do, that’s Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead sitting in to give the song its distinctive sound.)

It doesn’t just fall on parents or grandparents or school teachers to embed the right mindset, it is the responsibility of each of us (including conservative inclined to finger-wagging) whenever we have contact with a child to, as the song says, “feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’ll know by.”

I know one thing for certain.  I’ve been fortunate to feel “the flow” for as long as I can remember and now even into retirement.  A good part of the credit goes to being blessed into the home of those “two hearts on fire.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

10 Reasons eReaders Are Reading More

Two things struck me about a Harris Poll on book reading released this month, but only one was a surprise.

One in every three American adults failed to buy a single book in the past year, up from 1 in 5 the year prior. The percentage who didn’t even crack a book in the last year increased to 16% including nearly 1 in every 5 Generation X and 17% of Baby Boomers.

The surprise though is that only 15% of Americans are using eReaders with another 15% likely to move in that direction soon. But given that they didn’t become readily available outside of libraries until 2007, I guess that rate of adoption is pretty good. The dedicated readers are now much more affordable but apps for smartphones or tablets are mostly free.

The research shows that people using eReaders read more books than those who read hard-copies. Of course, electronic books aren’t new. Project Gutenberg was launched about eight months prior to when I graduated from college in mid-1972 by another student who invented the electronic book or ebook. Michael Hart has now digitized about 36,000 items.

I began using an eReader in 2008 about a year after the Kindle came out but I’d already been reading many publications for work via computer for about ten years by then.

About two years ago I shifted to reading ebooks on my phone and tablet via apps for Kindle, Google Books and iBooks. Even though I purchase those I download into Google Books via my favorite local bookstore, I have mixed feelings because I love actual bookstores, especially independents and find myself browsing whenever one is nearby as well as during stops on cross-country trips.

But here 10 top-of-mind reasons why I find eReaders so useful:

  • Within moments of hearing or reading about a book, I can download it via my phone or tablet or computer or, depending on where I purchased them, on a dedicated reader.

  • The books are then available on three platforms and each one synchs to the place where I finished reading on another.

  • The backlighting and ability to enlarge fonts makes them very useful in any light whether it be at night before I fall to sleep or out on a deck at the lake. I read a thousand-page book during one cross-country trip using only the screen on my smartphone.

  • I can easily check the meaning of an unfamiliar word or click through to read a citation or to enlarge a chart or image.

  • I can read during moments of opportunity regardless of whether I’ve been thinking ahead. This includes during meetings when the subject matter has begun to recycle, in waiting rooms, in restaurants when I’m dining alone or waiting for friends to arrive, even when I’m stuck in traffic.

  • I now digitally receive and/or read all but one of the five or six newspapers I regularly read as well as five of the eight magazines to which I subscribe.

  • eReaders make it easier to read several books at one time.

  • eBooks can be loaned for a limited period of time to other readers. They can also be sent as gifts.

  • eBooks can be searched by clicking on parts of the table of contents or by searching key words or by highlights and notations I’ve made and want to share or reference again.

  • If an eBook is ever lost or deleted on one of the readers or my computer, it can be quickly re-downloaded. If I change or upgrade a phone or computer or tablet, I can easily access them again.

Of course, while ebooks may be even "greener"now that libraries are loaning via apps, I still buy some types of books in hard-copy. Books of large-format photography or with elaborate historical illustrations or data-charts and especially poetry which I have to read aloud to truly enjoy are examples of hard-copy books that I buy.

I hope there will always be a place for bookstores, not only for browsing but possibly, in the future, as a portal where a very limited number of copies of each book is on hand - but can be downloaded using the bar code.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Focus on Who Than What

Recently administrators at a high school where I live fell into the same trap that makes Homeland Security so inefficient and infuriating.  They focused on too much on “what” instead of “who.”

An honors student and rising Eagle Scout served a 10-day suspension from school after his Boy Scout Camp Knife was spotted in his vacant car during a routine but random search of the school parking lot by dogs trained to detect drugs.

To their credit the administrators used discretion to reduce the punishment from what it could have been.  But even though the student will be able to make up for the missed time, there may be at least two serious unintended consequences.

It may have a dramatic impact on his grades and possibly his choice of colleges; but just as significantly it has been perceived as unjust by other students and  undermined the credibility of the system in the minds of those it is designed to protect.

The problem is the same one faced by the Federal Transportation Security Administration with its incredibly expensive zero tolerance focus on “what” instead of “who.”

TSA is symbolic of America’s obsession with “appearing” fair instead of “being” fair, appearing competent instead of actually being competent, appearing effective rather than actually being effective.  As studies have made clear with student achievement, the time spent “appearing” takes away from actually “being.”

While subjecting everyone to an intrusive process that requires little judgment or thought and perpetuates a culture of CYA, analysis shows that our approach to security shows little sign of increasing actual security.

In the words of Rafi Ron, an Israeli consultant to TSA:

“the key is not searching for dangerous items, but rather for dangerous people”

This isn’t the gross, blunt identification that stigmatized the word “profiling” when misused by traffic cops or some district attorneys.

Apparently TSA has gotten the message and now deploys 2,800 highly trained behavior detection officers at airports around the country.

Shifting to that approach while loosening the hugely expensive and intrusive approaches currently used would not only amount to only a fraction of the cost but be far more effective.  Instead of bogging down the entire system with a 100% check, it would involve interviewing 1% of passengers.

It would free up the two-thirds trillion dollars the current lock-down approach has cost and annually restore the $27 billion in travel spending stifled by the system each year.

