Feb 28, 2022

The 331 team tournament started off with just one game Monday night, but it was a very good game. Central Connecticut State trailed host Fairleigh Dickinson throughout and was still behind by four points with just over a minute left. However, hguard Nigel Scantlebury was fouled driving to the hoop with 7 seconds left. He made both free throws and CCSU won 67-66 becoming the first post season winner of 2022. Ten more wins and it would be the CCSU Blue Devils rather than those led by Coach K cutting down the nets in New Orleans.

Here’s the latest list of the teams we have said goodbye to for the post season. As of today there are 22 eliminated from NCAA championship contention and 336 still alive.

Team Conf.
Bellarmine ASUN
North Alabama ASUN
Merrimack NEC
St. Thomas-MN SUM
Tarleton State WAC
Dixie State WAC
Cal Baptist WAC
UC-San Diego BWEST
Stony Brook AEAST
James Madison CAA
Oklahoma State BIG 12
Columbia IVY
Miss Valley St SWAC
Western Michigan MAC
North Dakota SUM
Eastern Illinois OVC
UT-Martin OVC
Brown Ivy
Dartmouth Ivy
Harvard Ivy

Why this stuff mattered to me…and still does

For quite some time now it has seemed to me that the long term prognosis of the human species would depend more on the ability to conquer our social hobgoblins than on any technical puzzle that would be thrown our way. But David Leonhardt’s brief, but well-articulated, reminder of How Politics Saves Lives in this morning’s Morning Briefing in the New York Times makes a better case than I could and reminded me why I pay the $20 per year to continue to try to do something with this site. I hope you will read it. Politics is both the problem…and the answer.

More immediately, though, I continue to spend most of my time writing about my long-ago baseball adventures in In League with America. I am now about two thirds finished and hope to have the draft complete by the end of May. In case you missed it, there are brief daily updates, kind of a appendix in progress at inleaguewithamericabook.wordpress.com.

It has rained the last two days here in Vermont but we needed the moisture and I’m grateful for it. I hope that spring has found you as we turn over the calendar tomorrow and you look forward to a nice weekend.


A Fork in the Road

Hi folks,

Happy Friday! I hope it is as nice where you are as it has been here in Vermont over the last few days. Summer time weather in April in these parts never lasts for long but I’ll take it as long as we can get it.

A bit of an update on the plans for this blog in the weeks ahead.

Today is the 30-year anniversary of the first stop on my 1991 baseball trip. On April 9, 1991 we visited the first of the 178 ballparks we saw that summer on “Bill & Sue’s Excellent Adventure” and the weather in Oakland, CA that day was as lovely as it is here this afternoon. The A’s who were the defending American League Champions that season bested the Minnesota Twins 7-2 that evening, although it would be the Twins that ended up World Champions after our last game in October.

My absence from this site over the last few weeks has certainly had something to do with college basketball, as I predicted in my last post. However, I have also begun work on a new, actually quite old, writing gig and have been spending my keyboard time dedicated to that. After several fits and starts over the years I have finally picked up the project of writing a book about my excellent adventure of 1991. I am planning to use the title I have always intended, In League with America, and have about seven chapters completed in draft form. My hope is to finish sometime later this spring or summer. Stay tuned.

But here’s the thing…

This site, since I first launched it nearly six years ago, has really had one central theme, helping Americans try to rediscover common cause with each other. To be clear, I still care very deeply about this mission and plan to write about it more as ideas that might help occur to me.

But last summer, discouraged by politics and searching for things to do in my pandemic-isolated world I began to blog about the baseball parks I has visited 29 years earlier and included a video series called the Low Mileage Tour.

While I would not say that either of these topics has earned me a large audience, they have both seemed to strike a chord with a few people that found value in them and like most writers I would guess, that makes me want to keep writing. However, I do not think the are necessarily the same people.

A Venn Diagram of the PFA audiences might go something like this. There are the folks that started reading the Project to Find America over the years and found the discussion of how to get Americans to listen to each other again worthwhile, I’ll label them the Common Causers.

Then, more recently, there have been some folks that were kind enough to take interest in my baseball travels…Baseball Boosters, let’s say.

And then there is a probably growing list of folks that started in one of the other two camps and are now just confused and wondering how I keep showing up in their inbox.

So, over the next few months as I work on trying to finally finish In League with America, I will be also be writing a very short daily post about where we were thirty years ago today. If you are in the Baseball Booster camp or just think it might be occasionally interesting and want to get it I would like to have you along for the ride. You will find today’s first post at inleaguewithamericabook.wordpress.com and can sign up for daily updates there. You can also find the daily posts on my In League with America Facebook page

On the other hand, if baseball isn’t your thing I do not want to keep sending you daily missives about a baseball road trip that took place 30 years ago. The discussion here will remain focused on the topic of reconnecting America.

Whichever camp you are in, thanks for reading! I hope you have a joyful Friday night.

A Trail Break

At least I saw it coming this time, I just didn’t know when. As I wrote my Groundhog’s Day post earlier this month I tried to make a point, probably more to myself than any readers. My PFA travel trail concept is likely to be a work of fits and starts. I have enjoyed the first round of stops and discovered some issues that really need to be explored and understood better in parts of the country that don’t feel them so acutely. I expect that, as time and enthusiasm allow, I will continue to write about visits to these places, virtual and otherwise. But as I was wondering yesterday when the NCAA college basketball conference tournaments would begin I was startled to find out that they would/did begin last night.

The College Basketball Conference Tournament Season Started last night in Detroit!

