Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Morphing Service Is All About Place

The oldest Rotary Club in Durham, North Carolina, where I live is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year by promoting 100 acts of service among it members.

So far, an impressive 592 individual acts have been tallied.

Rotary was formed in Chicago in 1905 but didn’t expand to other cities until several years later.  By 1910, there were clubs in 16 cities.  Within five years, groundwork was laid for a club in Durham.

Coincidentally, this happened to be the same year the Ku Klux Klan was resurrected in the South, soon spreading across the nation this time until it was washed away by the Great Flood of 1927.

But just as it had during the first rise of the KKK following the Civil War, Durham had already taken another course having earned a reputation for being accepting.

Within a couple of years prior to the formation of its first Rotary Club, Durham was already spawning a “black entrepreneurial enclave” soon known as “Black Wall Street” which had recently earned acclaim for both social and economic justice during visits by W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington.

But in many towns, the KKK tapping into fraternal and service club membership lists including Rotary Clubs, as a means of trolling for members.

Back within two years of its first meetings, the Durham Rotary Club had been jolted by the Great Influenza Epidemic which originated in Kansas just as the KKK too was reaching there.

It was known as the “crowd disease” because of how it spread, and within a few months the epidemic had killed 675,000 Americans alone, more than the number of soldiers on both sides who died in the Civil War.

Some cities in North Carolina, such as Charlotte, were even quarantined.

Club minutes and histories from that time show that almost from its ounset in Durham, Rotarians here were caught up in a struggle between members focused on embedding ethics and ideals among its members and some who were more interested in projects.

When I was president of the club in 2003-2004, the underlying tension between the two was still apparent with the push for projects often winning out over ethics and ideals.  But there was something of even deeper concern.

This is when the findings by sociological researchers had moved from journals where they appeared in 1995 into mainstream literature, explaining why service clubs had been rapidly losing traction.

Rotary membership in the U.S. peaked in 1993 and had been in slow and steady decline, falling back below 400,000 by 1999.  Looking back, sociologists now believe this is symbolic of a shift in social architecture that took place two or three decades earlier.

It has been documented in several studies, nearly all of which are summarized in an excellent book published last year by Marc Dunkelman entitled, The Vanishing Neighbor.

Service clubs such as Rotary may have surfaced during the Progressive Era but they have their roots in an earlier, fundamentally American change in social architecture identified during his 1831 observations by Alexis de Toqueville which he termed the township.

But by the late 1970s, we know in retrospect that America began to experience another change in social architecture, coincidentally parallel to the federal government’s evolution of the “network.”

Charitable giving continued to increase parallel with personal income but more significantly the percentage of Americans volunteering doubled between 1977 and the late 1990s.

But during this time Americans had stopped attending meetings and joining organizations.

While the number of organizations continued to proliferate, they were mostly to engage in activities such as lobbying.

By 1989, when the Internet was opened for individual and consumer use, we too began to shift to a more networked society.

Today, people volunteer and join together in causes but more so relating to short-term issues or projects on an a la carte basis.  They are less drawn to long-term, project-intense service clubs.

Instead, in the future it is more likely that service clubs will morph to more resemble these network.

Some already have, but it will take time for anyone over 35 or 40 to make the shift or to embrace a new way of involvement, one that morphs project by project.

A few, like the Durham Rotary Club have begun to grow again.

There is good news, as Dunkelman explains, when he cites studies such as the one published in 2012 by Dr. Robert J. Sampson entitled Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, another great read.

It is a follow up to an earlier study Sampson led over a 30 year period entitled, “Civil Society Reconsidered: The Durable Nature and Community Structure of Collective Civic Action.”

In summary, Dukelman notes, “The good news is that even as individual membership has declined since 1970, collective efficacy has remained stable…Community trust, it turns out, can flourish without a townshipped arrangement.”

Neighborhoods and neighbors, he continues, “who know each other only tangentially can be active on the same LISTSERVs…the utility of townshipped community can still be tapped, if not bolstered, in a networked society.”

But at the heart, Sampson concludes, is “the importance of place,” referring to the inherent traits of a particular city and neighborhood.  Nowhere is that more apparent today than in Durham.

In the words of a Dane LaJoye, a spokesman for Lions Clubs, a service club that also started in Chicago a decade after Rotary had and a couple of years after Kiwanis was founded in Detroit

“…People still want to volunteer like we did in the ‘50s and 60s but people want to volunteer with their families and their kids…They want to get their hands dirty.”

Lion’s membership peaked in 1978 and Kiwanis in 1992, a year before Rotary did.  Still, worldwide, the three organizations had 2.5 million members when I retired in 2009 and my involvement today is honorary.

As a map for sustainability, they can do no better than to focus on place and to use the difference between mainframe computers and local area networks as a metaphor.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Anecdotal Madness

I held this post back for a few days so it wouldn’t appear to be rubbing salt into places where pride was so freshly wounded.  But this post is about more than just the Final Four or college basketball.

Sports reporters, especially in North Carolina where so many learned the basics in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, often repeat a myth that just has never held up to scientific scrutiny.

It found its way into several stories written last night after Duke became the fourth finalist: that Duke is the basketball team people love to hate.

It was so pronounced, that beginning in the early 1990s, Durham’s newly established community marketing organization used it as inspiration for one of a handful of markers as it set out to pin down and resolve misinformation undermining the community’s image.

Repeatedly over the years, polls showed that Duke’s highly successful men’s basketball program was not only the most popular in Durham, but a very close second in UNC’s home county.

Coincidentally, at the same time a national poll by Harris found that Duke was America’s favorite men’s basketball team, a position it has held now for 12 of the last 18 years including 2015.

In the six years when it was not America’s favorite, it was 2nd most favorite five of those years, falling to third one year, 1997.

The University of North Carolina was most favored three of those years giving the metro area centered around Durham and Chapel Hill a very unique status.  UNC has averaged just below #3 while Duke has averaged #1.

Kentucky has averaged just a bit more popular than UNC, possibly leading to a Kentucky-Duke culmination of this year’s Final Four dominating brackets across the country.

But what about here in the state of North Carolina?

I watched newcomers to Durham from Michigan stop by a table of Duke football players having breakfast this weekend to josh that Duke would be their new fav when a man nearby jumped from his chair, interrupting a phone call and a mouthful to scream, “no in North Carolina, it is the Tar Heels.”

However, he wasn’t joshing.

Walking away, the newcomers were puzzled and other patrons just looked down.  He may have been right about football, but probably not for long.

But what do metrics show regarding basketball?

TicketCity, an agency founded in 1990 by a University of Texas grad took a look at which teams scored highest for engagement in their own state, factoring game attendance, Google search and social media over the past year.

Here Duke came out #1 too, in the North Carolina.  BYU was tops for Utah and Gonzaga for Washington, giving me an added alumnus trifecta.

All of this does not negate that Duke might also be hated, which is a different metric altogether, just that it would be irrelevant without showing it in the context of overwhelming popularity.

Sports reporters are emblematic of the challenges that face news reporters overall.  Drawing anecdotes as evidence of a more generalizabe public opinion is very tricky.

Local news in Durham has inferred that its recent population growth is due to the turnaround of downtown Durham in the last few years.  But Durham was the fastest growing city in North Carolina throughout the 1990s when its downtown had yet to emerge and its image underwent a turnaround.

How could this be?  Because Durham’s self-image and its image nationwide has always been high.  Over the 1990s is when negativity about Durham entrenched in surrounding counties was gradually reversed.

For sure, the image turnaround by 1999 lowered one of the barriers key to downtown revitalization by opening the minds of the news media, realtors, developers, financiers, as well as newcomers.

But downtown revitalization was also spurred both here and across the nation after the year 2000, not just by favorable shifts in psychographic and demographics but even more so by the innovation that year of New Market Tax Credits (NMTC.)

