Saturday, December 29, 2012

Infographic - Traffic Fatalities by Day, Week, Type

For the original source at Fast Company, click here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Fond Farewell and a Short Break to Recharge

Closing in on my average of 287 posts a year since retiring three years ago, I’m going to take a break to recharge.  I’ll begin posting again each day on December 31st.

But first I’d like to thank Gretchen Cooley who has volunteered to collaborate with me by editing and making suggestions to improve the last 700 posts or so.  As anyone who reads regularly knows, my posts are more like essays and always involve links to studies and research.

All tolled, she has edited the equivalent of about 14 average-size books in the little more than two years since she volunteered to help me.  I will miss teaming with her.Gretchen Cooley

In the late 1980s, Gretchen was selected to represent neighborhoods on the newly-created Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) Board where she was charged with recruiting the organization’s first chief executive.

Through that process she was the first person from Durham, North Carolina, to reach out to me for a telephone interview nearly 25 years ago.

After she and another board member, Anne Gregory, talked to me they convinced their fellow board members to fly me in from the west coast for a face to face interview.  The rest is history as I became the start up exec for Durham’s first official community marketing agency, the position I retired from after 21 years.

It was her down-to-earth passion for Durham and her dry wit that first gave me an intriguing sense of what has become my adopted home.

During those turbulent start-up years, Gretchen served as chair of the authority that governed the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, the body to which I was accountable for more than three terms.

On more than one occasion she gave me the benefit of the doubt during a difficult patch when contributed to my longevity.  Her activism in the community also gave me credibility in circles where it may have taken years to establish.

She lives a very full life and it has been an extraordinary gesture for her to edit an average of 1,000 words each day while coming and going from her many other commitments and time with family. She epitomizes why Durham is where great things happen!

I wish her well with her next pursuit.

This is probably also a good time to give an update on the wrist I shattered a year ago November 3rd.  Thanks to fourteen titanium screws and a great surgeon and loving friends and my own determination, I rapidly regained full mobility and the nerves in three of my fingers have fully reignited.

It was my first broken bone that I know of and hopefully my last.

I appreciate that so many people from around the world follow this blog even though it is a bit eclectic.

I hope we all see a prosperous and peaceful 2013.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

So Many in the Hands of so Few

At the time my daughter was born in 1973, half of all households in America owned firearms.  By 2010, the proportion owning guns had plummeted to less than 1 in 3.  Only 1 in 5 Americans now owns a gun, down 32% since 1985.

So it is all the more alarming that in America there are 90 guns now for every 100 citizens, all concentrated in less than a third of our households and that 20% of Americans buy half of the new guns produced worldwide each year.

Even subtracting those weapons in the possession of law enforcement agencies, that is an incredible concentration of firearms in just 37 million households, a population about the size of Poland.  We may have 90 guns for every 100 residents in the US but they are all in the hands of only 20 of those residents.

Only 1 in every 4 hunters belongs to the NRA, which poured nearly $19 million, that has been disclosed so far, into last month’s election alone, much of it from those who benefit from that trade, all to elect candidates who will work to thwart policies that would better manage guns.

By comparison, three times as many hunters consider themselves conservationists and 66% of fishers and hunters believe Americans have a moral responsibility to confront climate change.

Given that only 37% of sportsmen and sportswomen believe what they call “gun rights” are the most important issue they face, if all of this lobbying is about hunters and not the gun trade, it seems that all of this lobbying should be on behalf of efforts to curb climate change.

I am not sure how many of the nearly 1,300 heavily armed, private militias operating in the US belong to NRA or how many of the 350 million firearms in America are to be found in the possession of members of these groups or among easier-to-define criminals nor do I know if legitimate game hunters understand that the need to better manage guns has nothing to do with hunting.

I’ve read and re-read the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in the few days since 20 first graders and several adults were gunned down in Sandy Hook, even returning to re-read Professor David Vandercoy’s excellent historical overview of the roots of that amendment, which date to the middle of the first century A.D. England.

I just can’t see how huge stockpiles of lethal weapons stored in the hands of a small fraction of the population is anything close to what the framers had in mind.  In fact, it seems just the opposite.

Clearly liberty and the right to bear arms go hand-in-hand and any move to better manage firearms must be in a way that meets the spirit of the Constitution while better protecting the population and this will require a lot more research.

Obviously, NRA members need to step up and be part of the solution to how we management firearms in America but new results by a Republican pollster suggests that won’t be the strategy used by those who have thwarted better management in the past.

The poll, which many have noted has had accuracy issues in the past, suggests more Americans want to address mental health and media violence than better management of firearms.  This is the kind of “false choice” that has worked so well for opponents of firearm management in the past.

Of course, the answer is “both/and,” not “either/or.”

When my passions run too strong, I often turn to statistics and historical context for relief and perspective.  As we are reminded by a blog post by Justin Peters, what happened in Newtown last Friday is not the worst school massacre in US history.

Nearly eighty-six years ago in Bath Township, Michigan, a school board official, angry over taxes, blew up an elementary school, killing 38 children and four other adults and injuring 58.  We do a much better job of managing dynamite now than we do guns.

I have a feeling 12/14 is a date I’ll always remember.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Roadside Bonus

It was during the last week of May 1965 and I had just finished my junior year of high school when the Beatles’ Ticket to Ride was giving way as the #1 song to Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys.

American combat deaths in Vietnam reached 1500 and ten times that many students had just marched against the war in Washington D.C.  Within two weeks I would first hear Keith Richard’s famous guitar riff on I Can’t Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.

My more-like-a-brother uncle was training to fly USAF F-4 Fighter Jets.  Within a year he would be flying his first of three tours including more than 300 missions over North Vietnam.  In just more than a year a boyhood friend and a high school friend would both be seeing combat there with the US Army.

But that last week of May 1965 was also when President Lyndon Johnson convened the White House Conference on Natural Beauty.  There LBJ challenged “panels of conservationists, industrialists, government officials and private citizens” to come up with proposals for the preservation of the scenic character of America and its states, cities and towns including:

    • “underground installation of utility transmission lines”
    • “a tree-planting program”
    • “policies of taxation which would not penalize or discourage conservation and preservation of beauty”
    • “a solution to the problems of automobile junkyards”

However, this group of businesses, residents, lawmakers and policy wonks focused even more on what they felt was the greatest threat to scenic character, huge outdoor billboards, not only in cities and towns but across the landscape of the nation.

Unfortunately, proposals from the conference were effectively gutted or circumvented in subsequent legislation and today the agenda remains unfinished.

The effort to restrict outdoor billboards to highly “commercialized areas,” while preserving “scenic areas,” had begun forty-two years earlier when it became clear “poster” companies as they were then known were moving from cities in an effort to wallpaper every inch of roadway as the age of the automobile began.

At the time, Durham, North Carolina, where I have lived for nearly 25 years had a total of only 2,309 registered motor vehicles for a population of 50,000 and the registrations statewide had already skyrocketed far higher than overall population in the less than ten years since registrations began.

Roadside audits, such as one conducted in 1930 for North Carolina, began to document the state of roadsides across the nation.  On my fourth birthday in 1952, Elizabeth B. Lawton, the architect of that roadside movement died.

However, six years later, at the launch of the Interstate Highway System in 1958 the federal government offered a bonus to states that would voluntarily adopt national standards to protect their roadsides from outdoor billboards and other forms of blight.