If I were to try to wrap up my whole, obsession really, with the varied nature of the many cities and small towns across the United States into some kind of sports metaphor, the college basketball landscape would be about as close as I could get. The NCAA tournament, with 68 teams taking part, is already the most open of any team sport’s championship. College football has just four teams in its championship playoff, which admittedly is four more than it used to have.

But March Madness is only the beginning. Going into the month of March each season nearly all of the nation’s 350-plus Division One teams still have a theoretical chance of cutting down the nets as national champions. That’s because all 32 (31 this year) of the college basketball conferences send the team that wins their post-season tournament to the NCAA tournament and most of them allow all their teams to play in those tournaments. Last night I watched the Mastodons of Purdue-Fort Wayne University avoid extinction (sorry I couldn’t help it) with a very entertaining 89-84 double-overtime win over Green Bay in the first round of the Horizon League Championship. So far this year the ‘Dons have struggled to an 8-14 record, but if it could reel off nine or ten more wins (depending on NCAA seeding,) the team would wake up the morning of April 6 as national champions.

An outcome like that is pretty far-fetched but it is possible and that’s the thing. It was just three years ago that the team that finished second in the previously pretty unknown (outside the northeast anyway) America East conference got on a run in its conference tournament and then pulled off the biggest upset in the sport’s history. UMBC beat the number one team in the country, Virginia, by 20 points in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

So, for the next few weeks my discretionary time will be spent, as it was last night, down in the corner of the man cave amid the obsolete video game systems with as many screens going as I can conjure. Through the $6 per month miracle known as ESPN Plus it is now possible to watch all the early round action from even the smallest conferences. There are no tournament games today but tomorrow the aforementioned America East begins its men’s tournament as does the Big South. Another 12 conferences start their tournaments sometime next week and then the remaining 16 join the fun the following week. By Selection Sunday, March 14 this year, the 320-plus teams that are still in the hunt will have been trimmed to 31 conference tournament champions and another 37 at large teams.

Incidentally, in the spirit of the kind of minutiae you can always count on this blog to dig up for you, I found this on the Wikipedia page devoted to the Fort Wayne Mastodons.

“In 1968 a large bone was discovered during the installation of a farm pond near Angola, Indiana, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Fort Wayne. The farmer contacted professors in the IPFW geology department, who identified his discovery as the leg bone of a mastodon. Faculty and students from the geology department excavated the greater part of an adult mastodon, including the skull and tusks. The bones were cleaned, preserved, and placed on permanent display at IPFW. In 1970 members of the geology club, led by professors who oversaw the excavation, successfully lobbied the student government committee charged with choosing a name for the university mascot to select the mastodon. And thus, the IPFW Mastodons were born”

The PFA Trails will be back but for now you know where I’ll be.

The 365 Degree Sports Trail

Stop 1: Fort Lauderdale, FL

A little known fact about my two epic baseball journeys is that in both cases I originally had something bigger in mind. It seems strange to say that I wanted to do more than see 160-plus baseball stadiums in one season but the original plan was for a trip that was both longer and more varied – I hoped to see a sporting event in a different place every day for a calendar year. There were two elements of this which seemed important to me. One is, I wanted to go everywhere. Watching a baseball team play for ten straight days in the same place would be, to quote Homer Simpson..boring. The other is, I felt that the events themselves ought to be different and represent, in some way, the place where they were taking place. I envisaged rodeo in Wyoming, luge runs at Lake Placid and surfing in Hawaii. I even had a name for the tour which summed up these ideas..I planned to call it the 365 Degree Sports Tour and printed out letterhead and sought sponsorship for the thing.

Alas the wheels never got rolling on that odyssey and probably now never will. My wife and son would find the whole thing…boring. But the concept seems a perfect way to round out the schedule of the Project to Find America 2021 Virtual Trails so the 365 Degree Sports Trail begins today in my mind’s eye and in the pages of this blog. We’ll start in the corner of the country to which we’ve not yet been, sunny South Florida.

Worth Celebrating

As a lifelong baseball fan it pains me to admit this, but I’m not sure baseball is really America’s pastime anymore. I would like it better if it were and maybe it someday will be again, but for some time now that mantle has been passed to football. A 2017 Gallup Poll found that 37 percent of Americans list football as their favorite spectator sport, that is almost twice the number that listed basketball and baseball…combined, and it is down from a high of 43 percent a few years earlier. Experts point to a number of factors for this but one that doesn’t seem to get enough credit is the sport’s ubiquity and it plays out every late summer and fall weekend across the USA.

In most parts of the country, Friday nights are for High School Football. Hundreds of people turn out to watch the local high school teams play at thousands of schools nationwide. Then, on Saturday, college football takes over and many more fill hundreds of college football stadiums across the country. Finally, on Sunday, its time for the NFL and 10-15 big city stadiums fill to capacity (75-100 K each) for a game and millions of Americans spend a good portion of the afternoon and evening watching on regional and national television. There is simply no system like this in baseball or basketball…or anywhere else in team sports.

But while the NFL is the pinnacle of the football pyramid, its base and strength is found at the high school level and thus I am beginning the 365 Degree Sports Trail celebrating the exploits of a high school football team. But where and which one? Any of three states would be reasonable choices, California, Texas and Florida produce many more NFL players than the other 47. Currently, about half of active NFL players attended high school in one of those three states. But Florida is tops on the list with 289 current NFL players and I wanted to start this trail in the southeast anyway and so we begin about as southeast as this country gets.