However, to apply this behavioral detection approach to security in our local schools, society (that means you and me) would have to rebel against the antics of parents who show their butt with outrageous displays of “false” indignation while at the same time showing a very real sense of “entitlement” whenever their children are disciplined.

It is these parents who also need some behavioral assistance, unlike the parents of the wronged high school student I mentioned who not only sucked up the unmerited punishment but successfully dissuaded their son’s friends from mounting a create demonstration to free him from the injustice.

We need to support discipline in schools but like TSA move to a system that is more effective and fair and focuses on people who may be dangerous to others not just things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Social Giant “Linked In” discovers Durham, North Carolina!

Thanks to Durham’s community/destination marketing organization (DMO) and its corps of Durham Image Watchers, social media-giant Linked In has finally corrected its database of locations for user profiles to include Durham, North Carolina, one of the most highly rated in America.

Previously people who live or work in Durham were forced to use the name of a jointly-owned airport, Raleigh-Durham, as their profile location. I suspect that Linked In had been given a faulty list of cities such as most airlines use, which is a mix and match perversion of cities and airport names.

As a former Mayor of Durham repeatedly explained, “there is simply no such place as Raleigh-Durham.”  It’s simply the name of an airport, located in the center of a polycentric area and midway between and co-owned by two distinct cities and counties and two distinct metro areas.

The list of locations Linked In used at inception obviously wasn’t subtle enough to grasp that Durham and Raleigh are very distinct cities let alone different MSAs or they tried to guess what the general area is called and missed that too.

A business as apparently savvy as Linked In isn’t interested in general areas anyway.  They must be familiar with any number of studies which show that nearly 8 out of every 10 people prefer to characterize where they work or live by the name of a specific city, town or county followed by a small percentage who prefer neighborhood and tiny sliver who are okay being lumped into large general areas.Linked In Instructions

To its credit Linked In made the correction but they could have made it easier for users by using a simple list of zip codes to make the change.  Instead users, if they are even aware of the improvement, are now left to individually fight through the instructions which have been inserted as one of the images in this blog post.

Or follow these steps:

- Go to the “Help Center” link at the bottom of your Linked In page

- Click on “Manage Account Settings”

- View personal info by clicking on the “Settings” link

- Click on “edit your name, location and industry”

- Click on Durham, North Carolina as location

Durham’s DMO the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau was just being diligent in its role as a DMO, but unfortunately for other communities, many DMOs never pay attention when oversights or mistaken identities occur which greatly marginalize if not entirely negate any effectiveness they have in promoting their communities.

Without addressing the ways in which a community’s brand is being misused or undermined, any other marketing is pretty much like trying to put a forest fire out with a garden hose hooked to only a rain barrel.

There may even be a few DMOs that sit on their hands knowing the community on the front end of the hyphen will be the only one remaining when the reference is inevitably truncated.  They probably don’t realize that the gain, even through omission, is still unethical.

Hyphenations are anathema to community brands but especially one like Raleigh-Durham which, unlike others, isn’t even in alphabetical order. I’ll leave the unethical behavior that reversed the order for another post.  We certainly don’t want any “eye-rollers” to cramp up.  The fact is, vigilance requires defending a brand at every “touch-point.”

Rectifying things like this doesn’t take a lot of resources, just persistence and vigilance and empowering internal stakeholders including local officials in the community to help out.

It can usually be done with a light touch but even though such a rectification is beneficial to all concerned, some sources get defensive and require some tough love.  Before Linked In, DCVB and Durham Image Watchers persuaded Facebook to make the distinction between the airport and the actual communities.

I noticed recently that Durham’s largest and newest theater may be the #2 most-attended theater in the nation according to Pollster, but to Ticketmaster it is a Capture“Raleigh” facility because the ticketing giant, like Time-Warner doesn’t grasp that what’s important to customers is the physical location of the event and facility not where Ticketmaster happens to maintain an office.

More than two decades ago, when Durham first jumpstarted its DMO, one of the first things that organization did was to clean up misidentification in thousands of print directories, maps, travel and convention reference guides as well as datelines in news sources.

There is no way that any level of promotion by a DMO can ever hope to overcome misinformation such as this so there is no choice but to wade in and clean it up.  Then along came the Internet and the companies that populate navigation systems and the process started all over again.

About the time Durham’s DMO had the misinformation under control and in retreat, along came social media sites that ironically were re-infected by the same misinformation that had plagued hard-copy sources.

For example, the sources for community locations used by obviously don't grasp the meaning of “local” in many instances including Durham.  Lumping Durham with scores of other communities and metro areas misleads people instead into long commutes that burn more in gas than the coupons will save thus ripping off both the consumer and the outlet granting the coupon.

As any DMO goes about cleaning up or mitigating misinformation about a community, as Durham did, it may need to weather some condescension and obstinacy and grief from those who have benefited from the dissonance such as a Raleigh City Council member who publicly moaned “I’m not looking forward to being like Durham” only to be reassured in a Durham Herald-Sun editorial:

don’t worry… Raleigh isn’t in imminent danger of having that much fun.”

Or the DMO may possibly have to weather some “friendly-fire” from those who may be under the spell of a few who seem in denial about this condescension or who feel they may benefit from obscuring community brands such some seem to think in the business of broadcast television.

But in time, any grousing, if well-intended and intellectually honest will come around to realizing that a strong community brand is no threat even to those who see the world from 30,000 feet up.