The 23 states participating were known as “Bonus” states and they are easily discernable today by that status alone as one travels cross-country as I have done via various routes a handful of times since my retirement from community-destination marketing several years ago.

“Bonus” states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. That’s very close to half of the states in the USA.

Ironically, eligibility to participate in the program expired several days after the White House Conference on Natural Beauty adjourned in 1965 although for the most part participating states must still meet the requirements of the agreement. 

Hawaii, Vermont, Alaska and Maine have constitutionally banned billboards altogether but it is interesting to note that while every state in the Northeast participated in the “bonus” program, none in the Southwest did and only five of twelve from the Midwest did, plus four of eleven from the west and a mere three of twelve in the Southeast.

In fact by some measures by regional breakdowns used today, none did in the Southeast, one of the nation’s most scenic regions.

Scenic states such as North Carolina had everything to gain and nothing to lose because this attribute is so closely linked to their economies.  Many of the most scenically spectacular states in the union stayed on the sidelines, I suspect not because they didn’t understand what would be lost or gained but because powerful outdoor billboard interests co-opted their public will.

As a results, some of our most scenic states are hidden behind billboard blighted roadways.

Government was late to recognized the importance of controlling outdoor billboards, possibly because their hands were tied by special interests.  According to research revealed in Motoring: The Highway Experience in America by John Jakle and Keith Sculle:

  • Parkways began in 1908
  • Scenic highways were declared as early at 1915
  • Roadside tree planting efforts began in 1921

In 1919, Oregon legislated to “protect standing timber and allow planting of new trees along state highways.”  The legislation also established roadside rest areas and severely curtailed outdoor advertising along the roadways.

The efforts in Oregon may have inspired Standard Oil of California, later renamed Chevron, where my great-uncle became an executive, in the 1920s to voluntarily destroy 1200 huge outdoor billboards that the company owned in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona.  That finished, the company mounted a wave of anti-billboard campaigns.

The western spin-off of Standard Oil understood what so many businesses fail to grasp even today: there is far more to gain from preserving the scenic roadway integrity valued in surveys by 8 out of every 10 people than there is to pandering to the less than 8% who use billboards during a given year.

The company realized that its private property and need for marketing did not trump the public’s rights along the roadways for which it had paid in tax revenue.  This is something lost on out-of-state billboard interests in North Carolina today as they ram through rules giving their so-called “right-to-be-viewed” precedence over public safety, air and water pollution control and every other public interest along its roadways.

Only when the public rises up and translates its well-documented opinions into action through the elective process will they recoup the roadway rights for which so many have fought so hard over the last hundred years.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

“Capitalist Civil Servants – Public spirited and Self-restrained.”

One sunny afternoon last summer some friends and I rented a pontoon boat and traveled down the spectacular St. Lawrence River. The more-like-a-lake river carves the northeast neckline of the United States straddling its border with Canada.

Without stopping, we turned around for the return trip by circling the seven-acre Dark Island near Chippewa Bay.  The island is home to a 28-room castle and outbuildings built in the early 1900s as a  island “hunting” retreat by Frederick Bourne as a surprise for his wife and family.

He didn’t invent what Chrystia Freeland, the editor of Thomson Reuters calls “the smartphone” of that era, but at the time Bourne was stepping down from the helm after turning Isaac M. Singer’s sewing machine company into the world’s first global corporation.  His castle is known by the name of one of its towers, which bears Singer’s name, and now privately-owned and operated as a tourist feature.

Obviously during the first “Guilded Age” as it is now during the second one today, a common way to climb into the 1% was to work for the 1%, something noted in Freeland’s exceptional book entitled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  However, as the Smartphone does today, the sewing machine also empowered the middle class and eventually low-income households.

First released three months ago, despite its sensational title and the alarming quotes made by many of its subjects, Freeland’s even-handed book is exactly what she hoped it would be and, and in my opinion, a must-read:

“This book is, therefore, an attempt to understand the changing shape of the world economy by looking at those at the very top: who they are, how they made their money, how they think, and how they relate to the rest of us…

This book takes as its starting point the conviction that we need capitalists, because we need capitalism – it being, like democracy, the best system we’ve figured out so far.”

Freeland recounts a remarkable speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt in San Francisco on September 23, 1932, just months before he would be elected to his first term as President of the United States.

In that speech, which rivals the eloquence and depth of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered thirty years later, FDR lays out how important it was that the “heads of finance and industry instead of acting each for himself, must work together to achieve the common end…lest a rising tide of misery, engendered by our common failure, engulf us all.”

The plutocracy of that day took heed.  As Freeland notes, from 1932 to 1976, “hired-gun CEOs” transformed into “capitalist civil servants – public spirited and self-restrained.”

During that period, CEOs were even paid a little less and the middle-class exploded, while the S&P 500 returned 7.6% while “America’s GDP quintupled.”  What many refer to as a culture of restraint meant that during the first three decades of my life, as Freeland notes, “the U.S. economy grew at a faster, more consistent rate than ever before, and American companies were ascendant around the world.”

Then, as the specter of Marxism and Communism declined, the current age of “winner-take-all” and “legalized corruption” took hold, an aspect warned against by Adam Smith, the “father of capitalism” in what he considered his more superior work published in 1759, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

As an example of this abrupt transition Freeland notes that “In the early 1970s CEOs earned less than thirty times what the average worker made; by 2005, the median chief executive made 110 time what the average worker did.”

At the time of FDR’s speech to the Commonwealth Club, the top 10% of earners were taking home 45% of all income.  That fell to 33% from WWII through the subsequent three decades of spectacular economic growth and expansion of the middle class.

That incredible period of restraint and growth ended  in the 1970s when these special interests turned instead to securing special treatment from government in what experts call “legalized corruption.” By 2006 the top 10% was raking in 50% of all income for themselves, more than they had in 1928 prior to the Great Depression.

By 2006, the year before the Great Recession began, the top 10% was capturing 50% of all income and the top 1% was taking three-quarters of all income growth between 2002 and 2006.

All of this, in my opinion, is to reiterate what FDR said so well eighty years ago [paragraph broken up for ease of online reading]:

“We have learned a great deal of both in the past century. We know that individual liberty and individual happiness mean nothing unless both are ordered in the sense that one man’s meat is not another man’s poison.

We know that the old "rights of personal competency," the right to read, to think, to speak, to choose and live a mode of life, must be respected at all hazards.

We know that liberty to do anything which deprives others of those elemental rights is outside the protection of any compact; and that Government in this regard is the maintenance of a balance, within which every individual may have a place if he will take it; in which every individual may find safety if he wishes it; in which every individual may attain such power as his ability permits, consistent with his assuming the accompanying responsibility.”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Maybe The Way Forward

The murder of 20 first graders and several adults Friday in Sandy Hook, Connecticut has weighed far more on me and for longer than mass shootings have in the past, maybe because my two grandsons are at that age.

Maybe this will be a tipping point in how we manage firearms in this country but I’m not so sure.  I agree with John Cotter and Dan Cohen that change begins with “see-feel” before some can move to “analyze-think,” but as George Marshall notes about climate change deniers, sometimes major tragedies merely reinforce belief systems.

The bodies of the victims had barely been autopsied before a Texas lawmaker popped off that the answer is equipping principals with Bushmasters Assault Rifles.  Sad is often mad.