Most of the high schools in the United States did not have any of their alumnus playing in the NFL this season. It is a question of numbers. There are fewer than 2,000 roster spots, including practice squads, at any given time in the NFL but there are close to 25,000 high schools in the nation. However, St. Thomas Aquinas, in Fort Lauderdale, had 15 former players playing on Sundays this year. For awhile this season I had both Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and Patriots RB James White on my Fantasy Football roster, they both played high school ball at St. Thomas Aquinas…at the same time!. The Bosa brothers, Geno Atkins, Bryan Cox, etc etc.etc. also played for the STA Raiders.

There is a fan web page devoted to the team complete with sponsors including Shula’s Steakhouse and last fall St. Thomas Aquinas closed out an abbreviated 8-1 season by winning its second-straight and overall 12th Florida State Championship with a 31-21 win over Orlando’s Edgewater High.

The Legacy of STA Football from NFL Network

There isn’t much football being played anywhere right now but then doesn’t stop people from writing about it. National Signing Day was earlier this month and the local newspaper live blogged as announcements were made. One final note, the STA football stadium, which seats 4,500 people is named after alumnus Brian Piccolo who died of cancer at the age of 26 after a short career in the NFL and was memorialized in the movie Brian’s Song.

A Work in Progress

Fort Lauderdale has been a mecca for college students on Spring Break for decades and it continues to be. It isn’t surprising, then, that the impending arrival of vacationing students and how they will behave amid the pandemic dominates the news right now in South Florida. But another question of what is happening on those beaches isn’t getting quite the current play, but it is a broader issue that won’t be going away any time soon.

By Yanjipy – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71553794

The City of Fort Lauderdale, as evidenced in this picture, is beautiful and perilous at turns. It not only sits on the Atlantic Ocean, it is part of the Intracoastal Waterway and includes 165 miles of canals within its city limits. Severe tropical storms, which seem to happen with increased frequency, routinely flood parts of the city.

This article, in the mostly travel and tourism focused Fort Lauderdale Magazine, gets into the specifics of this problem and what it means for the future.

“South Florida is certainly the most vulnerable urban area in the United States to sea level rise. There is no scenario for Fort Lauderdale where you can just put up a wall or simply elevate every building; it’s an economic disaster that’s looming on the horizon.”

Jeff Goodell: The water will come

The article isn’t all bad news. It details some initiatives that have helped prevent flooding and curtailed effects when it has happened but they can be expensive and slow moving and run up against opposition when they prevent development. Meanwhile, the area will likely be front and center when an a simmering issue becomes news later this year.

Two years ago FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced its intent to revamp the way flood insurance is paid for. A Trump administration initiative called Risk Rating 2.0 was designed to make the costs of flooding and the cost of insurance match more closely by increasing the cost of insurance in high risk areas. It drew the ire of some politicians, including some of the former President’s usual supporters and in typical Washington fashion, the change was delayed for a year so that it could be pushed past election day.

The research organization Pew Charitable Trusts published an article last month entitled 3 Ways the Biden Administration and Congress Can Lower America’s Flood Risk—and Costs and included in it a recommendation to move forward with Risk Rating 2.0 when it is intended to take effect on October 1. Meanwhile, the issue is getting international attention as it is one element of a larger topic – how to work through politics in addressing climate change. This story appeared on the London School of Economics blog two days ago.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, its back to the Innovative History Trail as we move west from Atchison.

A Land of Parks and Rec Trail

Stop 1: Bar Harbor, ME

When I have told people the story of my two baseball trips over the years they often asked what the best part was; equally often they are surprised when I tell them that many of them had nothing to do with baseball. The economic necessity of camping out most nights pretty quickly became one of the best parts of both trips. It was also why I am quite confident that there are beautiful parks and public spaces all across the USA. We will begin the Parks and Rec Trail with a National Park and the collection of US National Parks is pretty amazing, for camping or just day trips. But the same is true for state parks and even county and municipal parks and this trail will celebrate great outdoor spaces at every level.

Worth Celebrating

My history with Acadia National Park goes back a long time and that is, at least partially, the reason why this post is about a week later than I thought it would be. It is by far the closest of the big national parks to where I grew up and although I saw the big parks of the West including the Grand Canyon when I was a very little boy, Acadia has always been right up there with my favorites.

A lot of that has to do with personal history. My brother and his wife have lived a couple of hours down the coast of Maine since I was a kid and we made a few trips to Mount Desert Island when I was growing up and then a few more as an adult. My wife Elizabeth and I got married at an iconic lighthouse down the coast and Acadia was our first stop on our honeymoon…but this is where the delay comes in. I’m pretty sure we have a bunch of pictures of the park and its surroundings from that trip. We stayed at the beautiful Seawall campground near Southwest Harbor, ate the obligatory (and delicious) lobster or two and, I’m pretty sure, took lots of pictures. But I can’t find them…anywhere.

Over the course of the last week I have scoured every digital hiding spot in the Hartland Craib household. We’ve found all of the various memory cards and CDs and pulled pictures off them. We’ve gathered all of the pictures on phones and various cameras and consolidated the photos and videos housed on multiple computers. We even removed a hard drive off an old dead laptop and successfully recovered a bunch of pictures with this handy device. We found lots of pictures of the wedding and even pictures of later stops on the honeymoon, but alas none from Acadia.

Truth be told, the pictures were taken almost 15 years ago and there are many better images of Acadia National Park in the sites on a Pinterest board I put together displayed down the page…but still

Here, though, are a few of the pictures I did find of our wedding weekend at beautiful Pemaquid Point.