NMTC’s were recognized by Harvard in 2009 as one of the nation’s most innovative government programs leading to this 2010 case study of their dramatic success in downtown Durham.

Studies, scientific polls and generalizable metrics may not be as exciting as hyperbolic anecdotes for news reports or news consumers more interested in the pursuit of legends and myths, including their own.

But these tools are crucial to any community seeking a factual basis upon which to truly shift perceptions and initiate change.  Studies, polls and metrics are also important when assessing which coattails to ride or credit.

There is no institution more deserving of credit for everything Durham has achieved than Duke, and no program there more deserving of enhancing Durham’s reputation than Coach K’s Blue Devils.

Friday, March 27, 2015

How To Truly Help Rural Counties

The State of North Carolina pours millions of dollars more per capita into into the state’s 85 rural counties yet still half of the state’s 100 counties have lost population since 2010.

Those rural counties that haven’t lost population usually owe it to being within the commute zones to metro areas such as Durham where non-resident commuters hold down 2 out of every 3 jobs.

Not only do commuters not help shoulder their share of the costs for quality of life and sense of place amenities that make work-side communities such as Durham so appealing to job creators, those that create sprawl push the costs off onto others.

In other states, commuters often pay a very small payroll tax to compensate the cities to which they commute, but instead, North Carolina continues to make residents of urban areas subsidize those from rural counties.

For instance, the special transit taxes levied to relieve the congestion commuters create is levied not on the counties where they choose to live, but on the residents in urban counties who already choose to live closer to their jobs.

Go figure!

Now a few state legislators want instead, to further worsen that inequity by letting commuters and daytrip visitors from rural counties take home any sales tax revenues they generate work-side or there as tourists for purposes other than work or school.

These examples show a fundamental lack of understanding of the basics of economic development and the unintended consequences of other wealth transfers when the state builds or improves roads to and from rural counties that are not warranted by traffic.

Economists and others who measure economic impact and generation separate economic development into supply-side and demand-side.  Ribbon-cutting officials usually focus on supply-side such as paying incentives for businesses to relocate or expand.

Demand-siders such as those familiar with visitor-centric economic development know that this is the surest and purest way to generate economic development and impact.

A decade ago, many of us coalescing around statewide tourism issues suggested that the state tourism development be refocused on rural counties including the development of capacity there to draw tourism from the state’s urban areas.

This dawned on some of us when it was revealed that 80% of the state’s tourism related tax revenues are generated by the state’s urban areas.

This impact was generated when counties were given the option of shouldering special taxes on visitors to self-fund visitor promotion that is collectively many times greater than that budged by the state.

Some of us proposed that the state should refocus its entire tourism promotion budget in support of rural counties including helping them promote instate visitation from urban areas.

Tourism in rural areas appears to be a “chicken and egg” dilemma, but it really isn’t.  It doesn’t begin with recruiting hotels, which don’t create visitor demand, but are built to serve it.

Tourism begins in rural area with “retained tourism.”  This is when a rural area takes a full inventory of its assets and locally-grown businesses, features and events and works to encourage residents there buy and experience local.

State tourism officials could then begin to shape those local assets into tourism identities by conducting marketing designed to encourage residents of urban area to experience these rural areas on day-trips.

They won’t have to encourage me.  I love riding our Harley Cross Bones through rural North Carolina and nothing more than discovering a local restaurants or store there.

As the volume of day-trippers grows to these areas, residents will develop bed and breakfast inns and as promotion of the assets in these communities fills those rooms, other types of commercial lodging will take an interest.

Existing and new home-grown stores, restaurants, features and events, bolstered by “retained tourism” from residents as well as daytrip and then overnight visitors, will gradually expand capacity and become more sustainable.

This is also the best way to draw the attention of entrepreneurs seeking to start new businesses or executives seeking to relocate or expand because more than 80% visit areas as tourists before announcing their search.

The formula works, but it takes patience and learning to appreciate those things that make each rural area distinct.  It also requires that the state help to protect these areas from blight such as billboards and teaching that traditional advertising is no longer an effective marketing strategy, particularly on a small budget.

Residents of urban areas, such as me, love North Carolina’s rural character, especially when it is safeguarded from blight.

We want its rural character to be sustainable and to thrive but not through the misguided examples of those urban areas which have fallen for “built it and they will come” supply-side ruse only to sell out their sense of place and soul to mainstream interests.

This, tragically, will make them indistinct and unworthy of love and eventually visitation.

Helping rural areas makes sense, but it won’t be achieved as some in the legislature are trying to do now by pitting rural areas against urban areas as well deconstructing urban areas by redistributing even more wealth and permitting special interests such as billboards to once again defile them.

Instead, state policy makers should incentivize rural areas to learn from the mistakes of many urban areas including the failure to index population growth to developable land while factoring in the value of forest, open space, historic scenic preservation.

Maybe a good start is for the course elected officials take to include an understanding of demand-side economic development.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Price for Being Quiet

I could smell Spring as it sprung a few days ago.  It is an early morning smell I recall from my job as a morning delivery paper boy fifty six years ago.

It is the quietness I also remember from my youth.  This map of the quietest and noisiest places across the contiguous United States shows that my native Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho is still very quiet.

In fact, it is amazing how quiet the West is compared to the Midwest, Northeast and South, as shown on the map in this blog.  I’ve been intrigued since first spotting it in a blog posted last month on Discover and now in High Country News.

Durham, North Carolina where I have now lived for 39% of my life --longer than any other place -- is relatively noisy, but you wouldn’t know it on our early morning walks down through a city park and then up the steep slopes of what we affectionately call Mt. Rockwood.

About a mile and half from downtown Durham, Mt. Rockwood is a ridgeline that appears to be the highest elevation between Chapel Hill and the even higher Red Mountain in northern Durham.  Where I live now is not only noisier, it is also 4,789 feet lower than the ancestral ranch where I was born.

Durham County is the 17th smallest land area in North Carolina but created for a city of the same name that is now the fourth largest in population.  It has been the epicenter now for two different manifestations of the New South.

Initially, proponents lobbied to name it Mangum County in honor of a Willie P. Mangum, a U.S. Senator from here who had stood firm against hardliners in the state legislature, in favor of a national compromise regarding slavery.

In his day, it was Democrats who had been the regressives in control.

Durham was selected as the name making it synchronous for the city for which it was created, the only place in the state where a county and city by the same name are both found in one location.

While much of the state was overrun by marauding gangs of the KKK, Durham had emerged after the Civil War as a center for the progressive South and an accepting sanctuary for people fleeing the violence in rural areas.

In the 1950s, northern Durham spawned another U.S. Senator William Umstead, this time elected as governor of North Carolina who before he died in office set in motion the development of Research Triangle Park here.

Building on a long history here for innovation, RTP marked Durham’s emergence as the center for creativity it is today, and a magnet for talent and relocating businesses and corporations from around the world.

Today, another wave of regressives, Republicans this time, are devoted to dragging Durham in reverse along with other urban areas by pitting rural against urban as a metaphor for when those of this mindset in another political party, pitted white against black.

Regressives also tried this approach in the 1920s, pitting rural against urban, rolling back voting rights and openly being hostile to women and immigrants.

Public opinion polls show that only about 18% of Americans today think this way but is it coincidence this is also the percentage of Americans who deny climate change and worry “not at all” about the environment?

They sure make a lot of noise.

Probably also not a coincidence, this happens to be the same percentage of the American workforce in general as well as in North Carolina specifically, shown to be “actively disengaged,” meaning they are:

“employees not just unhappy at work; these employees undermine the accomplishments of their engaged coworkers.”

Maybe a quick follow up or cross-tab would confirm that all of this noise comes from the same 18% of Americans.