I’m taken back instead to an op-ed in the Washington Post that I had first read and then saved the night of July 27th this year during a stop on my most recent 6,000-mile cross-country road-trip.

It was co-written by Jay Dickey, a former House Republican and NRA member, along with Dr. Mark Rosenberg a former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

I think the article bears reading or re-reading because just as the effect of climate change on natural disasters has an odd way of reinforcing those who deny climate change exists, I doubt this tragedy will open minds about managing firearms better.

I own several guns, all with locks and firing mechanisms kept separate.  Two are rifles that belonged to my grandfathers and a 1920s German officer’s pistol my father brought back from WWII.  I grew up on a ranch and learned to hunt and enjoy target shooting at a young age, although I haven’t done either since leaving home.

Still it is beyond me why so many people including a few friends are so adamantly opposed to better managing firearms, even to the point of trying to make feeble arguments about automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons.

Nothing in the Second Amendment says we have to be stupid.

In their op-ed Dickey and Rosenberg point out that back as I was graduating from college in the early 1970s research was being conducted on ways to make vehicles safer to drive.  Since the mid-1970s the results of this research has spawned a wide range of safety devices and changes in the way we drive that have saved 366,000 lives between 1975 and 2009 without impairing our right to drive.

Maybe even if these most recent killings don’t break the stalemate over better managing firearms, it will result in deepening the kind of research on weapons that made driving safer.  It isn’t a question in my mind of bans or inhibiting the right to bear arms as it is better managing their use.

Coincidentally, we experience nearly the same number of firearm deaths each year (31,247) as we do motor vehicle deaths (32,885.)

We need to do something and maybe a first step upon we can all agree is to gain more understanding through research.  Hopefully it can move the discussion beyond the current stalemate by finding both/and solutions rather than either/or policies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Infographic – 4 out of 10 email opens are Mobile

Friday, December 14, 2012

Vapor River Irony

Whenever a TV station in my area fails to show the weather for Durham, NC, where I live, but shows it for nearby Raleigh, it is almost always a sign that the sensor used is in neither city but at the jointly-owned airport located midway between Durham and Raleigh in Morrisville, NC.

In most cases, I realize that someone was probably tripped up by the dateline (merely the location from which the forecaster was working) used by National Weather Service’s central North Carolina office.

Of course, with numerous other weather services now available, including those that glean information at the neighborhood level such as the station I maintain for mine in Rockwood, cities and towns have been able to reclaim one more aspect of their identities.

Barrett Smith, one of the forecasters for this part of North Carolina, has written about the rivers of atmospheric vapor that were identified in 1998.  These rivers are 250 miles wide and travel about a mile high (about the height of Mount McKinley as seen from sea level in Anchorage, where I lived in the 1980s).

Vapor rivers carry as much water as 10-15 Mississippi Rivers.  Usually they impact the west coasts of continents, but one is now thought to have come up from the Gulf of Mexico to flood Nashville and other areas of Tennessee and Kentucky nearly three years ago.

My personal experience with one of these vapor rivers was while I was living during November 1967 along the mountains overlooking Los Angeles.  A vapor river trying to lift up and over the San Gabriels dumped nearly nine inches of rain within a few weeks.

It felt like someone dumped a couple of Mississippi Rivers’ worth of water directly on my neighborhood back then, and it is possible that forty-three years later North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains saved my adopted home from the same fate as Nashville.

Climate change is sure to make vapor rivers more erratic and it is possible one may slip up the eastern side of the Appalachians to North Carolina at some time.  Unfortunately, even then it is unlikely to phase climate-change deniers.

Rising sea levels could inundate the coastal plain one day, turning that third of North Carolina’s geography, including Raleigh, into a “Doggerland,” recasting my hometown Durham as a coastal resort town and still, according to George Marshall, climate-change deniers would grow only more stubborn.

Marshall is the author of a humorous book entitled Carbon Detox, that makes climate change easy to understandHe also blogs at Climate Change Denial, where he recently explained why climate disasters probably won’t influence the mind of anyone who doesn’t already have an open mind.

We human beings are horrible at detecting subtle environmental changes, and are becoming gradually inured even to less subtle changes such as blight and pollution.  It may take much more than being inundated by 15 Mississippi Rivers for some groups to open their minds to information.

I’m not persuaded that even a concern for future generations can unstick the stubbornness exhibited by climate-change deniers.  Maybe it will take another flood of biblical proportions such as the one created in Genesis 6:11 and 12 to cleanse a corrupted earth.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Legalized Corruption

In the late 1970s, about the time I headed to Alaska where roadside billboards are banned in the state constitution, the State of South Dakota tried to billboard the entire state by strip zoning as commercial every inch of their Interstate highways and primary roadways.

Fortunately, back then, businesses that sought fortune by influencing government decisions for private gain (aka rent-seeking) had not yet stripped the backbone out of federal, state and local government agencies to the degree they have today.

In 1966, after having achieved generous concessions that led to the compromise that forged the national Highway Beautification Act, billboard companies and their lobbyists immediately set out at the state and local levels to circumvent the very compromise to which they had agreed.

South Dakota obliged but it ran into Dick Moeller, then a newly-appointed Chief for the Junkyard and Outdoor Advertising Branch of the Federal Highway Administration in Washington D.C.

The Beautification Act banned new billboards nationwide except for areas zoned industrial or commercial.  This was meant to protect the scenic character as well as the environment along roadways in all areas that were not already desecrated.  The act also created the much less obtrusive, but far more effective, logo sign programs for businesses located near highway exits.

While formation of the Beautification act began in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson challenged US Secretary of Commerce and former North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges to do something to clean up the roadsides and formation of a Task Force and the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty, in the end it was all but gutted by allies of the outdoor billboard industry.

FHWA determined South Dakota’s move wasn’t bona fide under the law and assessed the state a 10% penalty to be withheld from highway funds distributed to states by the federal government.  Pushing and shoving by powerful interests as well as campaign donations had little effect and as a result more enlightened interests were able to prevail in South Dakota.

Oh, how things have changed!  Weaseling favorable treatment from government has now permeated legislative bodies, commissions and even administrators at every level.

Even those officials who might vociferously object to such a characterization are betrayed by how enthusiastically they embrace requests from special interests vs. how slowly they are to respond to popular will or to stand firm when attempts are made to circumvent or hollow out laws and ordinances.

That may not be their intent, but it has been documented in research by Vanderbilt professor Dr. Larry Bartels showing that officials are 50% more likely to react to affluent constituents in the top third of income distribution compared to those in the middle and not at all to the poor.  It is no wonder that they are perceived by the general public to be sycophants to special interests.

Financial executives may have taken the winning of favored treatment from government to a new level over the past three decades, in part, to leapfrog themselves to the head of the 1%.  But it is hardly coincidence that those who colluded a few years ago to hollow out North Carolina’s billboard legislation hail from the nation’s three least trusted professions: car dealers, lawmakers and advertising practitioners.

Americans look down on the explicit corruption such as bribery in other countries, but what has become far more prevalent here is what Daniel Kaufmann, formerly of the World Bank and Brookings Institution and now head of the Revenue Watch Institute, defines and measures as “legal corruption.” 