For any diligent DMO, the job of defending a community’s brand, which of course includes its identity, never ends but it is the equivalent of the expense of millions of dollars in marketing that would be literally neutralized if not wasted were the misinformation not rectified.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Brain Hacking, Commercial Speech and Ethics In Marketing

I may be wrong but my experience in associations over the years, particularly on legislative committees, makes it pretty easy for me to see how a small number of individuals would have been able to get the American Advertising Federation and the Association of National Advertisers to file briefs in U.S. District Court objecting to the new visual marketing the FDA plans to add to tobacco packaging next year.

Of course when the government wants to use marketing to warn consumers, many marketers argue, as I assume this brief will try to do, that it is being propagandistic.  They argue freedom of “commercial speech” which is ironic since they essentially seek to deny freedom of information.

Many marketers view the new warnings on cigarette packaging as hypocritical because they still think of taxes on tobacco and alcohol as they functioned up until the early 1900s when prohibitionists supplanted them with the progressive income tax as the means of funding public services.

Prohibitionists and other groups may have been able to push through the income tax in part because so many people didn’t think they would have to pay it.  Southerners in particular relished the fact that the substitution shifted 44% of the tax burden to New York State alone, a kind of payback for Reconstruction and the prohibition of slavery.

Following the repeal of prohibition, taxes on tobacco and alcohol resumed but evolved more as “sin” taxes, used to curb consumption or recoup healthcare related costs.  So this is one tax where government is actually hoping to put itself out of business.  It is also why legalization of drugs is one area where conservatives including libertarians and liberals seem to agree.  Even after nearly 100 years, we have yet to fully apply the lessons of prohibition.

The argument by thoughtful marketers regarding the new warning labels for tobacco is that, if it is legal to produce and sell a product to the public, it should be legal to market it even if unfortunately for far too many marketing is still  restricted to just one element: advertising.

Fair enough, but it doesn’t appear that  new warning requirements will actually curb the ability to produce or market or advertise tobacco, just make it more complex.  The graphic warnings  are just based on the principle that many smokers don’t read text, nor do they have any idea the taxes in return that smokers levy on society in general in the form of healthcare costs.

As a marketer for nearly four decades in community/destination marketing organizations, I’m also very conscious of surveys about “truth in advertising,” which is just one element of marketing.  It is clear that neither attempts at self-regulation within the ad industry or the Federal Trade Commission are very effective.

It isn’t the 19% of Americans who believe advertising is truthful all or most of the time that worries industry ethicists; it is the 65% who trust advertising to only “sometimes” be honest and the 13%, or just over 1 in 10, who say they never trust advertising.  It is just one factor that has led to the dramatic decline in the effectiveness of advertising, as documented in scientific studies and leading savvy marketers to shift to other alternatives.

Creators of an award-winning advertising campaign for Montana were just exposed for using images taken of Wyoming.  It reminds me of an excellent classroom presentation a few years ago on ethics in advertising by former Ogilvy exec Chris Moore of Brains for Rent during which he described the very slippery slope down which the creators of Montana’s campaign fell:

“So we tell the truth - but not always the whole truth. We want to put our clients in the best light…How much of the truth we owe to others is an ethical question. In practice, the answer depends on who they are and what's at stake.”

It is true that there are very thin slivers of Yellowstone National Park located in both Idaho and Montana, and there are a couple of popular gateways to Yellowstone from Montana, one of which I used during a visit a few weeks ago, but the vast majority of the Park is located in Wyoming.  It was deceptive advertising and sadly there are far too many excellent reasons to visit Montana that are actually located there to take such an unethical risk.

When I arrived in Durham more than two decades ago to jumpstart community/destination marketing here, this type of unethical advertising was rampant in North Carolina.  Raleigh was claiming scores of Durham assets in brochures about that community, State officials were marketing the airport, which is located midway between and co-owned by Raleigh and Durham, as the Raleigh airport, Greensboro was blatantly advertising itself as the location of the North Carolina Zoo actually located in Asheboro and Charlotte was claiming to be the location of stock car races actually located in Concord.

Sadly, I had to pull out a copy of the code of ethics for destination marketing to get Raleigh to back off and then begin the decades-long task or rectifying the deliberate misinformation and reclaiming Durham’s identity.

The ethical issues surrounding advertising are also the reason why so many entrepreneurs find that customers prefer fee-based models even though competitors offer something similar for free but subsidized by advertising.  As one was quoted by Clive Thompson in Wired Magazine recently, “once you’re not just charging people straight up, you get into all these murky ethical things.  You have to sell their eyeballs.”

Of far more concern to me, even as an outspoken proponent of research-driven marketing, are the new ethical issues surrounding innovative new methods of “hacking into consumer brains” such as the neuro-marketing described in a Fast Company magazine article written last month by Adam Penenberg.

The article is about a breakthrough approach pioneered by NeuroFocus that according to the author “will collect the resulting streams of data and use them to analyze the participants' deep subconscious responses to the commercials, products, brands, and messages of its clients.”

It will only intensify the debate about ethics in advertising.  Will the “deep subconscious responses” be used by product developers and marketers to benefit consumers or harm them by plumbing into addictions for everything from obesity-driven fat and snacks and sugar?

People involved in marketing make numerous ethical choices every day, especially when it comes to the element of advertising and few are black and white.  One advertising ethics presentation likens an advertisement to a job interview:

“When you go on a job interview or a first date, you don't assume a false identity - but you probably don't make a full disclosure either. Chances are you keep your lactose intolerance and foot odor issues in the background…”

We know that consumers only pay attention to an advertisement for an average of 6.5 seconds and even though more than 80% of all American companies now have a written code of ethics, there are no simple answers.