Protected by clever redistricting, those in elected office here are doing everything possible to deconstruct cities such as Durham by overriding popular ordinances to curb blight such as billboards as well as design guidelines to protect neighborhood property values and sense of place.

Now they have their sights on tourism, also known as visitor-centric economic and cultural development. Cities such as Durham work hard to be appealing including to the millions of North Carolinians who visit here annually on daytrips.

The purpose is twofold: fuel the local business climate and expand the local tax base, something the state’s largest cities forget when they provide subsidies to draw events in excess of the tax revenues they will generate.

People live in rural areas instead for many reasons, the quiet, being closer to nature but also to avoid paying taxes for services urban dwellers seek.

Now regressive want to redistribute the wealth cities generate by letting rural North Carolinians “have their cake and eat it too” - enjoy the benefits of trips into cities without helping to provide for that environment and then take their sales taxes back home.

So how does 18% of a population pull down the other 82%?  Clever redistricting for sure.  And a lot of voters who fail to hold their elected officials accountable for harm they do to others including fostering warfare between lifestyles.

But even more enabling are other elected officials who fall for clever introductions written for bills but fail to read for legislative intent and consequences, settling instead for horse trades.

In the end, tyranny and regression in this country never work for long.  But it always takes decades to repair the damage.

We need a little more noise in North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thoughts From A Roadside

Several thoughts raced through my mind yesterday while viewing the roadside of a freeway interchange in Durham, North Carolina, where I live.

These parcels are very park-like when well-maintained, as members of a public-private coalition called Durham Appearance Advocacy Group (DAAG) is trying to do by forging alliances between local governments, businesses and groups such as garden clubs and Scenic North Carolina.

The one we discussed yesterday is meant to serve as a template for every interchange in Durham.

But ironically, regressives in the State Legislature have been working at odds, filing bills to disable state management of these roadsides and permitting out-of-state billboard companies to wantonly deforest them in order to prop up an obsolete technology few Americans use now.

Now they have even filed a bill, with an innocuous misleading intro, meant to override wildly popular democratically enacted bans on this form of desecration marketing and blight that have stood in communities such as Durham for more than three decades and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This tyranny by representatives not from Durham reminds me that revolutionaries founded our democracy not in opposition to taxes but due to corporate loopholes granted by the feudal systems of governance then in place.

In opposition at the time and ever since stood regressives trying to pull the country backwards.  One wonders, will another revolution soon be sparked?

In the 1930s, roadsides such as those I was standing alongside yesterday were already battlegrounds between the forces of blight and the forces of scenic preservations.  Jobs, jobs, jobs was the mantra then too but it was both/and when it came to scenic preservation.

Highway 100 was one of the first, if not the very first beltlines in the country.  It patched together a series of existing roads south and west of Minneapolis but included new construction of a stretch of more than 12 miles including what we now call clover leafs.

It was deemed the “Lilac Drive,” lined with 30,000 plants including 8,000 Lilac shrubs and 7 roadside parks.  It became a recreational destination and living proof that Americans are drawn to scenic character over commercial blight along their roadsides.

It was in the middle of nowhere back then but had the support of development interests and billboard companies eagerly pushing for sprawling suburbs that would soon gobble up acreage at a rate many times the rate of population growth, as it still does today in Durham.

Emily Badger reported in The Washington Post this week about a new study that that concludes that sprawl costs the U.S. economy now more than $1 trillion a year.

The reason deficit hawks are not licking their chops is that $400 billion of this is pushed off on other people, something economists call negative externalities, which is a fancy word to describe when the free market doesn’t incorporate its true costs.

Only a portion is found in inflated costs for public services.  We absorb the rest sometimes in our lungs and often while stuck in traffic, but all in all it is very similar to the tax loophole that led to the original Boston Tea Party.

Billboarders and their legislative allies aren’t the only ones who want to shift even more of those costs onto unsuspecting Tar Heels including millions of us “hard-working taxpayers” we so often hear regressives talk about.

Over the last five decades (1960s-2000s,) the NCDOT has carefully reforested and afforested more than 5 million trees along the state’s roadsides, in part, to mitigate for many times that number which had been destroyed during road constructions.

The trees were also meant to bolster a signature ingredient of North Carolina’s brand.

This included lining the state’s roadways with spectacular understory trees such as native Redbuds and Dogwoods, the state tree.  Then, without thinking, another unit enabled private maintenance contractors to destroy most of them just for their convenience.

During our cross-country road-trip a few months ago for my mom’s funeral, Mugs and I took I-64 through Saint Louis.  This included a 10 to 11 mile stretch through the heart of that area that had recently been rehabilitated.

Some even call it that community’s front door.

The area is sea of concrete and buildings leaving almost no roadside.  But the Missouri DOT has carefully carved tiny slivers of planting areas where possible along this stretch and recruited businesses and organizations as landscape sponsors.

It too, I suspect is meant as a pilot project for a more strategic approach going forward.  An example of the discreet but very visible signs erected for sponsors is shown as the image in this blog.

Research shows that less than a fraction of 1% of consumers still use billboards.  It takes less than six seconds to decipher one but consumers only give them an average of three, even when digitally flashing on and off intermittently to draw attention away from the road.

Yet billboard companies now want to deforest even interchanges in hopes that someone traveling past them or focused on exiting or merging onto the highway will have twice as long to look.

Yes, it is obscene and possibly the spark for another revolution, if not with torches, pitchforks or midnight rides, a roadside revolt.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Looking Out 35 Years From Now

Frankly, I was always a bit puzzled, back in the day, to hear myself introduced as innovative or strategic.  I still am whenever I guest lecture college students, including many who are pursuing my former career.

On reflection, I have probably always been more of a “repurposer.”  Studies show that less than 14% of Americans are strategically inclined. 

However, according to experts who study strengths, inclinations such as this, otherwise known as talents, are “naturally occurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior.”  They are building blocks that can be refined and amplified through education and skill development.

For the rest of us, talents such as being strategic don’t come as naturally but we can still develop a certain level through practice and study.

Studies show that learning to see things strategically is also the secret to why some people can juggle multiple priorities making it is just as relevant to working through a daily list of assignments.

My first brush with thinking strategically probably began in 1970 when a history professor recommended that I read a newly published book entitled, Future Shock.

A quote that has stuck with me through the years is, “The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read.  It will be the person who doesn’t know how to learn.”

But it is the co-author’s second book entitled, The Third Wave which I refer to students today who are serious about learning to think strategically, more than 35 years after I read it for the first time.

It isn’t just because so many of the possibilities the authors concluded have come or are coming to pass today.  It is because it is written to show how they arrived at those conclusions by understanding the patterns of the past.

For instance, the book foretold the “collapse of consensus” we are experiencing today but it also sheds light on where we might go from here.

The revolutionaries who founded this country revolted against the feudal systems of governance then in place.

Societal headlines today reflect those who want to move forward to a more sustainable path and those who are trying to pull us back into another era or at the very least keep one foot in the past.

By looking at past patterns, the authors of The Third Wave, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, were also able to predict the change in how we will view being employed or unemployed in a world with more and more people but fewer and fewer jobs.

A blog I enjoy reading is Carolina Demography.  A recent post noted that of the nearly 4.5 million North Carolinians (age 16 and older,) 3.3 million or nearly three-quarters are of prime working age (25-64.)

That definition is slightly more broad than the norm.

Experts who have suggested that unemployment analysis would be much more relevant if it focused on the prime working age population, generally use ages 25 to 54 for this cohort.

A poll published three months ago by the Kaiser Family Foundation with the New York Times and CBS found that a little more than half of the U.S. population age 18 and older falls in the prime working age.

About 18% are prime working age but unemployed.  This group includes 26% homemakers but able to work outside the home, 34% disabled and unable to work and 24% unemployed and able to work.

Of the 24% who are unemployed but able to work, 5% don’t want a job now or in the future, 8% will want a job in the future, leaving 19% who want a part-time job and 67% who want a full-time job.