People (and organizations) who mine government for favorable treatment hate the term rent-seeking.  Even to those who don’t know the meaning of the term, it seems slimy and demeaning, so perpetrators instead hide behind euphemisms such as, “deregulation,” “customer service,” privatization, “streamlining” and more recently, “systemic capture.”

Roadways are where it may be easiest to view the results of “legalized corruption” or “seeking rule changes for personal gain rather than to benefit the general public.”  For instance, down-east as I-40 cuts across the North Carolina coastal plain, residents and visitors alike are suddenly treated to a forest of billboard blight.

Protected by as well as catering to powerful special interests, officials in an extremely rural area along that stretch were successful at doing what South Dakota wasn’t: strip zoning roadsides as commercial areas occupied only by a row of huge billboards.  In cases such as these, billboarders are often caught establishing phony businesses in vacant buildings as a technical hedge.

The billboards pay next to nothing in fees and less than the cost of a steak dinner in taxes and their only value is created by publicly-funded highways.  So the only reason or purpose that can be conceived for this roadway circumvention and desecration must clearly be an effort to grant special favor at the expense of the public interest.

Nothing was done because those seeking these special favors have long since used similar techniques to neutralize or tie the hands of state and federal regulators and any related-commissions who would have levied sanctions had this been the late 1970s.

Billboard companies and their operatives have become expert at neutralizing government administrators by insisting that they remain “objective” whenever a concern is raised, rather than standing up for the public interest which essentially leaves the general public befuddled.

I saw this happen a few years ago in Durham, NC, where I live, when billboard operatives made a proposal to pry open Durham’s wildly popular 1984 ban on outdoor billboards.

Citizens expected city administrators to step up immediately and emphatically make the case for the long-standing ordinance, but they waited in vein.  Lobbyists for the billboarders had already politicized the process by demanding that city officials be “objective” and labeling any comments in defense of the statute as “personal opinion.”

In reality, this meant, “sit on your hands,” while we create as much public confusion as possible in an attempt to win approval.  This included luring non-profits and even some public agencies into voicing support by offering them free space on billboards while failing to mention that the proposal was contrary to current policy which was then, and still is, favored among residents by more than 9 to 1.

A few took the bait and I was complicit when someone with whom I served on a non-profit board surprisingly gave support to changing the ban.  I sat stunned as a committee that included one or more billboard interests recommended support for the change without ever once hearing from city officials on behalf of the existing ordinance.

I was caught off guard when a friend who headed another non-profit that had been approached voiced support and pressed for a board vote with little other discussion and before any presentation of the other side of the issue by city officials.  All the while, a billboarder who was a member of the body at the time failed to recuse himself.

Although refusing to vote, I am as responsible as anyone for not finding my voice in time to vociferously oppose what occurred that day.  I tried to make up for it later but the lesson is that even non-profits can be victims, if not complicit, to the techniques used to leverage what Kaufmann calls legal corruption.

Mystified by why those thought to be paid to enforce and passionately advocate for the current policy sat mute, a grass-roots movement of citizens came to the rescue and the proposal was eventually defeated, leaving the ban in tact. Only at the very end of the process did administrators speak to the issue and even then it was done in guarded terms and flat tones assured to be deemed objective.

There may be a lot of ways for citizens to get clarifications about public policy but special interests have made it all but impossible for those to be officially broadcast.

Failing in Durham, billboard interests set about instead to push a measure through the legislature which made state roads immune from local control as they run through communities and reneging on earlier compromises that had already doubled the area beyond what is needed for them to be viewed.

It is impossible to compromise with billboard interests.

Just this year, I’ve watched as an oversight board for the state agency overseeing billboard control asked to hear from all sides regarding the legislation.  However, only billboard representatives were invited to speak until Scenic North Carolina insisted on having the same opportunity at a subsequent meeting to speak on behalf of North Carolinians who overwhelmingly object to new legislation.

A commission that fronts for the legislature in the rules-making process has worked hand-in-hand with the billboard industry and ordered a state agency to compromise with these special interests, confirming what Kauffman writes about the pervasiveness of legal corruption as a means to seek private gain from government decisions.

It’s all legal.  Legalized corruption.  Capitalism is not to blame, according to Dr. Luigi Zingales at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, because this type of corruption is the enemy of pro-market, seeking instead to tilt the playing field in one direction or another on behalf of special interests but not to level it.

It is also the story behind the story that is rarely written or told and the question behind the question that is rarely asked at the very bottom of why democratic governments can become marginalized and alienated from the popular will.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Casting A Shadow

The retirement announcement for a friend of mine last week brought back a flood of memories and the realization that this is a perilous time for Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

Bill Kalkhof was hired to run an organization called Downtown Durham Inc. four years after I was appointed to jump-start Durham’s official community-destination marketing organization, the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.  He will step down in April after 20 years.

I recall a time shortly before or after he was hired, when an annual meeting of his soon-to-be fledgling organization drew seven of us who gathered around a counter for coffee and Danish.

While the respective organizations had very different scaffolding and missions and required different skill sets from its executives, the issue when Bill was hired --- just as it was when I came on board four years earlier, came down to a willingness of our respective governing boards to understand and accept the costs involved.

When probed indirectly for my opinion via community leaders with knowledge of each organization, I encouraged founders of DDI not to fret over the cost of hiring a full-time executive or to worry about running an extensive search if they already had a local candidate in mind who loved Durham and could do the job.  And that is what Bill turned out to be.

Bill has proven invaluable over the course of his soon-to-be twenty-year career.  It was my honor and pleasure to work closely with him across a wide range of partnerships whenever our missions coincided, more than we were acknowledged for,  perhaps due to an instance or two when our respective governing boards differed not about an objective but about process.

However, that never dampened our ability to collaborate jointly in tackling obstacles to Durham progress.

One of the challenges of running community organizations, such as I did over my now-concluded 40-year career spanning three cities, was answering to a constantly rotating board of seven to fifteen volunteers.

Boards such as this morph each year into a different personality as terms begin or expire and members come and go.  My longevity and success was a credit to my having worked in various communities with some of the most incredible board members for which any executive could hope to work.

But an experience early in my career, which was repeated four different times in three cities, resulted in my experiencing an annual performance evaluation which always seemed like the low point of every year.

In the third or fourth year of my career, during my performance review, I encountered a scenario that unbeknownst to me at the time would be replicated periodically over the succeeding four decades.

In these instances, what happened is that, instead of being used as an opportunity to give feedback and reconcile perceptions and expectations about my performance, an individual board member or two turned it into a gripe session about the level of compensation I received.

As it was that first time, it always began with one board member, never more than two, who for some reason, appeared to resent my compensation, regardless of how far I exceeded expectations and performance goals.

Never mind that the board contracted with me at a specific salary when I was hired, or that the individuals never addressed it with me directly, nor did the individuals involved base their opinions on any kind of relevant benchmark.

One of the first signs that such things were occurring was usually an attempt to “game” the scale which was used on an anonymous survey of my performance given to each board member.

This happened in my first destination when one reviewer gave me a “2” on each measure for which the scale was 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) while noting in the comment section that my performance had been extraordinary.

The second sign was that after “gaming” the review process, these board members would then attempt to sway other board members into disregarding their scores as they were being discussed and reconciled into an average.

During these instances, the proceedings would often consume all of the time meant for a constructive review process and it sometimes delayed the process by a month or two.