With so many ethical considerations to be resolved, the two advertising organizations mentioned at the beginning of this blog are making a huge mistake by making product warning labels an issue of commercial free speech.  All this will do is further alienate consumers and make them even more skeptical of marketing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Insights Into Apparent Callousness Among Conservatives

I suspect a lot of Conservatives reacted to news reports and infographics that more than 46 million Americans now live in poverty about the same way some of their ultra-conservative-faction Tea Party members did during the recent debate by cheering pulling the plug on anyone who is dying but that doesn’t have health insurance.

Even if a subsequent attempt to balance perception of that event is accurate, flippancy and conservatism go back a long way including Lord Tommy Dewar’s famous early 20th century quip that “if we are here to help others, I often wonder what the others are here for.”

While it would be much too easy, even as a politically moderate Independent, I have too many friends of that persuasion, who are compassionate, to brush all Conservatives off as heartless.

My friends may not go as far as one Conservative commentator did while referring to some as having “no sense of moral decency” but even they would agree there is some truth to the perception that many Conservatives seem callous and recently I’ve come across several possible explanations.

One possible insight into those who are truly callous is that a pivotal “switch” may not have been flipped in childhood as described by Dr. Jim Taylor’s excellent new book for parents when he wrote that:

“…even if children are predisposed to compassion, what begins as an egocentric stage can turn into an entrenched attribute if that genetic switch isn’t turned on. And the way parents ensure that the switch is flipped is by sending children messages that discourage selfishness and encourage compassion.”

Another insight may be that Conservatives seem to be far more likely to be “declinists” by nature or more likely to fall under the spell of others who are. According to journalist Alan W. Dowd, who documents that America has been viewed as in “decline” a good portion of the last 300 years.

I’ve primarily been moderate and Independent politically since coming of age, but growing up in an ultra-conservative Republican household, by age 15 the first political books I read were John Birch Society-inspired paranoid-declinest-readers such as A Texan Looks At Lyndon, subtitled “a study of illegitimate power” and A Choice Not An Echo. Books like these probably pushed many of us toward becoming Independent and/or Liberal.

But judging from a recent infographic documenting the economic prosperity from ‘47-‘79, during my first 30 years of age and the economic regression from ‘80 until the present, the past 30 years, a period dominated by conservative politicians including the “Great Communicator” President Ronald Reagan, it seems stagnation, if not relative decline, may actually correlate closely with conservative viewpoints and policies.

It is important to note that correlation is not necessarily causation but after thirty years it is clear that the conservative inclination shows no sign of pay-off, no matter how many times it continues to be rebranded. In fact those who are so ready to preach the politics of “decline” in the Republican presidential primaries may find that their approach has actually led to the stagnation of the past thirty years.

Another insight into why so many Conservatives seem callous can be found in the research findings reviewed in the book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us when authors Drs. David Campbell and Robert Putnam write:

“Experiencing a loving God is associated with high trust in one’s fellow mortals, whereas experiencing a judgmental God is associated with low trust in other people….Religious liberals…are among the most socially trusting of Americans, whereas religious conservatives more often experience a judgmental God, and they are among the least trusting of Americans, especially if they are not observant.”

Contrasting those believing in a Judgmental God vs. a Loving God may in part also explain why conservative Republicans felt comfortable taking two-thirds of the budget cuts in its recently House-passed “Pathway to Prosperity” budget out of “programs that serve people of limited means” according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities while including the notation below appearing on page 25 that the budget will:

“ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.”

To me that sentence reflects what many would call a lack of “social trust” including Conservative author and columnist David Brooks in his book The Social Animal where he writes:

“Without social trust, the political system devolves into a brutal shoving match…The social fabric is based on the idea that effort leads to reward. But very often, government rewards people who have not put in the effort. It does this with good intentions…[e.g. welfare entitlement] and it does it with venal intentions [e.g. lobbyist-secured earmarks, tax breaks, subsides and corporate welfare]…

These programs weaken social trust and public confidence. By separating effort from reward, they pollute the atmosphere. They send the message that the system is rigged and society is corrupt.”

But from their research, the authors of American Grace further note that ultra-conservative, highly religious Republicans are especially vulnerable when it comes to social trust when they write:

“Fundamentalist religious views are negatively associated with social trust…Social trust increases with religious attendance but decreases with fundamentalism…Religious liberals more often experience a loving God, and they are among the most socially trusting of Americans, whereas religious conservatives more often experience a judgmental God, and they are among the least trusting of Americans, especially if they are not observant.

For highly observant fundamentalist Americans, their theology inclines them toward skepticism about human nature but their frequent attendance somehow move them to a more optimistic view.”

“Social trust” which is defined as a belief in the honesty, integrity and reliability of others - a "faith in people" is regularly benchmarked by the Pew Center and the General Social Survey. Studies also show that “social trust” correlates with quality of life and economic health.

In a column a couple of weeks ago entitled The Vigorous Virtues Brooks further comments on the importance of social trust but chastises the current Conservative and ergo Republican positions as inadequate:

“Finally, there is the problem of the social fabric. Segmented societies do not thrive, nor do ones, like ours, with diminishing social trust…government may have helped undermine personal responsibility and the social fabric, but that doesn’t mean the older habits and arrangements will magically regrow simply by reducing government’s role.”

It does appear that Brooks, as a compassionate Conservative, is in the minority both in his ideology and in the Republican Party. It is not at all clear from everything I’ve read that compassion as a value can be learned by an adult if “the switch wasn’t flipped” in childhood or that there is room for compassion in a worldview based on a Judgmental God.