Kind of like Jazz, writing isn’t really the medium best used to appreciate the natural beauty of Acadia National Park. I do find the concept of Pinterest useful for this..here are a few pins about the park, I particularly like the one about visiting in winter, which is a lot like what it looks like right now.

A Work in Progress

I promise, I’m not going to write about Covid-19 every day. It is an inescapable issue in today’s world and thus I, mostly, question the value of adding my blog voice to it. But two things I read last week and another this morning give me pause. It is also true that while the pandemic has dominated the news everywhere, it has additional impact in places where the economy is impacted by tourism and Bar Harbor, Maine is just such a place. How Acadia National Park is responding to the virus now and will respond this coming summer is very much a work in progress and a central issue here.

The first of the articles was by David Leonhardt of the New York Times in its daily newsletter-The Morning. The piece, which ran last week is titled Covid Absolutism and it makes a case I find persuasive, that by trying to eliminate all risk associated with transmitting the disease we may actually be making things worse by not properly differentiating between risks that are more reasonable to take and those that are not.

“Banning college students from outdoor walks won’t make them stay inside their dorm rooms for weeks on end. But it probably will increase the chances that they surreptitiously gather indoors.”

NY Times – Covid Absolutism 2/12/21

An article that appeared in the same newsletter this morning followed a similar theme; looking for absolutes in the world of Covid-19 is not only likely to be fruitless, it is dangerous. Vaccine Alarmism looks at some recent statistics about how well the various vaccines are being administered and highlights the large number of Americans that are refusing their chance to get vaccinated when it comes. The article suggests that, at least part of the blame for this lies in the way health experts and journalists talk about effectiveness and risk. These people deal with ambiguity for a living. At their best, they present both sides of an argument in a news story or highlight challenges with their hypotheses in a scientific environment. But this tendency toward professionalism, the article posits, is dampening people’s hopes just when they need them most. Each of these articles is a two-minute read and I recommend them.

My third bit of reading was decidedly less cerebral. I was browsing through the Acadia National Park Facebook site and somehow stumbled in to a thread of comments from visitors to the page. On a site devoted to one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, I guess I expected pictures that people had taken or their stories about their visit and there are many of those. But there is also a…(the cursor blinks while I struggle to come up with the right adjective)…disturbing thread about a campaign the national park service came up with to encourage people to wear masks when visiting. Many, more than a dozen, people decided this was the place to vent their frustration about wearing masks. There are the “Sheeple” memes and “Don’t Drink the Koolaid” and helpful comments from people like Nikki who says “Masks do not reduce transmission rates but they do identify the conformists.”

And this is what has me worried and where the amazing freedom all Americans have to form their own opinions and express themselves truly shows its dark side. A policy of when and where people should wear masks at Acadia (and all other outdoor spaces in the months ahead,) really needs to be discussed, publicized and followed by people that understand how to distinguish between the different levels of risk discussed in the Times’ articles. But as one comment in the thread astutely pointed out, people seem to struggle with nuance these days and that could be a fatal flaw for all of us.

One woman in the thread said that we shouldn’t be wearing masks and pointed out that the European Union had “banned” the use of cloth masks. What she either didn’t understand or didn’t communicate to the group was that the countries in question have asked that people wear more effective masks, not stop wearing them entirely…that is an important nuance.

I expect Nikki was pleased to get 21 likes for her comment, which I suppose was the point. But could anyone really think that counts as information that is otherwise worth passing on? “I know scientists around the world say that wearing a mask helps slow the spread of the disease but Nikki on the Acadia National Park page on Facebook says they don’t so I guess I’m good?”

I struggled with whether to put the link to the video of Kansas City’s Mayor acknowledging the pain of the woman who does the sign language translation of his speeches in last weeks post. It felt vaguely sensational and it made me feel mawkish to share a link to a video in which someone else’s grief is on such full display. I did, though, for the same reason, I expect, the mayor added her story to his State of the City address and she continued with her duties signing his remarks. Because, while the numbers have recently been improving, Covid-19 is still exacting a terrible price on thousands of Americans…right now…today. And I was wishing that the Nikkis of the world would somehow see that video and think to themselves…if there is anything I can do to stop another human being from having to experience that, I will do it.

In order for the tourism industry of Bar Harbor and other popular vacation spots to bounce back to anything approximating normal this summer it is going to require that people feel safe going there. That means two things, having a pretty high level of confidence about what is and is not safe and a belief that the other people they will encounter do too. As all of these articles highlight, that is truly a work in progress.

Meanwhile, even pre-Covid, the impact of tourism on Bar Harbor and its surrounding towns was a double-edged sword. Not surprisingly, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce has a robust web site that makes visiting seem very appealing and among the various documents on the town’s website is a lengthy research report from the University of Maine that looks at the significant economic impact of cruise ship passengers on the town.

On the other hand (see? there’s that tendency to nod toward ambiguity,) locals often tire of the throngs in the busy months as they do in other touristy spots and, as this op-ed points out, there was a feeling, even before Covid, that tourism shouldn’t be too big a slice of the economic pie.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, we will wrap up the first round of trails by launching the American Sports Trail in sunny Florida..stay tuned.