When this group is asked which factors are a major or minor reason they aren’t working, 52% cite family responsibilities, 32% cite health problems (although they are not disabled,) 38% note lack of education or skills, and 34% say their job was replaced by technology.

Other factors listed are 32% jobs because jobs are going overseas, 28% because of discrimination and 35% apparently don’t need the income.

Of the 78% who are unemployed, able to work, and have looked in the last year, 86% are open to entry-level in another field, 81% are willing to return to school or job training, 77% are open to non-traditional hours, 64 would take minimum wage, 45% would move to another city, 46% would commute more than hour each way, 69% would take 10% less than the last job and 37% would take 25% less.

There are some smart people across the full length of the ideological spectrum who are noodling about what we do as it becomes more and more a privilege to have a job.

One is called a universal basic income that would replace the myriad of safety net programs and a better option for the 25% of all workers including 40% of those in restaurants or food service who need public assistance on top of what they earn.

Ben Schiller makes a good argument that this is also a better way to eliminate poverty.

People who dismiss the ability to look ahead any more than three years if that, including many serving on governing and elected boards, as well as far too many executives are well advised to read or reread The Third Wave, but for process rather than content.

The exercise may be not only be inspiration to look back for clues to the possibilities lying beyond the horizon – perhaps another 35 years.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Safeguarding A Community’s Story

I posted a recent essay in recognition of an unsung hero who saved Durham’s beloved Bulls baseball team as a favor to a friend who passed away last fall.

It was not on my radar then but within a month, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park which, in part, resulted from his actions would be celebrating the 20th anniversary since hosting its first game on April 6, 1995.

I had begun to write that post five months earlier but the topic was sensitive and it took me time to not only get the tone and timing right but to research documents to make certain that my memory was accurate.

Seth Godwin reminded us a few days go that “Human Beings are story-making engines, and when confronted with randomness, we make up an egocentric version of what happened and it involves us.”

In fact, this is how legends and other myths evolve over time, often even polluting news stories and official accounts, claiming reporters and editors as victims if they don’t fact-check conclusions drawn from interviews including the use of archives and timelines.

It is akin to a “gentrification” of stories, a term used to describe what happens to neighborhoods and organic commercial districts when they become so hip that the original residents and businesses are forced out, identifies are rewoven and sense of place is lost.

As the owner of the Bulls mused with me while at will call after he had read my account, the story of how Durham almost lost the Bulls and his remarkable and deserved redemption from villain to hero is very complex.

He reminded me that before trying to poach (my word) the Bulls from Durham, the mild-mannered Mayor of Raleigh at the time, Avery Upchurch, had given Durham’s mayor a 30-day ultimatum.

He recalled that Durham’s mayor at the time was Harry Rodenhizer but having recently checked time frames related to the unsung hero post, I was able to clarify that the mayor at the time would have been Chester Jenkins, who also happened to also be the first African-American Mayor of Durham.

Based on the tendency now of some Republicans in Congress to cross lines of decorum to disrespect President Obama in ways unprecedented with other U.S. Presidents, I wondered as I walked to my seat if the fact that Mayor Jenkins was black had somehow empowered that ultimatum.

But in my dealings the issue of race wasn’t Harry’s motivation to run for another term in that office, defeating Jenkins.

He was among tens of thousands of disheartened Durham residents who not knowing what three individuals were doing behind the scenes had felt Durham had been too passive in the fight to retain the Bulls.

We remained friends until his death and he was equally incensed whenever he felt officials had passively failed to rise in defense of the organization I led whenever it seemed to become a lightning rod for resentment due to its role during that period, a small price to pay.

Harry, a fiscal conservative who had sent his children to predominantly black city schools back when nearly all white students were in all white schools, hated injustice of any kind.

It didn’t matter to him when I would explain that once a turnaround such as keeping the Bulls is achieved, it is common for those that took stands to experience some retribution, while others rush to be sycophants as redemption creates a new alignment.

To me, being respected was always more important that being liked or given credit.

But by the time Harry was elected in late 1991 the two unsung heroes I wrote about last month had already rallied enough pressure to send Raleigh officials in retreat including opposition to poaching from state legislators, state tourism related coalitions and local taxpayer groups there.

Harry was greeted in April 1992 by a new ultimatum, this time from the new owner of the Bulls, to “build a new stadium by 1994 or else” but that really wasn’t necessary.

One of the three people in the room back then who had worked behind the scenes to back Raleigh off had also been busy searching for a way to finance a new Durham stadium for the Bulls.

By May 1992, less than eight weeks after the second ultimatum, financing for the new ballpark was approved by the City Council and within five months the Bulls had signed a new lease.

Last year, two local news stories surfaced, with a few weeks of one another, mistakenly crediting an organization with the new stadium that was not in existence at the time.

Although that organization’s formation papers were filed within weeks of the time the stadium being approved, ground had already been broken ground by the time that organization commenced its startup.

I suspect that sources for the story were very uncomfortable to read what had been inferred and may have tried to call or email clarification.

But this is much harder than it sounds, especially when reputations are at stake and particularly with a story this complex.  Unless investigative in nature, even at its best news is but a crude snapshot of the real story behind an event.

I learned during my now-concluded four-decade career leading community organizations to be very careful when using the term “we.”

Humorously, a friend with whom I worked in the 1970s and 1980s at my first two destination marketing organizations would often quip when seeing misattributions or takings of credit:

“It is like having (fill in the blank) in high school.  Those who say they did probably didn’t and those who say they didn’t probably did.

But it is more complicated than exaggerating or downplaying resumes.

Often when telling aspects of the community’s story, good reporters would stop me and stop me when I was rattling off information and ask for clarification of my use of the word “we:”

  • “we” meaning you personally?
  • “we” meaning your organization and stakeholders?
  • Or “we” meaning Durham overall?

I learned to be more careful but sometimes I wouldn’t see how misled they had been until the stories appeared in print and/or over the air.

Those two recent news stories dealing misinterpreting facts from nearly 25 years ago may have resulted from making the wrong inferences from an interviewees use or mistaken use of the word “we” assuming that rather than the editorial “we,” as in Durham, the reference was personal or organizational.

But the errors in those news stories also represent a breakdown in process now increasingly more common in short-staffed newsrooms.

Customarily, rather than leaping to a conclusion if a use of “we” wasn’t clear, newsrooms would not only call back to clarify but they would be sure to conduct a quick scan of their publication’s archives from that period.

That is why it is crucial that these two stories be flagged with clarifications so future stories are not contaminated.

Newsrooms should also be sensitive to the human tendency to unwittingly reweave memories with other fragments of peripheral or later involvement resulting, in the words of Godin, in a far more “egocentric versions.”

According to Harvard researcher Dr. Daniel Gilbert in his book and blog entitled Stumbling on Happiness, our memory doesn’t actually retrieve information.

Memory is rewoven or fabricated from the bits of data scooped up by our personal NSA.  This is why it is so important for organizations, especially any type of community organization, to appoint a staff archivist.

Unless corrections to those two recent news accounts are made, those rewoven versions will contaminate news reports for many decades to come, even contemporary histories, until such time that deeper historical analysis comes to bear.

This is why it is crucial for destination marketing organizations such as where I made my career to take seriously their role not only to tell a community’s story but to have the courage to stand up as that story’s guardian by calling or emailing reporters and editors with clarifications, even corrections.

This includes the responsibility to question other community organizations whenever they are tempted to provide egocentric accounts of the past.

A sense of historical accuracy and the importance of delving into archives is crucial to telling a community’s story in the present.

Understanding how easy it is to be credited with things you didn’t do or in which you only played a minor role may also be why I find myself often in retirement leaving breadcrumbs with many of these essays that hopefully provide broader context to those accounts.