Nor is there any evidence that empathy and compassion can come from reading first-hand accounts of poverty like Joe Queenan’s article this month entitled The Inconvenient Truths About Poverty.

As you’ll note in one of the first reader comments at the bottom of the article

At 12:05PM on 6 September 2011, jr wrote:

“this article is 100% bunk. the tv producer was correct. do you expect to live in a world that there is no differentiation between rich and poor? if so you are living in fantasy land. why would anyone strive to be successful if laziness would suffice? this is just more of the distribution of wealth bs as touted by the liberal democrats in power. it results in buying elections by paying the poor to stay unemployed and receive govt. assistance.”

As for me, I’m far more persuaded by a comment posted by Jay Zenner, a friend who blogs at Springtree Territory, when I first blogged about Queenan’s article:

“I guess there's more than one type of poverty. Besides financial poverty there's intellectual poverty and spiritual poverty. None of them are ennobling and all major religions and Rotary preach providing help to break the ‘vicious circle’ Queenan mentions...for all types of poverty”.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Infographic: The NFL Economy

These numbers appear to be gross, not net-value-added but still impressive. Click to enlarge.

Friday, September 16, 2011

No Free Lunch – Even For The Restaurant Industry

The restaurant industry hates taxes - unless it’s doing the taxing.

As I give you the following examples to illustrate my point, let me first clarify that I’m a card-carrying foodie. I eat out 10 or more times a week and I’m told I’m a good tipper. I understand that great food and great wait staff go hand in hand. I also spent a lot of time during a now-concluded four-decade career helping to make restaurants sustainable in three different communities.

Here are just three examples, though, of how the restaurant industry through associations, often controlled by chains and franchisees, seems hypocritical when it comes to levies on meals.

  • The restaurant industry levies (guilt and social norms are still levies) $44 billion in “tips” each year on diners ranging from 5% to 20% with tip inflation in some cities now reaching 25% even though numerous studies have revealed there is little or no correlation to good service in the minds of either the customers or the wait staff.image

  • The restaurant industry is also a major source of litter, generating a quarter of all 4-inch-plus litter items. Fast food operations alone are the source of a third of all packaging litter on roadways and this doesn’t count beverage containers or restaurants’ contribution to loading area and dumpster-sourced litter or that found in storm drains -- more than half of it in cities and counties alone, all of which levies billions on the public to clean it up.

Restaurants using billboards contribute to the desecration of their communities and states, foster scenic and economic blight (property near a billboard is depreciated as much as $40,000) and generate air and water pollution when roadside vegetation is clear-cut or swathed and even as admitted recently, poisoned, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and unfiltered storm water into ground water.

So what happens when the public attempts to recoup some of these hidden costs by adding a single penny on the dollar to the tab for meals? Remember, it should be of no concern to restaurants because like a tip, it doesn’t affect restaurants costs or revenues.

Restaurant industry hypocrisy was clearly illustrated in 2008 when my adopted hometown of Durham (ranked among the foodiest cities in America,) with active support from locally-owned restaurants, proposed a tiny 1% levy on prepared meals with the revenues to be dedicated to uses that would benefit the community but only in ways that would also, in turn, benefit restaurants.

Unlike similar levies granted other cities including Raleigh, Charlotte and Fayetteville and with no real strings attached and with little or no objection from the restaurant industry, Durham proposed to use the revenues from the 1% meals tax to:

  • Increase the 1/3 of all restaurant revenue that comes from tourism.
  • Reduce and control and remove litter including the significant contribution of litter via the restaurant industry.
  • Fund food-service education and career development programs,
  • Fund cultural facilities and organizations, patrons of which are well-proven to generate restaurant revenues.

Win-win-win, right? This was nowhere near the hidden industry-imposed levies I mentioned above and each of the uses were to be dedicated to things that directly benefit restaurants as well.

Wrong! Suddenly, to defeat the measure, tens of thousands of dollars from outside restaurants were funneled through a front created by the same folks who only months later “rebranded” as the Tea Party, a an existing movement that had fallen into public disfavor.

One of the more laughable claims was that the 1% tax on meals in Durham would hurt restaurant business, something that was easily proven invalid by merely looking revenues before and after such a tax was imposed in in Raleigh and Charlotte.

How could this proposed penny on the dollar paid by customers, two-thirds of whom (including commuters) are non-residents of Durham, be harmful to restaurants when the industry blithely passes along customary levies in the ways mentioned above that are a hundred times greater or more.

Fortunately, the I.R.S. is going to look into these groups and I hope they dig down into what was secretly channeled by restaurant chains and possibly the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association through the Americans for Prosperity chapter over in Raleigh during consideration of Durham’s 1% meals proposal which had been enacted in Raleigh with restaurant industry assent or backing and without a whimper from the Koch brothers.

It is also time for honorable restaurant owners to reclaim control of their industry, taking it back from chain-driven associations, while insisting on a more balanced, transparent and fair approach when it comes to levies on meals.

Restaurateurs, especially those run by owner-chefs, often innately grasp the importance of building strong, vibrant communities and they feel an obligation to do their share, especially when the benefits are win-win. They are also unfairly asked far too often by individuals, groups and businesses to provide their product free of charge

As diners, though, we need to make it clear to our favorite restaurants and especially chains, that we know we are paying the hidden fees or “taxes” imposed in part by customs like tipping, litter clean-up, counterproductive marketing practices such as outdoor billboards and by restaurant industry lobbyists.