When you answer to a board, you answer to the will of the board as a whole, never to individual members.  The boards for which I worked would valiantly assert collective will over individuals with these issues in order to reach consensus, but the four or five times it occurred cast a shadow over review time each year.

Money wasn’t a motivator during my career, even back then.  So I usually took it as a compliment, although somewhat backhanded and in jest, whenever someone would say, “We don’t need to worry, he loves it here too much to leave.”

Fortunately, more enlightened members would immediately interject that the overarching strategy was not only to hire and retain the best possible talent and then to not only be equitable but to keep the organization in a position to be competitive whenever succession would inevitably occur.

After that first occurrence I was probably more receptive than I might otherwise have been when a few years later another destination sought me out, terminated its search for a new President, offered me the position at more than double my salary, and eventually tripling and quadrupling the amount to which that board member had objected in second or third year of my career.

Hopefully Bill was spared any of this during his career, but I know from boards on which I’ve served myself as well as comments raised at numerous conferences over the years that my experience was not unique.

All of this is to say that both Bill and I were fortunate to have great success on behalf of Durham and, while based on respective benchmarks for these types of organizations, we were certainly never overpaid, it may tempting for some to assert that maybe now is a time to dial back and try to get by on the “cheap.”

That would be a huge mistake and I am sure Bill’s soon-to-be-former board will resist that kind of thinking.  Because of the succession groundwork my former governing board did a decade before I retired, the organization appears to be soaring to much greater heights.

My advice to boards governing organizations tasked with creating change such as the one I led or the one from which Bill is retiring is to recognize that work like this must never be taken for granted even when the individual at the helm demonstrates the passion, determination and grit to make to look easy or because someone loves the community they represent – which in my opinion, is an essential ingredient regardless.

The years ahead will be even more challenging for Durham than those during which Bill and I teamed.  Durham deserves the best, but more importantly it must always seek and retain the best talent in order to preserve its distinctiveness in the face of forces who unwitting would make it generic or seek to marginalize and/or subjugate it once again.

Now is not the time to fall back.  Durham has overcome and transcended many obstacles that were holding it back, but it will need even more dynamic leadership to take it to the next level while preserving its incredible sense of place.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2013 Continues Trend To Local Meetings

Each year American Express conducts a survey of meeting planners and hotel and facility executives across the globe to try and detect trends related to this segment which represents a little less than one in every ten visitors or one in a thousand if a community is still obsessed only with conventions.

In a respite for communities that still haven’t diversified into pursuing much larger segments of visitors who travel for leisure is that in North America, those surveyed think the number of meetings and attendees and the number of days per meeting will remain flat next year.

This will be taken as a positive for a segment that has been in overall decline for nearly a quarter of a century or more and is predicted to continue that slide over the long term.

A slowing of trends such as less spending per meeting and an ever-shorter lead time between when site selection begins and a meeting occurs are further signs that the economy is rebounding.  Further indication is that group rates charged by hotels are expected to jump by more then 4% and airfares for groups will jump as well.AMEX 2013 Meetings Forecast

However, group demand for hotel rooms will be down for every type of property except mid-tier and the demand for non-traditional meeting facilities will continue to increase, so the rate increases are due to competition for guest rooms by other segments of visitors.

Face-to-face meetings are in decline but not in danger of extinction.  However, according to the report, they are becoming more hybridized with the virtual.  Even face-to-face events are now challenged by the fact that more than half of attendees are bringing three to four devices with them.

It isn’t only advertising that more and more people are tuning out.

Of even more significance to communities is that the trend to more “local meetings,” especially in North America, continues.  This means meetings of all types are rotating less to other states and regions or across the country.  This has led many places and facilities to struggle to justify why planners should select sites even 60-90 miles from where they are based.

This is why it is even more critical that community-destinations, as well as states, begin to track and market to day-trip visitors as well as meeting attendees, something forward-thinking destinations such as Durham, North Carolina, did in the late 1990s.

The proportion of attendees who commute to meetings has long-ago eclipsed overnight stays and unless given good reason to stay or return the next day, these delegates are easily lured back to their office instead.

The big winners in terms of venues, whenever a community does land a meeting, continue to be non-traditional sites such as restaurants, museums, galleries, theaters, nature facilities and universities.  The percentage of meetings shifting to these alternatives from traditional venues such as hotels  and convention centers, continues to grow.

Convention hotels and convention centers are fighting over a rapidly shrinking “piece of the pie” when it comes to meetings, leading many destinations strapped with mega-facilities to cannibalistic tendencies such as offering subsidies to lure meetings far in excess of their potential value to a community overall.

Masking long-term trends, the tendency of planners now to seek community venues closer to home and with less lead time will give many places a false sense of security by making it seem that demand is growing.  The fact that 90% of planners plan to hold meetings closer to home will give the illusion to some communities that there are actually more meetings being held.

This is one reason it is crucial for savvy communities to insist on “full-accounting” models related to meeting and other cultural facilities, rather than further enabling the charade by some administrators and elected officials of relying only on operating expenses.

For community-destination marketing organizations it is more imperative than ever not just to carefully measure each segment in isolation, but to net out lost-opportunities potential in overall benefits to their communities when high-growth segments are bypassed in order to obsess over segments in decline.

The need for this type of strategic thinking and full-accounting became apparent fifteen years ago and today it is imperative.

Communities which are still obsessed with and/or co-opted by internal politics and “economic rent-seeking” special interests and find themselves trapped in a facility-driven over-focus on visitors attending meetings probably can’t be bothered to read, digest and adjust to reports such as this.

However, those that do will join a growing number who have found much greater prosperity for their communities, while achieving and maintaining fair market share of meetings, by strategically juggling visitor segments with the greatest overall yield and long-term potential regardless of whether they involve day-trips vs. overnights or meetings vs. leisure.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Same Ole’ Enemy – 239 Years Later

Taking a long-view of economic history is another way to pinpoint the fact that climate change is a direct result of human activity.

Years before it would be confirmed by Berkley Earth by scientists who were skeptical about climate change but who found the link after going over data from the last 250 years, one could see the link pinpointed in the work of economic historians such as the late Dr. Angus Maddison in his book entitled Contours of The World Economy 1-2030 AD.

Berkley Earth reconstructed climate data to make their link, while Maddison reconstructed economic growth over three millenniums to find a pattern.  He learned that between the years 1 and 1000 AD, around the time that another era of climate change spawned Viking conquests, people had actually become slightly poorer overall.

Between 1000 AD and 1820, economic growth was stagnant even in western Europe and spinoffs such as the American colonies and fledgling United States of America.  The surge following 1820 was brought about as the industrial revolution kicked into ever higher gears.

Ironically, the seminal Boston Tea Party protest was not over unfair taxes but a revolt against a tax loop-hole created by the British for a “too-big-to-fail” corporation at the disadvantage of small independent merchants, some of them smugglers, as noted in this excellent TED Presentation  published on “Black Friday” by Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher for the Institute for Local Reliance.

I agree with Republican lawmakers that there is something wrong with government but, in my opinion, size isn’t the real issue.  Making government more nimble and responsive seems much more important. Nor do I buy the part of their tightly-woven narrative that this group’s frequent stalemating is on behalf of small businesses.