I know it is disappointing to those who trade on information to curry favor or perpetuate perceived wounds or settle old scores but I have purposely not linked to those mistaken accounts or sources.

Instead, I have alerted others who can give them a gentle heads up.  “There but for the grace of God go I.

So, as Annie paraphrased to Crash at the end of the movie Bull Durham from a quote attributed to Walt Whitman in 1888, “…baseball is our game: I connect it with our national character.”

Or appropriate to how quickly legends become repurposed, “Man, that ball got out of here in a hurry.”

Happy 25 to DBAP!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Looking Back To Detect the Future

One of the signature artifacts of Durham, North Carolina’s past that has been lost during the eight decades of neglect since a local history museum was first proposed is a calliope.

Beginning less than a decade after the Civil War ended here 150 years ago next month, this musical instrument sat atop the now repurposed Old Bull Building and simulated the sound of a bull at each factory shift change and other special occasions.

I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Rockies so when I first read about this famous calliope, I had no trouble imagining the sound it played (click here to hear a bull.)  It celebrated Bull Durham tobacco and the “Bull City” it was soon to make world famous.

It is important to remember that in 1870 as plans were being laid to erect the Old Bull Building, now a National Historic Landmark, Durham was already very different than the rest of North Carolina.

At the time, Governor W.W. Holden was standing up against gangs of Ku Klux Klan riders who were marauding through nearby counties committing public murders and whippings while intimidating officials from doing anything about it.

Several counties were declared to be in a state of insurrection and state militia were deployed.

These gangs of terrorists were targeting “blacks who did not know their place” and whites who advocated for the rights of blacks.  In fact, maybe the sound of a Bull blaring from Durham was meant to ward them off.

Seriously, this is when Durham residents began talking privately about formation of a separate county which got its unique shape when several pieces of land were lopped off during passage of the controversial 1881 bill in the legislature, enabling voter approval.

But Durham’s industrialists and merchants were divided on another issue, bonds to build graded schools.  Republicans were opposed, arguing that education by families and in private and parochial schools was enough.

Opponents sued to overturn voter approval so voters approved the bonds again while proponents started a “moonlight school” for factory workers.

Artifacts such as the now lost “bull calliope” will be crucial to a fully-functional Museum of Durham History, should officials ever make it the priority public opinion polls have shown for decades.

The compelling essay entitled “Looking at Artifacts, Thinking About History,” notes that artifacts reflect and symbolize changes.  Had the old calliope survived, it would today serve as a clarion reminder that Durham is different, and proud of it.

There are people who dismiss the past by claiming they only want to think about the future.  This is the kind of thinking or lack of thinking that leads quickly to a surrender of sense of place in so many communities.

It is by understanding the patterns of the past that we see into the future.  It is why a class in historical analysis should be required as a prerequisite in business schools for one on strategic thinking and/or strategy making.

With each passing day, Durham loses more and more of its history in exchange for mainstream culture that can be found anywhere.

For those still puzzled about why we should care and in need of lists to check, below are just a few reasons a Museum of Durham History, stocked with both artifacts and the latest technology, is crucial:

  • Story Telling. It will give children, students, newcomers and relocating executives a place to get in touch with Durham’s story. People who grasp that stories are more inclined to be engaged as activists, volunteers and philanthropy.
  • Synergy. It will augment Durham’s historic sites by providing exhibition space to stir interest in those locations, making them more sustainable. It will complement rather than undermine other cultural facilities and programming.
  • Preservation. It will be a vigilant testimony to what makes the community distinct and unique and insulate its character and personality from the pressures of development and “generica.”
  • Future Generations. As a repository of innovations and artifacts, it will inspire future generations to build on the temporal qualities that make Durham, well, Durham…creative, entrepreneurial, caring, innovative, accepting, etc.

Maybe it is because I am something of an artifact myself, that this has now become so clear (smile.)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When Equal Just Isn’t Fair

Mentioned often in these posts is that I was born and spent my early years on an ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, the only son of an only son, a fifth generation Idaho rancher and sixth generation westerner.

But while delving into why that all came to an end, I’ve formed strong opinions about familial succession and distribution of estates.  Fairness often doesn’t mean equal.

More than 100 years ago next month, my great grandparents and grandparents migrated from both sides of the Idaho-Utah line and upper Cache Valley to that nook, about a half a century before I was born, so that their children would have access to land.

Accessible land in Cache Valley and Bear River Valley, part of a 7,500 acre watershed linking three states had already become difficult to find or too expensive.

So the family hitched up four wagons with teams of four horses each, along with a white-top buggy pulled by two horses, several saddle horses, and a hundred head of cattle and headed off on the 15-day, 200-mile trip north.

Between Spring and Snow Creeks, a mile west of the Henry’s Fork River, my great grandparents bought a ranch and homesteaded another while my grandparents and three of my grandfather’s siblings homesteaded others.

Within a decade, my grandparents began buying these parcels up as my grandfather’s siblings decided to turn to other pursuits or ranch somewhere else.

My great-grandfather had remarried two years after my great-grandmother died during the 1918 Great Influenza Epidemic, and inherited a step-family in the process.

As he neared the end of his life in 1936, he appointed my grandfather executor of his estate. But nine years earlier, my great grandfather and his second wife had begun selling parts of his land to my grandparents beginning with what we called the “Hole In The Ground” place.01471_s_aaeuyfyqe0365

A third was paid up front in cash with my grandparents paying off the remainder including interest of 7% by supplying half of the annual harvest each year after expenses and taxes.

Having to resolve issues among siblings and step-relations as well as having to buy and reassemble much of the ancestral holdings nearly crushed my grandfather’s spirit for ranching.

It also deepened his reticence for conflict resolution when it involved family.

Due to my grandfather’s health, after that my dad ran the ranch beginning in his teens and well into the 1940s.  After finally being permitted to serve in WWII, he returned to my mom and the ranch in July 1946.

Dad had been able to mechanize the ranch before he left and over the objections of my grandfather to meet the steep production quotas levied as a crucial part of the war effort.

He and mom continued to modernize the ranch after dad returned based on my grandparents commitment for them to inherit the ranch when they were gone.  This included leveraging tens of thousands of dollars of investment in new equipment and buildings.

But in the late 1950s, one of my dad’s three sisters began pressuring my grandfather for “her” share of the ranch, although she had never been much for that way of life or invested any time or effort other than growing up there.

My grandfather backed out of his commitment to his only son and daughter-in-law, inexplicably not even facilitating its affordable sale to them as his father had done three decades earlier for him.

Before her death in January, I took the opportunity during a Thanksgiving visit to ask my mom something more to the story: how she and dad came to the difficult decision to pick up and start a new life elsewhere, leaving those ancestral lands, friends and a generational way of life.

His dad wouldn’t even compensate them for their investment in the ranch because he had not been in favor of modernization in the first place.

Within a year or so, he would sell the ranch leaving it for my grandmother to distribute the estate after he died in the 1964.

I idolized my grandfather, who from the day I was born would travel up from my their house in Saint Anthony to the ranch each day to pal around with me doing chores.

I had only glimpses of how stubborn he could be, second-guessing my dad’s decisions, even insisting on raking hay with a team of horses, while dad and I idled along across the meadow behind him with a tractor and bailer.

It was probably as much that my parents knew they would never be able to run the ranch as they wanted as it was the distribution of the estate that was the final straw.

Relatives were often critical of their decision to leave, including those who stood to gain as well as other branches.

In hindsight, my grandfather could have handled things in many different ways.

As I have seen done here in Durham, even without selling it to my parents he could have granted shares in the ranch to each of his children but a greater share to my parents indexed for the sweat, tears and risks they had in operating it while growing the value of the other shares.

This is an instance where insisting that all shares be equal isn’t really fair.

My parents may have been too young to see or propose alternatives, but in the end, I think they wanted a new start, one where they could call their own shots.