We need to encourage restaurants to stand up in support of clean air and water, unique sense of place, litter control and removal, tourism promotion and sustainable culture facilities and organizations.

After all, there is no free lunch not even for the restaurant industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Visitor Info Centers - First Responders for the Mentally Ill

Every official Visitor Information Center (VIC,) regardless of the community it serves or location will at some time be faced with how to compassionately and effectively serve individuals with mental illness.  Many times these are individuals are local residents who wander into the VIC, but not always.

VICs are almost always operated by community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs) because these facilities serve the secondary role of stimulating and optimizing post-arrival visitor circulation and spending.

The Centers also provide residents a one-stop source when hosting visiting friends and relatives and a key element to any community’s emergency preparedness plan as Durham’s did recently by operating its Emergency Lodging Hot-Line for evacuees during Hurricane Irene.

Of course, calling 911 is always an option when a traveler or resident with a mental illness needs assistance or is in distress.  But communities like Durham have an even better option that VICs can access.

Mental health and substance abuse professionals at a place called Durham Center Access provide Durham’s DMO and its VIC staff with training and plans of action on how to deal with mental health crises as well as how to access services such as:

  • Telephone screening for behavioral health issues.


  • A mobile crisis team to provide integrated, short-term crisis response, stabilization and intervention for people experiencing a mental health or chemical dependency crisis.


  • A 24/7 walk-in center for emergency situations to make psychiatric and medical assessments and to provide triage for hospitalizations, stabilization, detoxification, and outpatient referrals.

Colleagues with whom I formerly worked at DCVB provide a list of some of the suggestions that Durham Center Access provided to front line people there who deal with these circumstances:

  • Assess the situation for the risk of suicide or harm (usually to one’s self)
  • If you believe the person is not in a crisis that needs immediate attention, engage that person in conversation.  Listen non-judgmentally and respectfully avoiding expressing any negative reaction.
  • Give reassurance and information.  Ask questions that show you care; seek clarification about what you heard; summarize facts and feelings expressed; be patient; don’t be critical; and above all, avoid confrontation with the individual unless it is necessary to prevent harm or dangerous acts.
  • Encourage the individual to get professional help.  This could include their primary care physician, mental health professionals or even a referral to the Durham Center.
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies, particularly individuals with anxiety or depression, the two most common mental disorders.

Knowing something about the culture at DCVB, I suspect the folks there will leverage their newest strategic partnership one step further this as training to other front-line workers throughout the community including major employers and visitor-sector organizations such as restaurants, hotels, museums, theaters, sports facilities, shopping complexes etc.

Durham Center Access is an invaluable service.  I suggest that other DMOs check in their communities for a similar organization that can provide these services and invite them to talk with Visitor Center staff.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quantifying The Environmental Role of Roadside Trees

One way to value roadsides is the scenic views they provide, a window into the soul of the places through which they pass and a pivotal factor in facilitating 1.9 billion tourism person-trips and a trillion dollars of economic impact each year.

Another way to quantify the value of roadside vegetation is by its ability to sequester or capture and hold carbon emissions from escaping into the atmosphere.

According to a pilot study of the National Highway System (NHS) by the Federal Highway Administration, the 3.4 million acres of roadside vegetation including trees, grasses and shrubs in the unpaved right of way along 163,000 miles of Interstates and U.S. Highways is able to clean the air of the equivalent of the emissions from 2.6 million passenger cars each year.

If the voluntary Chicago Climate Exchange hadn’t been torpedoed by members of a particular party in Congress, at the hypothetical carbon price of $20 per metric ton, the sequestration by vegetation along just 4% of the nation’s roadsides would equate to a potential value of $8.5 to $14 billion.

Nonetheless, the value to our planet Earth remains priceless.

Nationwide, including all of the areas where they are so difficult to grow, trees (deciduous, conifer and mixed,) make up 25% of all roadside vegetation along the NHS or about 827,000 acres total.

Roadside trees alone, growing in the right of way of major highways, sequester half of the carbon emissions captured by vegetation or nearly 2 million tons of carbon emissions every year.

In part, because North Carolina precariously clings to 60% of its tree cover, a good deal of the roadside sequestration occurs in this state, where I live. But while other states from Oregon to Maryland are using transportation enhancement grants to plant millions of trees, two North Carolina State Senators, Harry Brown of Jacksonville and Bob Rucho of Mathews, did their best during the recent session of the General Assembly to win back North Carolina’s reputation for being backward.

Working on behalf the outdoor billboard industry, Brown and Rucho pushed through a bill that will soon enable the clear-cutting of 575 miles of publicly-owned roadside trees or enough to go from one end of the state to the other. This is on top of what had already been generously permitted so the 8,000 private outdoor billboards mooching off the North Carolina public right of ways could be visible and purposely distracting to drivers even though they are utilized by fewer than 1 in 10 North Carolinians.

Most of the clear-cutting in North Carolina will occur along major highways that are part of the National Highway System. While representing only 4% of the nation’s roads, the NHS carries 40% of its traffic including 90% of all tourism traffic nationwide, 81% of business travel and the 37 million visitor person trips taken in North Carolina.

It is impossible to speculate on the motives of these two senators but before you deem all North Carolinians as deserving of the epitaph, “backward,” remember the scientific polls showing that 7 out of 10 North Carolinians consider outdoor billboards to be a “desecration” on our state.

As home to programs such as the Green Plus Certification and the Center for Sustainable Tourism at ECU, North Carolinians do understand the triple-bottom-line of social, environmental and financial responsibility and that the outdoor billboard legislation fails miserably on all three measures.