I am far more persuaded that the policies that have marginalized the middle class over the last thirty years and eroded small business by consolidating almost every part of the economy into the control of a few top-heavy players has been engineered not by government or the free market but by those on whose behalf lobbyists have rigged the system.

Even the process of devising regulations has been polluted by special interests; and those who argue that regulations should be simplified are far too often only fronting for interests, such as outdoor billboard companies, eager to see these regulations further rigged to their exclusive benefit.

Rent-seeking,” the term economists give this loathsome activity probably dates back to the 1879 book Progress and Poverty, written by economist Henry George in the early years of the Gilded Age.  George observed that poverty occurred back then when policies permitted absurd “economic rents” to be charged by monopolists including landowners resulting in an over-concentration of unearned wealth.

George proposed solutions he believed would benefit both capitalism and labor while curbing these rent-seekers.  Seven years after the book was published, George sought the office of mayor of New York City but finished behind a Tammany Hall candidate.

However, the coalition forged by George caught the attention of the third place finisher, Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

Henry George had forged a coalition of groups that in a few years would become nationwide force known as the Progressive Era, which sought, in part, to curb the excesses of the Guided Age.  A variation would elect President Theodore Roosevelt and inspire the Square Deal including conservation and anti-trust.

It isn’t easy being a Republican right now.  A social network feedback-loop has the party torn between a “circle the wagons” approach and a desire to open up to alternatives.  A new poll for ABC, Washington Post and the Pew Center shows that by 53% to 27% Americans will blame Republicans if the current impasse persists.

The party would do well to study T.R., one of its greatest Presidents.  The real enemy isn’t government or taxes and it isn’t Democrats or women or minorities.  Just as it was in Boston harbor as the dawn of the American Revolution, the common enemy is still economic rent-seekers.

This issue isn’t about the 1% or the wealthy, although many didn’t earn their wealth but used rent-seeking instead.  The issue economic rent-seeking, as Joshua Brown, who blogs at The Reformed Broker, put it so eloquently a year ago is about the fact that:

  • “America hates unjustified privilege,
  • it hates an unfair playing field and crony capitalism …,
  • it hates privatized gains and socialized losses,
  • it hates people who have been bailed out and don't display even the slightest bit of remorse or humbleness in the presence of so much suffering in the aftermath
  • it hates rule changes that benefit the few at the expense of the many…”

Friday, December 07, 2012

An Unexpected Flashback at DPAC

I had a flashback while witnessing a performance a few days ago in the Durham Performing Arts Center as a fill-in guest of a friend after her daughter couldn’t use one of their season tickets.

For many years I’ve been aware of the history behind The Million Dollar Quartet, but I hadn’t known until this last Tuesday how closely it coincided with my own discovery of rock and roll.

My flashback was triggered when I learned that, coincidentally, I was viewing the DPAC performance on the very night the event had occurred years ago, December 4th, 56 years ago.

The musical is based on documentation, including recordings and photographs such as the one shown in this blog, of a night when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis came together for what would be one last time with Sam Phillips at Sun Records for a jam-session at the dawn of their hall-of-fame careers.

I realized, reading the screen (shown in this blog) as the audience filed into the theater, that the original event had occurred in 1956 exactly 26 days before I first felt the the sensation of rock and roll music.Welcome Screen for Million Dollar Quartet

My family was spending New Year’s Eve in a small motel suite with the doors to each side-by-side room facing a sidewalk and parking.  I was eight days away from being 8 1/2 years old.

My first introduction to rock that night of December 31, 1956 wasn’t over the radio because the stations picked up by many towns in 1956 and even through my high school years had to go off-air at sunset.

Instead, I first heard the joy of rock and roll that night when someone in the adjacent room was playing a hit by Elvis Presley on a small portable turntable playing through an open door while it seemed that every guest in the facility was mingling outside in anticipation of the New Year.

Spontaneously everyone began dancing, including my 5-year-old middle sister and I.  Who knows, but maybe hearing that very new music that night may have been why fusions such as rockabilly, country-folk and country-rock music have always kept perfect time with my internal metronome.

That specific date and hour at the close of 1956 were seared into my memory by more than this new genre of music.  Unable to reconcile my grandparent’s refusal to embed the transfer of the generational ranchland my parents worked after WWII, my parents were in the process of moving away from away from the Yellowstone-Teton-Idaho nook of my origins.

That motel was in another state entirely and the vehicles parked in front of the motel included not only our two-tone DeSoto but also our two-and-half ton truck filled with our belongings.  The next day, after having explored the Bitterroot Valley, my parents began to create and work a new farmstead of their own.

We stayed close with my grandparents but we wouldn’t return to live in our homeland until 7 years later.

Any follower of this blog, especially any posts with the keyword “personal” or “family” history knows the significance of this transition on me even as a nearly 9-year-old.  Ironically, the stubbornness of my grandparents about establishing a will, recreated a situation identical to what they had experienced themselves when my great-grand-parents died without a will and they were forced to painstakingly reassemble homesteads.

Maybe that’s why I was so eager to break that cycle and developed my first will before I was even thirty-years-old.

Coincidentally, at its essence, the musical I saw last week is about the painful break-up of formative relationships as people grow and move beyond those who help spawn them.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Channeling P.J. De Smet

Descended from four sets of Mormon great-great-great-great grandfathers who were among the first to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 through a gap along the Wasatch, my grandsons are not the first to attend one of many Catholic parochial schools there.

My mother, their great-grandmother, was sent there from Idaho to attend a Catholic high school in an unsuccessful attempt to cool her relationship in Idaho with my father as he prepared to enter the US Army and head to Europe in the closing months of WWII.

Ironically, as they made preparations for a vanguard journey the following year, those Mormon pioneer ancestors of ours gathered around a Catholic priest when he passed through the 1846 staging area they had established along both sides of the Missouri River in the land of Native Americans such as the Omaha and the Oto near Council Bluffs along the border of Iowa with Nebraska.

This Catholic priest was Belgian-born Pierre-Jean De Smet, or “P.J” as he signed his correspondence, and he had paused on a return leg of one of his many journeys throughout the upper Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest that began in 1842, four years after he had established a mission for Native Americans at Council Bluffs.

Before he would die in St. Louis nearly thirty years after his encounter with my ancestors, De Smet would travel over 180,000 miles by horseback and on foot during repeated trips across the northern Rockies, often at the invitation of various tribes of Native Americans who called Catholic explorer/missionaries as “Black Robes.”  In between expeditions, he would travel back to Europe eight different times both to recoup and to raise funds.

He had volunteered to come to America in 1821 just as the fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, was sworn to a second term and the US purchase of Florida from Spain was finalized.  He was ordained a priest in 1827.

Beginning in 1831 four successive delegations of Rocky Mountain tribes of Native Americans, including Salish Flatheads and Coeur d’Alenes traveled to St. Louis to request Jesuit missionaries. Finally, an 1839 encounter with Father Des Smet brought success.

One cannot travel the edge of the upper Great Plains or the Rocky Mountain portions of Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho and Washington without being reminded repeatedly of the influence of De Smet beginning with his traverse along the fault line of my youth into the very Yellowstone-Teton nook of my origins.

There, along the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, in the corner of what is Idaho between Wyoming and Montana today, Father P.J. De Smet, of the Society of Jesuits, first joined up with the Flatheads to continue his journey over the Bitterroots to their homeland.