They may have already had inklings that even though I loved the ranch and the history, my inclinations were not toward ranching, nor were those of my two younger sisters.

After leasing a place and being ripped off by a broker, they showed even more resilience by refusing to file bankruptcy and taking on entirely new lines of work, not only paying off the debt but going on to successful careers.

In our last in-person visit, my mom reiterated how much my dad had dearly loved ranching and he was very good at it.  But our parents were clearly more intent on propelling their three children further into the middle class.

Though frequently nostalgic for the ranch, my parents didn’t pine nor did they hold grudges.  Throughout their lives and our time growing up, visits with grandparents and aunts and uncles continued as though nothing had happened.

Memories of ancestral lands and my ranching heritage are romanticized for me now.  Somehow things worked out for the best for everyone involved.

But parents who are facing distribution of estates and businesses need to think very carefully about how to accomplish this, especially if some children are predisposed to the family business and willing to do and invest what it takes to sustain and grow it.

As my dad would often repeat while also applying it to doctors and bankers, “Don’t trust lawyers.”

For me, I have it easy.  Just one kid, and a pretty great kid at that who doesn’t have an entitlement bone in her body.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Clear Difference

Maybe not in Salt Lake City which I visited over the weekend, but according to Gallup, Utah, is six points more conservative than North Carolina, where I live.

Yet last week the state legislature in Utah voted to bar discrimination against people who are LGBT, something done by individual cities such as Durham, NC but recently voted down in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

Utah is slightly less liberal or moderate than my native Idaho, just slightly more moderate than North Carolina and more than four points less liberal but the measure passed by nearly 7-to-1 in the House of Representatives and nearly 5-to-1 in the Senate.

Yet it is unthinkable that the legislature in North Carolina, which does not mirror the state’s population when it comes to ideology, could ever reach a similar compromise as that in Utah.

I suspected the Utah law would pass when last month, during a visit to the Pacific Northwest, I saw three Mormon leaders announce the church’s support on the news, quite a turn-around from 2008.

By its actions, North Carolina’s legislature appears to be controlled by “regressives.”

Conservatives want to tap the breaks on progress, while regressives want to take society in reverse.  Nearly all regressives are conservative but only a tiny percentage of conservatives are regressives.

Here, we just happened to put them in charge.

Mormons know a thing or two about regressives too.  The church was founded as restorationist, meaning a return to the original Christian church.

From time to time, regressives have taken a toll, such as during a period in the 1850s known as the “Mormon Reformation.”

It was during this period that at least two of my ancestors who had crossed the Rockies for sanctuary against persecution and discrimination were sanctioned and forced by regressives to be re-baptized for questioning local church officials regarding civil decisions.

North Carolina, too, knows a thing or two about regressives from its past.

The state was ambivalent about the Civil War, with many areas outspoken against slavery and pro-Union until surrounded by secessionist states and threatened with economic isolation and retribution.

Next month, festivities in Durham will mark 150 years since the surrender here effectively ended the Civil War.  Within five years of the war’s end, Durham was known for Bull Durham tobacco adding warehouses to factories, and within a few years, even telephones.

But in 1870, many other parts of North Carolina had turned instead to regressives, joining the KKK which was centered one county over from Durham, while across the nation the Bull City was forging a progressive view of the Tar Heel state as the New South.

The KKK was revived at the turn of the century when a North Carolina clergyman published a book entitled The Clansman, soon adapted to film as The Birth of a Nation, and reinvigorated old racial stereotypes from slavery.

Corruption doomed that incarnation of the KKK, but a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 sowed the seeds of its re-emergence by 1960 among descendants of earlier regressives, fueled by rhetoric from a Raleigh TV newscaster soon-to-be U.S. Senator.

This history and more is available in a new documentary entitled Klansville, USA released this past January on the acclaimed PBS series, American Experience, and based in part on the excellent book by David Cunningham.

It is now also available via website or by streaming via Netflix.

By 1960 a few years after Durham became a center for the Civil Rights movement, descendants of earlier regressives resurrected the KKK in North Carolina vowing to stack the state legislature by playing on the fears of rural North Carolinians.

During the 1950’s Durham was busy helping to develop Research Triangle Park here, but it was also a training site for students conducting civil rights protests across the state.

Every few months, I drive up to the parking lot of Durham County Memorial Stadium to drop off e-waste such as old batteries and irreparable electric gizmos, or anything with an electric motor or charge cord.

Erected in 1959, four years after the Supreme Court desegregated public schools, the stadium was built for Durham’s “whites-only” high schools, a lasting monument to segregated schools at the very time legal action and protests were allowing black students to transfer to previously all white schools.

Desegregation such as this set off a resurgence of regressives and a third resurrection of the KKK.  One of those appearing on the documentary in footage filmed before his passing in 2005 is C.P. Ellis.

Ellis owned a Texaco station in Durham when during the early 1960s he joined the KKK and became the Exalted Cyclops for the clan here.  Membership surged across the state as school officials implemented policies to racially balance the schools.

Instead, whites, most of whom were poor, fled to private and parochial schools reducing public school enrollment in Durham by 40% during the 1960s.

The flight was even worse across the state and in less progressive communities such as Raleigh where the KKK had been instrumental in selection of a police chief in the 1920s, 5,000 KKK members rallied just months after a progressive had been governor from 1961-1965.

In the 1970s, the courts ruled that schools here must be racially rebalanced.  A committee to effect that change brought Exalted Cyclops Ellis together with Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist.

Together they each did something rare, even today. As documented in the acclaimed book, Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson, they listened to each other and a friendship formed.

Regressives in North Carolina today don’t wear hoods and robes and only occasionally burn crosses, but their influence is still felt.  Helms used racially charged campaign advertising to win close reelections well into the mid-1990s.

You can hear echoes of regressives in myths perpetuated around water coolers to scare newcomers from living in progressive communities such as Durham or if they do to put their children in private or parochial schools.

Regressives are most visible behind the actions of the state legislature, abetted by peers to read only the misleading titles and subtitles on bills they submit, virtually erasing any memory of North Carolina being known as the New South.

The LGBT anti-discrimination legislation passed in Utah is a contrast and evidence of what it means to be conservative without being regressive.

North Carolina’s regressives ban the use of phrases like “climate change” in reports and meddle in local affairs, while hypocritically accusing the federal government of political correctness and meddling in state affairs.

The LGBT legislation in Utah steps forward not only in that area but pairs it with provisions granting the right of people to express religious beliefs in the workplace.

North Carolina will weather this renewed regression but it will take decades to mend all of the damage it has done including to the state’s reputation and psyche.

In the meantime, let’s just not blame their actions on true conservatives.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Unearthing A Disappointment

My father served in WWII but the minimal details he would share, beginning less than a decade later in my preschool years, were minimal and self-deprecating.

Now six decades after those early queries and 14 years since his passing, I’m learning the full story as I sift through letters he wrote to those back home as well as military records and photos he brought back.

Over the last year, as she neared the end of her life, my mother filled in some gaps.

They had been married for nearly 36 years and divorced for 35 when she died.  But as the song goes, in her last few months she began to “love deeper and speak sweeter and give the forgiveness she had been denying.”

When they met in 1942, my dad had been running his parents ancestral ranch since he was 14, while at the same time going on to graduate from high school.

My grandfather had what they thought was a heart attack while serving as the executor of my great grandfather’s estate while juggling the wishes of siblings who much earlier had left ranching and especially those of his dad’s second wife and her family.

When my dad turned age 18 in late 1941, you couldn’t register for the draft until age 21.  At that time the country was turning down enlistments for males needed to sustain agricultural production.

A few months later, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the age for registration was lowered to 18 ending voluntary enlistment altogether.  Dad argued with his father to sell off the livestock and let feed crops go fallow but both his father and the local draft board felt differently.