It may not be long before North Carolinians rise up and reclaim control of our roadsides, but it will be decades before the damage from outdoor billboards is repaired and before the state optimizes the far greater value of its roadsides instead for the source of scenic beauty and a cleaner environment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Unholy Alliances - Lessons From Prohibition

This is a book you’ll want to read before you see the film.

As a series the Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition will premiere on PBS, October 2nd, 3rd & 4th, airing here in Durham both at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on WUNC-TV.

It is based on a book I’ve nearly finished entitled Last CallThe Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent and published last year.  In my opinion, reading the book, now out in paperback, will only deepen and enrich the documentary.

There are certainly some comparisons with today, especially given the findings in another book I read last month entitled American GraceHow Religion Divides and Unites Us based on hour-long surveys conducted with a huge number of Americans and then repeated over several years.  Combining scores of other studies, the book illuminates the changing trends in the lives of real Americans and it is full of surprises about American religious life.

What stood out for me in Okrent’s book was the unholy alliance between prohibitionists and Southern racists, without whom the former would have failed.  For the 14 years it was in effect, the Constitutional amendment on prohibition stood as only the second time in history that the Constitution had been amended to curb citizen behavior instead of government behavior, the other being the amendment that ended slavery.

The book documents, in their own words, the motives most Southerners had for supporting prohibition which among others included “sticking it to” the urban and industrialized North and retribution for Reconstruction but primarily to reinforce myths and fears and prejudice about African-Americans and as a means to bolster local and state Jim Crow Laws.

Keep in mind this was the same era when the KKK was revived by a white, nativist, protestant minister and fueled a toxic brew of anti-black, anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-union and anti-immigrant sentiment to reach a zenith when 1 in every 29 Americans belonged to the Klan.

Historians such as American University’s Dr. Allan Jay Lichtman in the 2008 book entitled White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement and Stanford University’s Dr. David M. Kennedy in a book published a decade earlier entitled Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War trace the roots of today’s Conservative movement, including “cut, cut cut, states’ rights, balanced budget and worries about a dependent welfare class, forward to this era.

As you’ll read in Last Call and may see in the documentary, prohibition entailed many unlikely alliances and hidden agendas, particularly in the home stretch of the 50-80 year movement’s culmination.  While some such as racism, anti-immigration and intolerance of religious and lifestyle choices seem abhorrent to the American way or did at least were until the advent of the Tea Party.  Others such as women’s suffrage and the progressive income tax are now indelibly part of the American way.

But for me the most eerie of the resemblance with today was the how a very small, single-minded and well organized, fearful minority can overwhelm a democracy.  The prohibition lobby systematically bullied and cowed politicians into ignoring human nature, behavioral science, marketplace innovation and the law of supply and demand and a much larger but less motivated and under-mobilized constituencies much as the polarizing anti-tax pledge does today.

The story of prohibition and its repeal is another lesson about unintended consequences and the importance of striking balanced solutions, something extremely relevant to our America of today.

A good start, regardless of where you fall along the ideological spectrum is to read the book, especially if you are a moderate or an Independent for whom it is a must-read. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Autism And Humanity

Two things were transformative on one particular afternoon in mid-July when, with my dog Mugsy riding shotgun, I drove up from the northern plains past the Great Falls of the Missouri River into Glacier National Park (GNP)Glacier National Park from the Northern Plains experiencing the a spectacular view of the nearly 9,000-foot Red Eagle Peak (as shown in the image with this blog.)

Growing up in the Rockies I had always entered GNP from the west.  Making the approach from the east even more dramatic that afternoon was a program to which I was listening via satellite radio as Mugs laid down and fell back to sleep.

On Being, produced by American Public Media isn’t one of the programs carried back in Durham where I live.  One of the nice things about listening to NPR satellite channels is that you get introduced to unfamiliar programs such as this.

The subject that afternoon as I drove up into the shadow of the Rockies was Autism and Humanity and featured an interview by the host Krista Tippett with two authors, Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder, who write about autism but who are also the parents of Morgan, their son who was diagnosed with the condition of autism when he was two and one-half years old.

Click here to read a transcript of that program or you should be able to listen for yourself via one of the links at the top of the transcript or via the player shown at the bottom of this blog.

I don’t think that I heard of autism until sometime in the early 1990s when a friend mentioned that his adopted child might be autistic.  While sympathetic,  I’m embarrassed that I didn’t stop and ask him more about it at the time.  Apparently cases of this neuro-developmental disorder have been diagnosed for a long time, but it wasn’t conceptualized until the mid-1940s, just a few years before I was born.  Diagnoses became more widely discussed during the 1980s.

Collins is a college professor and literary historian but in the mid-2000s, a few years after his son was diagnosed, he wrote a book that is part memoir and part biography about people who had the condition throughout history.  Not Even Wrong: A Father’s Journey into the Lost History of Autism is on my digital shelf of books to be read.

Jennifer Elder is an author and illustrator.  Her book Different Like MeMy Book of Autism Heroes, is written for children between 8 and 12 and is intended to introduce them though an eight year old narrator to famous figures in science, art, math, literature, philosophy and comedy who were thought to be autistic.

The interview is fascinating.  Collins and Elder see autism as a spectrum and during the interview they discuss a study of professions common among people at the ends of the spectrum.  Listening to this program gave me not only a better understanding of autism but also a realization that in the very rural Idaho school district where I started school in the 1950s, there were students being mainstreamed who were most likely were autistic.