A trip last summer with my daughter and two grandsons to our annual lake-side rendezvous with family along the eastern Washington-northern Idaho, took us past the oldest building in Idaho.

Cataldo Mission, as it was known when I was growing up in Idaho, was designated a state historic site and park in 1975, during my early years in community-destination marketing on behalf of nearby Spokane.

Coincidentally, this was during a short period when Spokane took Coeur d’Alene under its wing until that community could form a marketing organization.

The distinctive building (shown in the photo in this blog) was erected in 1850 on a rise above the Coeur d’Alene River along what is now I 90, twenty-six miles from the town and lake bearing the same name.

The Mission of the Sacred Heart, as it was known, was established a year after De Smet had first met with the Coeur d' Alenes and established the Mission of St. Joseph along the river 35 miles south which he had given the same name.  However, the first location proved flood prone.

Less than a decade later the military used De Smet’s route to forge a wagon road past the mission and across the Bitterroots known as the Mullan Road after the officer who engineered the route, one that was later followed by I 90.

Father De Smet formed several missions on that first journey west of the Rockies and worked in a resupply trip to Vancouver, B.C. before heading back to St. Louis and his encounter in route with my Mormon ancestors as they prepared to head west.

Cataldo is the name of another “Black Robe” who, following some years later along the paths worn by De Smet, would establish a mission among the Upper Spokane Indians and would establish the first church in the nearby city of the same name about the same time one was first established in Salt Lake City.

Cataldo also initiated the humble beginnings of Gonzaga University in Spokane where I would attend law school at night beginning in 1973.

I guess you could say that my grandsons are following a 166-year family tradition of learning from Catholics.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Managing for Porosity and other Survival Tips

It has been twenty months now but I still keep coming back to a 30-page report by Andrew Curry entitled “The World In 2020,” a document prepared for business leaders but equally prescient for policy-makers.

It provides a window on business challenges that goes far beyond the next seven years, and its eight contours of “the map of how the world is likely to change” are as applicable to small organizations as to large.

Curry’s report synthesizes expert observations about lingering changes embedded in the worldwide crisis of 2008.  Quoting Ged Davis, a former petroleum executive and currently co-president of The Global Energy Assessment, who claims that “a trend is a trend until it bends,” Curry notes that trends do not continue unchecked:

“Eventually, they create a response, and it’s in the interplay between trends that new markets open up and new risks emerge.

There are some relative certainties embedded in the big trends which will shape the world over the next decade but there are also some uncertainties, where several trends collide and combine.”Dilemma Theory

The report identifies “hard constraints,” “soft opportunities” and “ambiguities.”  Rather than viewing these as dilemmas to be traded off as businesses often do, it distills business “dilemma theory” developed by Charles Hampden-Turner and Fons Trompenaar.

The report notes that business “dilemma theory”…“suggests that rather than ‘either/or’ trade-offs, ‘both/and’ outcomes reconcile differences and create more value, opening up spaces for innovation.”

The reports cites Umair Haque, the director of Havas Media Labs, who blogs for Harvard Business Review who claims that “the future belongs to the meaning organization’ which sets out to build authentic prosperity.” 

“Companies are going to have to get lethally serious about having an enduring, meaningful, resonant, multiplying, positive, proliferating set of impacts—of all types, whether social, human, intellectual, spiritual, creative, or relational. An isolated notion of ‘profit’ is obsolete: it’s an arid industrial-age conception of a currency-focused construct that’s built to trivialize everything but what a firm owes its ‘owners’.”

Curry’s synthesis also suggests that “capitalism, perhaps, is no longer well served by capital” and that “one way of thinking about this new business landscape is to go back to some of the early ideas about economies, namely that an enterprise was obliged to combine resources of land, labor and capital” with an emphasis on stewardship.

No this isn’t the brittleness of today’s libertarianism or your father’s but it may be your grandfather’s.

In an ominous note, the report, while quoting Stein’s Law that “the future is never a simple extrapolation of the present, reminds us that “globalization has retreated in the past: by some measures, levels of economic interconnectness are lower today than at the outbreak of WWI.”  And we know how that turned out.

I found particularly enlightening the report’s discussion of a distinction made by Dr. Barbara Heinzen between “column” property rights which are framed only by economic rights and “mosaic” property rights “giving different groups overlapping rights of use and access to land.”  This distinction would help resolve the desecration of public roadsides by private billboard companies in favor of the public’s right to a scenic view-shed.

The report indicates that adoption of “full-cost” accounting models “which include the costs which businesses,” such as billboard companies, “currently dump on their neighbors and the environment.”

Curry notes that “one of the sharpest trends in the wake of the financial crisis has been the widespread emergence of arguments for new ways of measuring economic and business performance.”

Perhaps of particular interest to my former colleagues in community-destination marketing is a section of the report on the business of the future.  Instead of relying on descriptions such as relevant, “responsive, adaptive, flexible, agile” it details three characteristics under the headings of:

    • Managing for resilience
    • Managing for variety
    • Managing for porousness

I’ve cited this report in previous blogs and judging by my continual re-reading, I will again.  Rarely, if ever, has so much useful insight been packed into thirty pages.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Threat of Non-Natives To Sense of Place

My three-tenths of an acre lot, where two forested ridges intersect just south of downtown Durham, North Carolina, is three-quarters natural area, accented by the little more than ten percent that is covered by four strips and two patches of lawn.

This tiny area is protected by more than a hundred trees including an over-story of equal parts towering hardwoods and pines and just more than ten under-story trees including two just-planted Dogwoods.

All of the leaves have dropped now except for several stubborn Red Oaks, but several times a day during his nature breaks, Mugsy, my English bulldog and I find ourselves staring up in awe.

Except for three Crepe Myrtles down along the city right-of-way of my street, all but one of the trees are native.  However, the natural area under the trees is also covered by a hundred shrubs of different varieties, all but three evergreen and also including a handful of non-native species.

I’ve only recently been introduced to the differences between native and non-native species and have come to understand why the latter are especially important while reading the informative 2007 book by Dr. Doug Tallamy entitled Bringing Nature Home which has now been updated and expanded.

Tallamy is currently chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the 269-year-old University of Delaware.  At his personal website, the professor makes it easy to identify the plants that are native to various regions of the US such as ones found for North Carolina, where I live, when you click on that area of the map shown.

He also lists as resources the native plant websites specific to each state, such as the one for where I live and a series of academic studies on the subject.

When I read Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Eureka column in the New York Times a few days ago entitled Bloom Town, I was reminded of the science Dr. Tallamy cites about the importance of biodiversity such as that found in my yard, most of it naturally derived.

MKB is also the science editor at Boing Boing, a magazine turned group blog.  She notes [paragraphing inserted for ease of online reading] that:

“Over the course of the last century, we’ve developed those preferences and started applying them to a wide variety of natural landscapes, shifting all places — whether desert, forest or prairie — closer to the norm.

Since the 1950s, for example, Phoenix has been remade into a much wetter place that more closely resembles the pond-dotted ecosystem of the Northeast. Sharon Hall, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, said, ‘The Phoenix metro area contains on the order of 1,000 lakes today, when previously there were none.’

Meanwhile, naturally moist Minneapolis is becoming drier as developers fill in wetlands.”

One take-away is that our settlements are not just being homogenized architecturally and culturally but also naturally.  Devoid of place-based assets, far too many locales are losing their distinctiveness and unique sense of place, making them less interesting as places to visit, work or live.