He was an only son and the only person who could keep the ranch running.  In 1943, news reports clearly noted that state and county war boards of the agricultural department could defer those in agriculture even though when no deferment was sought.

Ranches and farms were required to meet quotas for output, and if they failed, ranchers and farmers were reassigned to a job on another ranch or farm.01733_p_aaeuyfyqe1569_b

America placed agricultural production at the top of wartime needs which, to the consternation of my grandfather but delight of my dad, also resulted in the rapid spread of mechanized technology.

Things changed for my dad four days before his 21st birthday when word came that his cousin and best friend who was a year older than him had been killed in action over Italy when the B-26 bomber in which he was flying as tail gunner was hit and exploded trying to cut a German Army supply route.

It took five months of pleading before my grandfather and local county boards agreed to let my dad join the U.S. Army.  He and mom quickly traveled over the Centennials to Bozeman on April 30th to elope, a little more than two weeks after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Nine days later, dad was ordered to report to Fort Douglas on the day the German Army’s surrender became effective.

But hostilities were far from over, just as they continued for several weeks after Lee surrendered his army to Grant, before the Civil War effectively ended 121 miles south of Appomattox, 150 years ago next month in Durham, North Carolina

In Europe, pockets of hostility continued into September, about the time my dad was finishing Infantry training at Camp Roberts and shipping out to join the 35th Tank Battalion as a Cavalry trooper.

In March, when dad finally convinced officials to let him serve, the 35th Tank Battalion had crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim, south of Mainz, and rushed across central and southern Germany liberating part of Buchenwald and Dachau before refitting in Bavaria.

As dad was in training to joint the 35th, it was pushing on into Czechoslovakia to the Russian line before pulling back into Bavaria.  Mysteriously, less than five months after dad joined the unit, General Patton, who had been pushing to back the Russians off died in a mysterious auto accident.

Official surrenders notwithstanding, it was chaos when my dad joined his unit.  Patton had left large area of Germany unsecured in the rush across Germany where small units continued to fight.  Scores of towns were skirted or destroyed leaving no civilian governance.

Tens of thousands of Germans were being expelled from other countries clogging the roads with refugees with no place to go, while thousands of freed prisoners including slave laborers were trying to make their way home.

Thousands of Nazis were fleeing south into the mountains of Bavaria seeking sanctuary in Austria and transit out of Europe, many to South America, many into the United States.

Planning had only just begun to morph the 35th Tank Battalion into the 35th Constabulary but that would take months and months yet as well as retraining.

In the interim, dad is shown in photos clearing concentration camps, and supporting armored tanks and tank killers as they cleared pockets of resistance as well as flying patrol in light aircraft to intercept fleeing Nazis.

He writes of also spending days astride horses that had been liberated from Nazis while searching forests for those fleeing as well as pockets of resistance that hadn’t yet surrendered or didn’t believe the war was over including isolated but lethal Tiger Tanks.

His last few months were spent serving as a military policeman while vetting civilian law enforcement for a return to duty.  On July 28, 1946 he was discharged from the Army at Fort Lewis, Washington and returned to the ranch and my mom.

As I was growing up, he would answer questions as I went through the trunk with his uniform, while carefully handling the side arm a German officer has given him while surrendering and a handmade knife with an antler handle a Russian POW had given him as he boarded a train for home.

I used a small backpack from his infantry days while I was going through Cub Scouts and never grew tired of going through a yellow plastic cigarette container filled with souvenir coins from different countries given to him by people he helped get back home.

Like I said, he was either tightlipped or self-deprecating about his enlistment, maybe to disguise his disappointment, possible out of respect for those such as Edward Bowman who gave his life.

Only from these fragments of evidence such as letters, documents and photographs and piecing them together by researching context from back then do I know his role.

Now his grandsons, granddaughter and great-grandsons and great-granddaughters will as well.

Recently on Netflix, I stumbled onto the third installment of the Saints and Soldiers franchise of films released last summer.  They are produced by two BYU graduates who founded Rocky Mountain based Go Films along with other acclaimed films.

The moralistic stories set in WWII that can be watched by families with children.  There is always a soldier from the Idaho or Utah area and the first two actually dealt with American soldiers who had served a Mormon mission in Germany and encounter converts fighting for the other side.

The one I watched last week is entitled “The Void,” which was released last summer.  The backdrop deals with the pockets of resistance after the war such as my dad encountered as well as attitudes about race among American soldiers before and after the war that also reminded me of my dad.

Sometimes, even fiction can provide a glimpse of contents when digging into the archeology of family.

I thought of this again during morning walks through Fort Douglas while wondering if I might be crossing paths dad had walked there after reporting for duty or those of a great-great grandfather, a Union cavalry trooper, bivouacked there while it was being built.

In the future, I will delve my father’s complicated relationship with his father and lessons I’ve learned from them regarding succession and equitable distribution of assets to children.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Walking Cross Country - Tracking One Step At A Time

I began using a wearable fitness device called Fitbit in January 2010, the month after it came out and my first month of retirement.

Even with all of the hype today about wearables such as this, they are still used by only 1-in-10 Americans.  Half of Americans are aware of wearable devices of various types, not just for fitness.

I come from several generations of gadget people but was surprised that only a little more than a third of those who are early adopters of technology were aware of wearable fitness trackers today.

About 28% of Americans say they are likely to buy a wearable fitness device with half of those hoping to count calories and a third tracking the number of steps taken in a day.

Research shows that nearly 48% of Americans want to lose weight and have made that a goal for this year.  That plays nicely playing into the hands of users of devices such as Fitbit, because 47% walk long distances for health.

Unfortunately, 47% of weight loss seekers also enjoy baking cakes, pies, breads or desserts on a regular basis according to AudienceScan.  I wonder if this correlates to the 49% on a Pew survey two years ago who responded that they “keep track in their head.”

How’s that workin’ for ya?

I put that first Fitbit through the washing machine and waited a month or two to replace it so I don’t have a true running total of all of my activity tracked so far, but I’ve got it for the six years from April 2010 to now.

So far, I’ve walked about 2,900 miles or the distance between where we live in Durham, North Carolina and where my youngest sister and brother-in-law live in Mill Creek, Washington and then back up to the pass back through the Cascade Mountains.

But I only started walking religiously each morning a little more than a year and a half ago.

Every week now, on average, I walk a distance equivalent to walking from Witherspoon Rose Culture near the southwestern Durham County line near Chapel Hill to the northwestern Durham County line near Timberlake.  That’s about 25 miles on foot.

I’m typically an Apple guy when it comes to devices but after comparing the two, I upgraded to the Fitbit Surge for now instead of moving to the Apple Watch due out soon.

It includes some features the Apple Watch won’t have when it comes out next month at and it already pairs with my scale.

In part, it is also because I don’t like the fact that rather than innovating new products, Apple seems prone to either buy them up or run over businesses such as the entrepreneurs who founded Fitbit, which featuring about 40 partners has grown to provide about 70% of fitness wearables in use.

Eventually, once the bugs are worked out and it is clear I won’t lose any Fitbit compatibility, I suspect I might make the switch to the Apple Watch, but that remains to be seen.

Prior to when these fitness versions of a smartwatch came out, they had only 2% penetration with consumers.  Wearable fitness devices in general skew toward those between the age of 35 and 54, about half women.

Smartwatches on the other hand have skewed younger than that and predominately male.  I suspect Fitness Surge and Apple Watch are changing this profiles.

The Surge uniquely incorporates an “okay” GPS to map the routes you have taken but different than other Fitbits, it is better at tracking various exercises such as biking and weight training as well as yard work that may involve more exertion than walking.

It also does a great job of measuring heart rate and breaking it down into peak, cardio and fat burn zones.