An American Arts & Culture Trail

Stop 1: Kansas City, MO

One of the tragedies of the depressing news of the past several months is that it has threatened to overshadow the legacy of all the amazing things that have been created in the 245 year history of this country. Indeed, I guess my primary purpose in writing this series is to do what I can to mitigate that threat. But nowhere does the risk of losing this connection to our past seem greater than in the arts. Human beings have created art since the beginning of our time on this planet, not because it put a roof over our heads or money in our pocket, but for a higher purpose – somewhere farther up Maslow’s Hierarchy

In the relative brief existence of the United States our nation has already contributed much to the global art gallery and this trail will celebrate those achievements across the spectrum of artistic expression. I cannot think of a more natural place for it to begin than the middle of it all…Kansas City.

Worth Celebrating

I could probably pound out a couple of paragraphs about why jazz is important and what its all about but that would be even dumber than describing what baking bread smells like. So, do me a favor. Put on a pair of headphones..make sure your device or computer is unmuted and then click on this link…you might need to wait through an ad or two and then close your eyes…I’ll see you in three minutes. Oh, and turn it up.

Didn’t that feel good? The American Jazz Museum opened up in Kansas City, MO in 1997. It is in the revitalized downtown neighborhood known as the 18th and Vine Jazz District and is one of a few museums in the area. The museum is currently open for visitors although there are some changes and restrictions to accommodate for Covid-19. I don’t expect to be in the Kansas City area again in the immediate future, though and perhaps you are not either and the museum also has a nice virtual exhibit called AJM@Home, which gives a very nice overview of its collection and the role of jazz in the city.

Jazz is a uniquely American art form and its importance has stretched across the nation so other cities could perhaps been the site of an American Jazz Museum. But Kansas City has a history with jazz all its own. Kansas City Jazz gets its own entry in Wikipedia. Legendary pianist Bennie Moten was from Kansas City as was saxophonist Charlie (Bird) Parker, who you listened to a minute ago. Count Basie became famous in Kansas City and together with the aforementioned artists and many others created a different sound that was unique to the area.

The musical differences between Kansas City Jazz and other styles are nicely expressed at the bottom of the Wikipedia page above but if you would rather listen to different styles than read about them then check out the cool page linked below. It was created to help musicians learn the differences between different styles on their way to playing them but the 10 Key Tunes (scroll down in the post) are just fun to listen to. Check your pulse if you are not inspired to listen to some more jazz by the end.

If you are feeling thus inspired, here are two more things to continue your journey. Last fall Kansas City PBS produced a program entitled Bird: Not out of Nowhere to commemorate what would have been Charlie Parker’s 100th birthday. I haven’t watched the whole thing yet but it looks awesome and will be on the Craib family viewing docket tonight.

Also, tomorrow, February 12th from 1 pm-2 pm Eastern (12-1 CDT) the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum will be doing a Facebook livestream of its Jazz at Noon music series featuring the Will Matthews Organ Trio. The concert is virtual-only and free though a donation is suggested on the site. As a side note, the link on the Blue Room page appears to be broken but it looks like we will be able to find the concert here.


A Work in Progress

Like any large American city (KC was 38th among US cities in 2020) Kansas City has its share of challenges. The timing is good to write about them, though, since just last night the Mayor delivered his 2021 State of the City address. Quinton Lucas, in his second year as mayor, delivered the speech virtually this year. In his remarks, the mayor said, “I pose three important questions for us tonight…”

First: How do we learn from the past year about health, our economy, and our budget to move
more responsibly into the future?

Second: As we work to rebuild economically, how do we ensure equitable economic development
that will improve Kansas City for the next generation?

Third: How do we keep Kansas Citians safe, implement transformative, long-term violence
prevention strategies, and build community trust?

The impact of Covid-19 on the city was underscored by a heartbreaking segment of his speech when the mayor expressed his condolences for the families who have lost loved ones to the virus. He mentioned his sign language interpreter, who lost both her parents to the virus in the last week but continued to translate his remarks. If you do not have twitter on your computer or device you can watch this moving segment as part of this report.

The second question references a debate many communities are having about whether it is appropriate to use city funding for the development of attractions, such as stadiums, that are more often used by visitors than residents. The city is expected to refinance a large chunk of debt it took on help pay for the development of the Kansas City Power and Light District, which includes KC Live, a popular outdoor entertainment hub. Covid-19 has hit the area venues hard for obvious reasons but the Kansas City Star reported earlier this year that even before the pandemic the area wasn’t producing enough revenue to pay for the bonds used to build it.

Toward the end of his speech Mayor Lucas’ talked about the third of his questions above. Missouri had the third-highest per capita rate of gun deaths in the nation in 2020 and Kansas City was second in the state (to St. Louis) with 161 of those.

“More often than not, homicides are not random. They happen when there are no readily available support systems, mental health services, no alternative path for reconciliation, and, often, little trust in law enforcement,” Lucas said. (Our) ..” framework incorporated four areas of focus:

• Prevention, through impactful programs and opportunities that work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, improve safe spaces, and remove economic barriers that impede individual success.

• Intervention: through identifying individuals most at-risk for committing violent crime and intervene with necessary resources to help set them on the right path.

• Law Enforcement and the Community: though accountability measures and increased outreach for law enforcement, encouraging communication and collaboration with the community on the most violent crimes.

• Administrative Reform: having fair and equitable laws and community trust in our legal institutions.”

The topic is getting a lot of attention in Kansas City. Next week the Kansas City Star is partnering with another local organization to produce a series of events entitled Gun Violence in Missouri: Seeking Solutions beginning with a virtual roundtable on February 17 at 1:30 pm EST (12:30 central time.) The host is an organization called American Public Square at Jewell. Anyone who has been following this blog for awhile will know why I admired the site at first click. It’s tagline is “Building Communities with Civil, Fact-Based Discourse. Sign me up.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, we will launch the Parks and Rec trail with our first stop in the Northeast, Down East in fact, on the beautiful Maine Coast.