There was something inspirational about this program as I simultaneously witnessed the incredible power of Glacier National Park and it has crossed my mind many times since then.  I hope you read or listen to the interview find it as enlightening and inspirational as I did.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Friday, September 09, 2011

Self-Funding Historic Preservation

I’ve been thinking of Preservation Durham recently, in part because the organization was selected to benefit from The Bull City Rumble, which was held here over the Labor Day Holiday weekend and in part because of a “do-or-die” effort to raise $50,000, currently underway.

Fact is, though, that Preservation Durham should have been fully endowed by now if it had received just a tiny portion of the various “historic preservation tax credits” granted to and leveraged by private developers over the last thirty years whenever one of Durham’s many incredible, old factories was adapted for reuse as offices, restaurants, stores and apartments.

The inspiration for projects like these traces directly back to the advocacy and hard work of Preservation Durham which for many years was known as The Historic Preservation Society of Durham.

Instead of being financially stable, this non-profit has struggled for years being sustained through contributions from hundreds of members and the dedicated services of many volunteers, while the fruits of their efforts have fueled the restoration of millions of square feet of commercial and residential space and broadened the community’s local tax base.

I personally have some experience with the concept of “self-funding.” It occurs when a community ties the funding of a non-commercial activity to those businesses that benefit directly from or related to its activity.

For instance, visitor-centric economic and cultural development, where I spent nearly all of my just-concluded career as an executive, is customarily “self-funded” by a special sales tax levied on a portion of the visitors to a community or by a special assessment on businesses that benefit directly from visitors, usually in the form of a “tourism business improvement district.”

Theaters such as the Durham Performing Arts Center and many other across the country are in part “self-funded” by a City of Durham surcharge on each ticket sold to attendees for events hosted there. A much smaller ticket surcharge also helps self-fund the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the non-profit contract operation of The Carolina Theatre.

Hopefully, in the future though, officials and developers alike will see to it that Preservation Durham is self-funded by making the organization a direct beneficiary of the “historic preservation tax credits” granted to private developers to leverage the spectacular commercial developments that result from PD’s advocacy.

This organization’s important work has just begun.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

5 Ways To Improve Regulations But Only Demand Creates Jobs

Even Conservatives know that all of the talk about dismantling regulations, including the EPA’s, is just political opportunism and so do the associations and politicians using it as a “straw man” to rile small business owners, primarily to build membership and get votes.

Effective solutions are almost never “either/or.”

Savvy small business owners, such as thousands with whom I worked  during my now-concluded career in destination marketing, agree with economists who in a Wall Street Journal survey, agreed that the drag on job creation is a “dearth of demand.”

The same held true in an association survey of small businesses last month that ranked government regulation well below “poor sales” as the biggest problem.

Growing small businesses has always been about getting the cash register to ring, not regulations.

Clouding perspective, though, are millions of individuals now masquerading as so-called small businesses but as a scam to deduct expenses off their income taxes.

One, who recently crowed about paying for a new pick-up by deducting hundreds of miles racked up while commuting from his “second home” to where he works in the city of his primary residence.

It reminds me of a story about an FBI agent investigating illegal activity in a North Carolina county who conceded that it would be impossible to find a jury to convict because “people there don’t think it is illegal to rip off the Federal Government.”

I’m sure this sense of entitlement is, in part, behind the rationale of a proposal by moderate Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. to entirely strip away $400 billion in annual loopholes and deductions and corporation welfare.

As Conservative columnist David Brooks reminded Republican leaders last week:

“Job creation was dismal even in the seven years before the recession, when taxes were low and Republicans ran the regulatory agencies.

As economist Michael Spence has argued, nearly all of the job growth over the past 20 years has been in sectors where American workers don’t have to compete with workers overseas.

Meanwhile, middle-class wages have been stagnant for a generation. Inequality is rising, and society is stratifying. Americans are less likely to move in search of opportunity. Social mobility has been flat for decades, and American social mobility is no better than European social mobility.

Some of these problems are exacerbated by government regulations and could be eased if government pulled back. But most of them have nothing to do with government and are related to globalization, an aging society, cultural trends and the nature of technological change.”

President Obama is much more prescient than either extreme with his plan to dramatically streamline regulations announced week before last.  Countering what we’ve come to expect from the negativist echo chamber of '”cut, cut, cut” by Tea Party sycophants, Conservative Brooks reminded us all that:

“It will take an active government to reverse this stagnation — from prenatal and early childhood education straight up through adult technical training and investments in scientific and other research. If government is “inconsequential” in this sphere, then continued American decline is inevitable.”

From my personal experience, here are five ways to streamline and improve regulations but to create jobs, we need to stimulate demand:

  • Prohibit involvement by special interests/lobbyists in the writing of the “rules” for implementing regulations.  Far more than regulators, these interests bully and contaminate the process with unnecessary self-serving technicalities, making the process far more onerous on others.


  • Prohibit legislative bullying and interference with the executive branch.  The stupid things bureaucrats do are more often the result of brow-beating and intimidation and threats from powerful individual law makers.


  • Build performance indicators and accountability into the “rules” so that regulations flex and adjust to achieve the best interests of both the general public and business and this includes speeding up the entire decision-making process.


  • Empower public servants to make on-the-spot, common-sense and practical adjustments to the enforcement of regulations so they make sense and achieves the ultimate objective.


  • Equip and motivate regulators with the ability to explain in easy-to-understand terms the purpose of the regulations.  Eliminate the obfuscation born from a “CYA” culture bred through special interest bullying and self-serving ridicule in the news media based on poor reporting.