My former colleagues in community-destination marketing should seek to understand the importance of native vs. non-native species and be just as concerned about the 80% that remains natural, on average, as they are the 20% that is impervious.

In addition to educating governing boards, they would be well-advised to make sure those who steward their cities, counties and states are equally aware.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Compliment of Being Forgotten

Being succeeded by someone more talented and effective than I always punctuated any success with which I was credited or felt as I transitioned from each of the three community-destination marketing organizations that I led over my now-concluded 40-year career.

I am often reminded of a lyric Merle Haggard included in his 1981 #1 hit, My Favorite Memory, his 25th at the time: “I guess everything does change, except what you choose to recall.”

I joked once to friends as I made a transition that I would be forgotten within three months.  Actually it turned out to be more like two and to me that was a tribute to good succession.

In one instance I was succeeded by someone younger than I was and in the other two my successors were older.  Of course, these selections were always made by the respective governing boards of directors, but I was consulted about and provided support to their process.

Understanding that CEO succession is a process rather than just an event, in my final destination, Durham, North Carolina, the governing board shaped a “best practice” succession plan near the mid-point of my more than two-decade tenure there.

One requirement of the policy was that I hire a “second” who was not only capable of stepping into my shoes at a moment’s notice but with a proven ability to withstand special interests and who instinctively had a feel for the community.

They also insisted that the person be capable of not just succeeding me but keeping the organization on an even steeper upward-trajectory, one that would quickly transcend anything accomplished during my tenure. They wanted to ensure succession that would “hit fast forward without saying goodbye to yesterday.”

Fortunately, I was able to lure one of my closest friends over now nearly 25 years out of early retirement and back into community-destination marketing leadership.  Shelly Green has met every one of those stipulations and more, as evidenced, in part, by her chairing  world-wide accreditation for such organizations.

Several critics over the span of my career accused me of pushing the organizations I led like we were dealing with “life or death.”  They had a point, although they certainly had a lot of other faults on which to pick.

This inclination was something that Bill Elander, my successor in the second of my three posts, certainly understood.  Before he transitioned to community-destination marketing after retiring as an US Air Force Lt. Colonel, he had flown fighter jets during two tours over Vietnam.

His time in that war bookended the three tours that my uncle, George F. White flew there, racking up more than 300 flights over North Vietnam.  He was later killed at age 31 while flying for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA,) becoming the 18th agent to die in the line of duty, less than a year after I graduated from college.

Between tours in Vietnam, my successor in Anchorage, had honed his skills as the #6 plane with the Thunderbirds, an elite morale-boosting demonstration team formed just as I was being I was being born, in the years following World War II.

In the same type of aircraft flown by my uncle, the F-4 Phantom, Bill had been shot down over North Vietnam just as I was graduating from college and honed his subsequent interest in the hospitality sector as a prisoner-of-war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Bill was released just four days after my uncle was killed.  Both were awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism during that war.  My more-like-a-brother uncle, though he never rose above the rank of reserve captain, added two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters and the Bronze Star, the nation’s fourth highest for heroism.

It turned out that Anchorage wasn’t the first, nor the last time our paths crossed.  Bill’s final post was as commander at Hill Air Force Base where my uncle had been stationed, and he both graduated from high school and served in North Carolina, which would become my next post as a community-destination marketing exec.

My driving passion and sense-of-urgency often resulted in what some military leadership historians call “personnel turbulence.”

But this was actually due to fact that it wasn’t until the last quarter of my career that I learned an important lesson from a consultant and friend David Camner: to “hire slow, fire fast.”  Until then, I had those in reverse, hiring fast but being very slow to fire.

An enlightening read for anyone in or preparing for organizational leadership was published a month ago by Thomas E. Ricks entitled The Generals.  Ricks contrasts the “hire slow, fire fast” philosophy under General George Marshall and subordinates such as eventual-US President Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II to the failure to use those techniques by those who came later.

With the urgency caused just before and during America’s involvement in World War II, Marshall was quick to fire those who wouldn’t or couldn’t generate rapid and enduring results; and Ricks compared to a corporatized-military in the years since which, like other organizations, came to see turnover such as the need to replace generals as a failure of the system.

Marshall's time in the military began at the turn the 19th-century at Fort Douglas, Utah, near where I watch my grandsons play soccer overlooking Salt Lake City.  Back then the Army had recently quadrupled in size to just under 100,000 due to the Spanish American War.

Ricks notes that Marshall’s management style stood out even then.  For example, when one of his commanders, later-General Johnson Hagood was asked on an evaluation form under a question about whether he would like to have Marshall serve under him, he replied: “Yes, but I would prefer to serve under his command.”

I could have replied the same on any evaluation of Green or Elander.

As Germany invaded Poland, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed the ultra-reserved Marshall, to head the entire military effort.  According to Ricks, General Marshall “took over an Army of 197,000 that included the infant Air Force.  Under Marshall, the Army grew in just two years to 1.4 million in the summer of 1941 and two years after that it had reached nearly 7 million, finally peaking in 1945 at 8.3 million.”

One of the lessons in the book is that failing to “hire slow, fire fast”  leads to the tendency to micromanage which has plagued the military during every era and conflict following Marshall but no more so than during the Vietnam War, when Haggard, just released from prison in 1969, penned the anthem Okie from Muskogee in support of the troops.

Haggard is claimed by both liberals and conservatives because of various songs, but my bet is that he is more of a moderate and an Independent.  If politicians can be blamed at all for Vietnam, it is because they, especially Republicans, didn’t listen more carefully to Eisenhower.

Democratic Presidents following Eisenhower were haunted by the ghost of insubordination by one general in particular and the debacle of the Korean War when they should have been inspired by the management style of General Marshall including his philosophies about discourse between military leaders and statesmen such as F.D.R.

Instead they fell under the spell of another general which led them to ignore pivotal caveats issued by other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The poisoned discourse and a brittle, self-fulfilling culture of military leadership development and succession have plagued every conflict up through today including four Republican Presidents.

If you are considering a career in organizational management, especially leadership in community-destination marketing, read Ricks’ book The Generals.  There is hardly a page without several nuggets of wisdom that can be put to immediate use in day-to-day management and leadership.

It will also shed light on some other personnel “best practices” which it didn’t take me as long to learn, such as strategic vs. tactical thinking, risk-taking and innovation, networking outside the organization, valuing career breaks, welcoming “returners,” conducting 360-performance reviews, embedding strong policies and ethical standards, recognizing moral courage and making allowances where justified by performance for skeptics, heretics and outliers.

It is alarming that in my former profession, less than a third of my colleagues have successfully earned accreditation for their community-destination marketing organizations.  To me they are lazy and complacent and their communities and governing boards are failing to hold them accountable.

Many of them resemble Ricks’ description of American generalship in the decades after Marshall when he writes that they have acted less like stewards of their profession and more like keepers of a guild, accountable only to themselves.  Ricks notes that this has had “long-lasting pernicious effects on American generalship.”

As one last lesson from George Marshall, Ricks reminds us that although this incredible leader got us through World War II and literally invented the modern military, he preferred to be forgotten.

He left no memoir.  There is no weapon or installation named for him.  “There is no Fort Marshall!”  Just as it should be with good succession.