Industry for the 21st Century Trail

Stop 1: Kent, WA

You can’t build an organization that’s fit for the future without first building one that’s fit for human beings

Gary Hamel – The future of management

Today we embark on the third of our virtual trails, one devoted to the businesses that make this country great.

Great companies turn great profits. In a capitalist system, no company is going to be considered successful unless it eventually returns a significant profit. But those are table stakes and the best companies aim higher. Yes, they produce great returns but they do so while also inspiring their employees and customers, strengthening their communities and making the world a better place. In fact, after the last 15 years at an organization called The Human Capital Institute, I have long since consumed the Koolaid that says they turn great profits because they do those other things.

On the Industry for the 21st Century trail we will visit the towns and cities these companies call home, starting in the Pacific Northwest.

Worth Celebrating

It is probably obvious since I have included it here, but I believe REI, the outdoor retailer based just south of Seattle, is an unusual company. I could write several long paragraphs explaining why but I think this video from the company itself sums it up nicely in less than two minutes.

A few years back, I was emceeing HCI’s annual Employee Engagement Conference in San Francisco. We have put on dozens of conferences on a variety of talent-related topics over the years but I have always found the topic of engagement to be the most inspiring. For those outside the realm of Strategic Talent Management, which I expect is most of the readers of this blog, the idea of engagement is simple; the more you are engaged with your work the better your work will be and the happier you will be with your job. There are all kinds of benefits of this, engagement leads to productivity, engaged people tend to feed the motivation of others around them too and engaged employees stay with the company longer and thus lower recruitment costs.

At this conference an HR executive from REI presented on the topic of employee experience and mentioned an idea that motivated me to do something I do pretty infrequently, get out my phone and open up Twitter. She referenced the hashtag #OptOutside. For the last five years, on November’s Black Friday – the busiest retail day of the year, REI has given all of its employees the day off to be outside with their friends and family. Other companies have gotten in on this act and I applaud all of them, but REI was the first I heard about and the move was also so completely in line with the company’s values I found it (and find it) inspiring.

Corporate Social Responsibility has been all the rage in big business for the last decade or more and on most of the Fortune 500’s websites you will find mission statements about “giving back to the community” and I am all for it. But it is not hard to see that for many of them it is a PR effort and not much else. The Stewardship Report at REI feels quite a bit different than that, not just because of what the company does, but because of the way they talk about it. My friend David Forman, the longtime Chief Learning Officer of HCI, uses a term he calls the Triple Win in some of his work. It represents a symbiotic world in which companies, their employees and the communities they live in all thrive by looking after their collective best interests. REI, which has been on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since 1998, feels like a company that embraces that concept.

This is not utopia, though. REI has challenges too. Covid-19 has hit the company hard, as it has with many retailers – it had a number of layoffs last year and it made headlines when it sold a brand new 400,000 square foot headquarters it had just completed to Facebook last summer without ever moving in. But even that direction, perhaps, was set with the same compass it has always seemed to use, the best interest of its overall ecosystem including its employees, members and the community.

Lest it seem that this post is about to embark on an anti-capitalism rant, I will clarify, I am all for corporate profits and big business. Not all companies can be co-ops like REI even if they wanted to be. But it turns out I think, that doing the right thing by employees, customers and communities is also good business.

Writing this post has caused me to think back to other Human Capital Institute conferences over the years. It has been more than a decade since with we had the author and professor Gary Hamel of London Business School as a keynote at our annual Human Capital Summit. His talk was about his, then, recent book The Future of Management. I listened as he made the comment in the quotation above and found it thought-provoking then, as I do now. His talk was quite similar to the one in this link below -I think it is as relevant today as it was then. If you have 15 minutes I highly recommend it. Better yet, watch it and then send it to your boss.


A Work in Progress

Kent, which is the sixth largest city in Washington, sits about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma and a bit farther east than either. It is quite a bit larger than the two cities we’ve covered in other trails thus far and it is growing much more rapidly. The city had 17,711 residents in 1970 and 131,118 in 2019, which represents growth of 640 percent.

Not suprisingly, that pace of growth has brought about a new set of challenges. Kent, which operates on a mayor-council system of government, announced its 2021 legislative priorities last month and many of them are consistent with a city trying to keep up with the rapidly changing needs of its residents.

There are several projects aimed at making commuting easier in the crowded roadways of the area, though it will be interesting to see what impact the decision by REI and other area companies to continue allowing large groups of employees to work from home, even after Covid, will have on traffic. However, tops on the list of priorities is Social Justice Reform. The City Council in its statement was relatively specific about what it means by that:

  • Social Justice Reform
    We are listening. We are learning. We are changing. The City is committed to working with state legislators, community members, and other stakeholders in identifying and supporting social justice reform. Specifically, the City requests that the Legislature fund mental health professionals to work alongside police officers, establish standardized use of force reporting requirements, fund data collection from law enforcement agencies to identify and address racial disparity, and allocate funding to ensure improved communication and access to government for non-English speaking individuals.

Balancing the desire for a change in the way police work with the continued need for police work is a front and center issue in this part of Washington and many cities across the nation. Last month, on the same day the legislative priorities were announced, a police car was set on fire outside City Hall and the city’s police chief went before the City Council two weeks later with some grim statistics on crime calling it “a little bit of an open season” due to Covid-19.