If weight loss is a goal, as initially it was for me before dropping 30 lbs. to bring my Triglycerides back in line, take note of research showing that 60% of users for that reason lose more weight when pairing a fitness tracker with a weight loss app such as MyFitnessPal compared with when they didn’t use a tracker.

I wasn’t heavy per se but not in the best shape and my Tri’s were sky high.  They are formed by three fatty acids bound by a molecule of glycerol inside a fat cell and too large to flow through the membranes of the cell.

Typically, fat flows in and out of our cells constantly, but its fat that is stored like this that causes problems, even when we appear otherwise to be okay.

I’ve struggled to enjoy exercise during my life when it didn’t involve team sports or tennis but these devices and apps not only make it interesting but they make you aware of unproductive habits so you can break them.

No, nobody paid me to write this.  In fact, no one pays me to write any of these posts.  I’m just a fan of wearable fitness devices and related apps because they have made a big difference in my overall health.

Now if I could just find something to make traveling lunges seem fun!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Turning A Corner In November 1965

Earlier in my life, it was not uncommon for me to associate songs on the radio with a particular place and time.

On a snowy Idaho Monday in mid-November 1965, during our junior year in high school, we had just finished listening to the Unchained Melody by Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers as I turned my ‘57 Chevy onto the street where my newly steady girlfriend lived after school.

We had formed a bond at a school dance the Friday before that would last for more than four years including, but not enduring an extended absence as we turned 20 and giving me an understanding looking back of the song Unanswered Prayers.

As we slowly tooled down her street Yesterday by Paul McCartney then of The Beatles, began to play, which I believe was still #1 on the charts.  What can I say; we were schmaltzy Idaho Upper Snake River Mormon kids.

As a trivial aside, both songs were originally recorded as solos, although later sung live on tour with their singer’s respective groups.  The latter, with McCartney’s steel stringed acoustic guitar, was also the first time studio musicians were used on a Beatle’s, and maybe the last.

To bring the trivia full circle, McCartney now owns the rights to Unchained Melody, which my mother, when she was alive, was sure to remind me was a 1930s song, and one better known by my grandsons from the TV series, Glee.

As I pulled away after dropping off my girlfriend and heading to my job at a small, family-owned market, a news report came on the radio about a battle that had been raging in the central highland mountains of Vietnam called Ia Drang for the river that runs through it.

Less than four months earlier, there were only 75,000 troops in Vietnam but by year’s end there would be 189,000, and by the time I graduated the next spring, another 100,000 had been deployed.

Less than seven years older than me, my uncle was preparing less than 90 days later to be deployed to Vietnam as a newly minted fighter pilot with the 389th TFS where he would go on to fly an extraordinary 325 missions over North Vietnam through waves of enemy Migs and SAM missile defenses.

Unbeknownst to anyone in his family until I was given his personal effects, he had soon become highly decorated receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with 26 oak leaf clusters, and a Bronze Star.

But I had mixed feelings about the war on my way to work that November afternoon in 1965.  In the months prior, several Americans had immolated themselves to protest the war including a Jewish woman in her 80s who had survived the Nazis during WWII.

In the hallways at school though, me and handful of friends talked each morning with three of us planning to enlist if we were not drafted the next summer after registering when we turned 18.

But the sobering news that afternoon was about a regiment of 7th Cavalry troopers; (Custer’s unit at his Last Stand) which had been overrun by North Vietnamese troops but they had still managed to fight them off.

The newscasts were already masking the significance with gruesome body count comparisons.

The acclaimed 2002 movie about that engagement entitled We Were Soldiers left something out from the book upon which it was based, co-written by then General Hal Moore and a journalist who was there, Joe Galloway.

The book, acclaimed for its insights had been published in 1992 three years after I moved to Durham, North Carolina, where I would finish a lifelong career in community destination marketing.

The book is highly recommended although it is the haunting theme song from the movie, a lament written and sung by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie that has stayed in my memory.

The song is named Sgt. MacKenzie in honor of his great-grandfather of the Seaforth Highlanders, a unit in WWI, but the lament was inspired while the author was grieving the loss of his wife.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that officials sending troops into Afghanistan and Iraq had read General Moore’s book.  If they had, they may have done things differently.

Coincidentally, in the terrorist implosion of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 was Rick Rescorla, a prominent part of the book who was left out of the movie.

I believe he was the trooper fleetingly depicted in the movie who after the battle found a bugle taken from a French unit massacred near there in the 1950s.

In the summer of 1966, while eagerly registering for the draft, I was advised that if I ever wanted to serve, I needed to have a football injury to my knee repaired.  Unfortunately, the advice was flawed.

With or without the surgery, the knee caused me to be rejected several different times as I repeated tried enlist over the next several years, using a variety of different avenues.

My last hope came while sitting in the student union cafeteria at Brigham Young University and watching the first draft lottery in December of 1969 revealing the order of draftees to be called the following year.

Signified by my birthday, July 8th, my number came up #13 out of 366, a portend causing some of my friends around me to gasp.

A year later, my uncle who had returned from three tours in Vietnam and having come to also oppose the war there was trying to talk sense into me.

When his superiors failed in their attempt to have his enlistment moved from reserve to regular Air Force, he was discharged, unable to fly for commercial airlines due to an injury to his ear drum when forced to eject during his first tour.

On June 7, 1966, he and another pilot had been on 15 minute ground alert status with a full load of napalm and 20mm cannon to support ground troops when needed, such as those that had been trapped 6 months earlier along the Ia Drang, a battle still raging.00622_p_10aeuyf6sw0078_b

They were scrambled, but declassified records show that while on takeoff, fire suddenly filled the left wing wheel well and the take-off was aborted with a crash landing beyond the end of the runway.

It wasn’t uncommon for fighter planes to take enemy fire during takeoff and landing.

Fire began to envelope the cockpit as the my uncle hurriedly tried to unbuckle the other pilot, who was trapped, just as the fire began to reach the plane’s ordinance causing fire fighters to withdraw leaving the shell shown in this essay.

Their plane may have been headed to the A Shau Valley, north of Ia Drang a similarly narrow funnel between mountain ranges for crucial supplies coming from the north down Ho Chi Minh Trail.

The battle there had been raging since that spring, when less than five months after parts of Hal Moore’s unit was overrun, a similar trap was sprung on Special Forces troops there.

From Idaho like my uncle and a former pilot for the Idaho National Guard then turned-regular Air Force, Bernard Fisher had volunteered to go to Vietnam in the summer of 1965 to fly in support of ground troops with his WWII era Skyraider, a single-seat propeller attack-plane with a distinctive engine sound I would often hear in Alaska when flown by hobbyists.

Fisher wasn’t the only pilot from Idaho over cloud-laden A Shau that day but in charge he repeatedly guided rescue helicopters in under the cloud cover along with other Skyraiders strafed the overrun fort below.

On the second day, he landed his plane under withering .50 cal. machine gun fire and pulled a downed pilot into his already cramped cockpit before taking off, receiving the Medal of Honor for his heroism.

But A Shau became emblematic for the war as a whole as did Ia Drang.

This all came back to mind as I drove through Idaho last August with my grandsons to a family lake-side retreat in the Northern Rockies and heard the news that Bernard Fisher had passed away at his home in Kuna.

Our stop for lunch along the Caribou Mountains not far from where my uncle grew up gave me an opportunity to tell his story as well as that of their great-grandfather and more than a dozen other ancestors who have served back to conflicts in the 1600s in this country.

Today, my uncle’s 389th TFS is also back in Idaho, an hour southeast of where Bernard Fisher died.

Sorting through ancestral documents and artifacts to organize them into histories for future generations gives me pause to reflect on what I was thinking on that November day in 1965.

Two friends who did make it into that war, one as a door-gunner on an Air Cav helicopter such as those pioneered by Moore, made it back safe, although it took years to fully resume their lives.

They, too, were soldiers once…and young.