This interesting article about the Biden administration’s similar balancing act at the federal level appeared on the Voice of America website last week.

Coming up next on the Project to Find America, it’s back to the middle of the country for the launch of the Arts & Culture Trail.

The Great American Food & Drink Trail

Stop 1: Sanger, CA

The second of our virtual trails begins today on the topic of Food. This one will encompass a lot of things that make American great – great restaurants, great food producers, great craft brews and wine, great food trucks, etc etc etc. America’s history as a melting pot of all cultures has made it the most diverse food scene in the world but as much as that is true, it all starts with farms.

Worth Celebrating

When I think of farms I tend to think of the Midwest, it’s the whole Amber Waves of Grain thing. And if you have spent any time driving in the middle of this country you know that there are miles and miles and miles of just that. It is also tempting to think that farming is something that happens “out in the country,” far away from cities and towns.

But the largest U.S. state in terms of agricultural output is California, which, of course, is also the nation’s most populous and much of that farming is done within a few hours drive of both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nearly all of the top 10 ag counties in any given year are in California and tops on that list recently is Fresno County…right in the middle of California’s Central Valley.

There are not that many restaurants of note in Sanger, CA – a search on Trip Advisor reveals that Starbucks is 9th and Jack-in-the-Box 12th among the best restaurants in town. But every great restaurant in San Francisco or Los Angeles (or New York for that matter) owes a debt to Sanger and the other towns of Fresno County for many of the fruits and vegetables on which their chefs work their magic.

I’ve chosen Sanger as the base for this stop on the Food and Drink Trail but it might easily be nearby Clovis, or Kingsburg or Reedley, where the 2021 Fresno County Blossom Trail officially opened yesterday. Here’s a cool video of what the Blossom Trail looks like from this time last year. For those watching from snow-covered climes, that white stuff on the ground isn’t snow…it is almond blossoms.

California is said to produce a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruit and most of that is grown in the Central Valley, an expanse of about 18,000 square miles primarily made up of the Sacramento River valley in the north and the San Joaquin valley in the South.

Fresno County is particularly known for fruit and nuts. Roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of almonds grows in the Central Valley, much of it here and grapes (and the raisins they become) are also a huge commodity. The burgeoning Almond industry is controversial on multiple levels (see below) but it has been a boon to the area’s farmers as prices for almonds, which now rank as the US’ most valuable specialty crop export, have risen steadily over the last decade.

Today’s virtual celebration, though, is really about all the crops that grow in this region. I have never been to the Central Valley at blossom time, which is about to begin, but I spent a lot of time going up and down the region during my two baseball trips in April of 1991 and again in 2003. There are minor league teams in several towns in the region and everywhere I went I was blown away at the abundance of fruit and vegetables growing in the fields all around you. I camped next to an almond grove outside Modesto and recall buying artichokes 15-for-a-dollar a little farther west near Salinas.


In addition to being a fan of restaurants I also like to cook so posts on the Food & Drink trail may also include recipes. Here’s one from Chicago restaurateur Rick Bayless for Mole Poblano. It is a classic Mexican sauce most notable because it contains chocolate, but both of Fresno County’s prime crops, Almonds and Raisins, also play a starring role. I’m going to try it with some roasted turkey this weekend, if you make it let me know how it turns out.

A Work in Progress

As abundant as the farm lands of the Central Valley are, they are equally controversial. Water – where it comes from and how it is used is a vitally important issue throughout drought-stricken California but nowhere is it more front and center than in the Central Valley.

Almonds are a particular source of contention. As successful as almond growing has become many critics worry that the water they consume (apparently much more than grapes, for instance,) is endangering the state’s water supply, perhaps permanently. There are one-sided shame pieces under helpful headings like “nuts you should stop eating” like this one and more well-researched articles like this one. There are also articles encouraging people to stop vilifying almonds.

Like most other tough challenges facing the United States there are plenty of strong feelings and it is much easier to say what should not be done than what should be. Meanwhile the issue has created a growing gulf between the urban dwellers who live on the coast of the state and the farmers in inland California. Valley PBS, the Central Valley’s public broadcasting station is in Season Two of a fascinating program called American Grown – My Job Depends on AG…it’s worth a look some evening even if you live far away from this area…chances are some of the food in your pantry comes from here.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy Super Bowl weekend, we’ll see you next week for the start of the 21st Century Industry trail and if you missed last week’s post, here’s the start of the Innovative History Trail.

An Innovative History Trail

Stop 1: Atchison, KS

Happy Thursday! Since this is the first entry in this series I want to try to explain a bit about what I have planned in the days ahead. We will launch six “virtual tours” – perhaps someday they might even be actual tours of the United States. Each of these tours is going to follow a “trail.” Pre-Covid anyway, these had become all the rage in the world of tourism. There are Craft Brew Trails, Bourbon Trails, Fruit Trails, even Quilting Trails and, perhaps not surprisingly, I love the concept – find something you are passionate about, then travel around and experience lots of it…yes please, sign me up!

The six topics behind the trails represent things I am interested in, you might choose some different ones or an entirely different six so feel free to skip over trails that don’t interest you. If it seems interesting or valuable to you, I could even try to figure out if it is possible to subscribe to the different series separately. Drop me a line.

Why am I doing this? First and pretty simply, I think it will be fun…fun to research and fun to write. Why am I writing about it and sharing it with others? Well, beyond being fun I am hopeful that these stories will be reassuring to me and perhaps to you. If our view of the outside in our Covid-confined and confused world comes from the headlines in Google News or the nightly news broadcasts or worse, social media, the United States can feel like a pretty hopeless place. But for all its warts, which have been on full display for the last year, I believe it is still a pretty amazing country full of amazing people and places. Thus, the first order of business in each of these posts will be to share something that, I think anyway, is Worth Celebrating.

But I also want the posts to go a little beyond the Chamber of Commerce view of the world. Each of the stops on these trails are real places with cool stuff to be sure, but also real challenges that they often have in common with other communities across the country and around the world. So the second focus on each stop is entitled A Work in Progress. It will be made up of a few links that cover a particular challenge that the community is working on and various solutions that have been presented to it.

Also, a note about the stops on these trails and the order in which they are presented. This is not meant to be a ranking of the “Top 50 Fabulous Historic Sites to read about before you die.” I think the last thing this country needs is yet another reason to compete with itself. Instead, geography is driving what is included here. Four of the trails will begin in the four corners of the country and the other two, including today’s, will begin in the middle. My hope, if the project lasts long enough, is to include stops in all 50 states and multiple parts of each state but the stops will mainly be contiguous, meaning that, most of the time, the next stop on each trail will be in a neighboring state to the last one.

Finally, this wordy post notwithstanding, I am hoping that most of these posts can be read in five minutes but link to information you could spend a weekend on if you so choose. Without further ado…

Worth Celebrating

I expect that the members of my family knew what the focus of the first post was going to be as soon as they saw Atchison. My brothers and I grew up in a train-focused household. My dad worked for railroads, covered railroads in magazines and even wrote a book about railroads and, in his spare time, took, literally, thousands of pictures of trains. It is not an exaggeration, I don’t think, to say that for every baseball park picture and video I’ve taken, he took ten of trains. At some level he passed on that passion to each of his boys and I have crisscrossed the country by train several times over the years, most recently with my own son.

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad no longer exists by that name, it merged with the Burlington Northern Railroad to become the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway at the end of 1996. But for more than a century the AT&SF was one of the most important railroads in the country and a primary driver in the country’s westward expansion. It was chartered in February of 1859 and although it progressed relatively quickly on the 55 miles between the first two cities in its charter, it was another 692 to the next one. The railroad originally bypassed Santa Fe, New Mexico and it’s mountainous terrain and had been connected all the way to the west coast for several years before its namesake terminus finally got train service via an 18-mile branch line from Lamy, NM. A bit of trivia, that short line railroad, more recently known as the Santa Fe Southern was reportedly recently purchased by a group that includes George R.R. Martin, the screenwriter of Game of Thrones.

There is a nice summary of the AT&SF history in that region on the New Mexico Museum of Art’s website and here is a longer but nicely complete Wikipedia entry on the railroad overall.

The AT&SF is the long checkered blue line that covers most of the bottom left of the map in the board game Rail Baron

Unlike some of its competitors, the Santa Fe made passenger travel a priority. It ran several famous passenger trains all the way from Chicago to the West Coast through the first half of the last century and before dining cars became commonly used on long distance trains, the Santa Fe partnered with the Fred Harvey Company to feed passengers at a growing network of diners and hotels known as Harvey Houses. They became so famous they were the subject of a movie musical starring Judy Garland; my brother Rory loves both trains and musicals so this video is for him.

Judy Garland becomes a “Harvey Girl”

Atchison, a city that today has just over 10,000 residents might seem a strange place to be the eastern terminus of one of the country’s most important railroads but the pictures below from a trip Alistair and I took in 2019 explain part of why it is was chosen. The city sits on the banks of the Missouri River and the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through on July 4, 1804. That’s the Lewis & Clark pavilion in the picture below along with, notably, a railroad bridge that connected Chicago to Los Angeles.

One final note on this city’s incredible history – Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison in 1897 and the city’s airport bears her name today.

If feeling inspired for more – both Amelia, a 2009 film starring Hilary Swank and The Harvey Girls are available for rental on Amazon Prime and a few other platforms.

A Work in Progress

Despite its very unusual history, Atchison has many of the same challenges as small cities across the country. This interesting infographic from the city’s website tells a tale many other communities could tell too – a gradual decline in population (the city had just over 12,000 residents in 1970 and just over 10,000 today, ) declining home values and fairly stagnant wages. To underscore this last point, the most recent median household income figure was $41,268 in 2017, an annual increase of $1,151 from seven years earlier. Written this way begs the question..is that good or bad? But that increase works out to 2.8% – barely above the 2.1 percent inflation rate over the same period.

Not surprisingly then, wage growth was at the top of the list of “frequently cited concerns” in the city’s 2016-2030 strategic planning document and that is despite the fact that Atchison has a more diverse population of employers than many cities of its size. Local Benedictine College was the largest employer in the city at the time of this 2020 infographic and the city’s hospital was second, but third and fifth on the list are local manufacturers. Bradken, an Australian corporation is the current owner of a steel foundry right in the center of town that has been making rail and transit components since 1872 and MGP Ingredients, which makes a variety of distilled spirits and food ingredients is headquartered in Atchison and employs more than 200 people.

Why are wages growing so slowly? This article from the nearby Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank looks at that very question. More stories are here and here

There are no easy answers to this challenge but it is one I expect to see repeated in many other communities across the country.

Coming up Friday, we will start the wheels moving on the Food and Restaurant Trail in the town of Sanger, CA – right in the heart of California’s Central Valley.