Retrofit Cohousing Communities: Can they solve the elder housing shortage?

pat nichols birthday

Growing up in the Cole Addition in Cheyenne, WY in the 1960s. This is my across the alley neighbor Pat Nichol’s birthday party.

I remember growing up in a neighborhood where the kids all hung around together and the reason our parents knew each other was because of bands kids running through one another’s houses. Garage doors were always open and lots of neighborhood birthday parties happened on the weekends.

We Baby Boomers, now well into our 60s and 70s, are trying to figure out how we will be cared for now that our kids are scattered all over the country with lives of their own, or in my case, no kids.

According to a 2015 US Aging Survey, 58 percent of seniors have lived in the same home for at least the past 20 years. Even though people ideally want to stay in one place, there continues to be anecdotal evidence about future uncertainty. While researching this story I asked in a facebook post, “Who will take care of you when you get old?” I was surprised at the 2,000+ engagements and 850 responses that ranged from “myself” to “nobody” to “I don’t know” to “maybe one of my kids” to “my cohousing neighbors.”

Cohousing intentionally tries to replicate neighborhood relationships that came about organically, by “building community, one neighborhood at a time.”

There’s a big unseen housing shortage that will become larger in the years to come. Did you know that 10,000 people turn 65 everyday? While many seniors are able to live independently, there will come a point when we will need assistance or be unable to take care of ourselves.

This growth is pressing seniors and their families to think differently and more broadly about a whole host of issues: housing, transportation, social services, cultural offerings, health and wellness programs, to name a few.

Life care managers, like gerontologists and social workers, believe there is a strong correlation between safe and affordable housing and keeping seniors healthy through accessible informal and formal care giving.

A longer life doesn’t always translate into a better quality of life. No one knows this better than the millions of adult children caring for their parents who struggle to remain in family homes and communities ill-designed for the challenges of aging. Those challenges include long travel distances, non-existent or limited relationships among parents and their children.

Historically, seniors aged in their homes for as long they could with support from family and informal caregivers, until they died or health conditions deteriorated to the point that hospital or nursing home care was necessary.

These data are now flipped. In his book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” Atul Gawande observes that now, the vast majority of people die in the hospital or long term care facilities rather than at home.

golden girls

The “Golden Girls” were among the cooperative living trend setters – ABC

The circumstances of where, how, and with whom people grow old are changing. From “Golden Girls” roommate households to high-rise artist-centered apartments, Baby Boomers are redefining how they live out their lives — breaking down the old stereotypes and rules, and building new visions of great places to grow old, and doing it better living in community.

One such housing configuration is cohousing. Cohousing communities consist of neighbors who decide to live together in their private homes and agree upon common values, share in some form of consensus decision-making, operate and maintain common spaces such as a common house where cohousers share meals and activities together.

What if this cohousing “secret sauce” is applied to other senior and multigenerational housing configurations?

Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRC) are good for some. For decades, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have offered older adults (usually age 65 and older) an innovative and independent lifestyle that differs from other housing and care options. CCRCs offer a living continuum  in which residents transition from independent to assisted to long-term care.

The CCRC model is appropriate for retrofit cohousing because cohousing can be the entry point to a CCRC. The main limitation of retrofitting an existing CCRC is one of control. CCRCs are typically managed “top-Down” as opposed yo resident directed.

Retrofit cohousing residents govern themselves and become accustomed to community living. That doesn’t mean giving up independence, but being collaborative among others with independent lives. While there would be changes in the cohort, the idea is that it would remain intact and repopulated with others attracted to the community lifestyle.

CCRCs allow seniors to convert home equity or other assets into a place to live and receive daily living services and health care that keeps monthly expenditures more stable – like a meal plan in the dorms. A CCRC isn’t for everybody.

The National Long Term Care Survey is a nationally-representative sample both of the community and of institutionalized populations and is longitudinal in that sample persons join the survey once they reach 65 years of age and stay in the survey until they either die or are lost to follow-up. The NLTCS data from 2004 are not up to date, but find that while CCRC residents are the oldest and sickest population, they have the highest incomes, with an average household income of $40,000-$45,000. Compare that to those in assisted or independent living who report average incomes of $24,000.

CCRCs are a tried and true lifestyle option for some seniors, particularly those with higher incomes and net worth, but what about everyone else?

alan wheel chair

My last day in rehab after six weeks in ICU and recovering from two surgeries in 2013.

Applying cohousing principles, relationships developed among neighbors and subsequent sharing of tasks and care for one another can help delay the need for other types of independent and assisted living. Adapting existing housing configurations – senior or multigenerational – by adding the tenets of cohousing emulates what is provided in a CCRC:

  • Private residences and common areas;
  • A continuum of service, including food services, housekeeping, social and recreational outlets, transportation, and health-care services, as needed;
  • Housing rent or ownership that may utilize home equity to help keep monthly expenses lower

Buying into a CCRC is not cheap. Entrance fees range from about $20,000 to more than $500,000 or even $1,000,000, based on an area’s cost of living. This is clearly unaffordable to most people.

hospital monitors

Six weeks in the hospital and rehab and homeboubd for a mobth after. One day I was healthy, a couple months later I was on my death bed.

We’re all getting older every day. Unfortunately, for many young people say, under 50, the prospects of aging aren’t on their radar screens. It isn’t until the “Join AARP” membership cards start coming in the mail and phone calls from parents in the hospital announcing, “I fell down and can’t get up” that they begin to take notice.

Home living conditions have a huge impact on the health of seniors living with long-term illness and their abilities to live independently. Care managers and geriatricians are often called upon to give advice to families about where their aging family members who have developed illnesses or a disability can live, according to the Aging Life Care Association.

Seniors and their families now seek more information about the relationship between safe, affordable housing and health. At-risk older people who are on fixed incomes with no familial safety net are more likely to be living in non-decent rental or owner-occupied housing.

The 4th annual 2015 United States of Aging Survey, conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and UnitedHealthcare, examines senior perspectives on aging and what communities can do to better support an increasing, longer-living senior population. The survey included a nationally representative sample of 1,650 Americans 60 and older, and professionals who work closely with them. These data support a need for supportive and collaborative communities.

Financial concerns:

  • The top financial worries that keep seniors up at night are increasing costs of living, 28 percent and unexpected medical expenses, 24 percent.

Maintaining health:

  • Professionals and seniors agree that maintaining good health as they age as important. They named eating healthy, 91 percent and 72 percent, respectively; maintaining a positive attitude, 86 percent and 72 percent; and getting enough sleep, 79 percent and 67 percent.

Staying at home and independent:

  • When asked what concerns they have about living independently, 42 percent of seniors say they are most concerned about becoming a burden to others, 41 percent said experiencing memory loss and 34 percent said not being able to get out of the house and/or drive.

Community Support:

  • 59 percent of seniors say that young people today are less supportive of seniors than their own generation was in previous years, 24 percent see the same levels of support, and 12 percent say young people are more supportive of older adults;
  • 47 percent, (down from 54 percent in 2014 and 49 percent in 2013) and 37 percent of the professionals say their community is doing enough to prepare for the needs of retiring Baby Boomers.
alan shoveling poster

Cohousers share in the chores around the community.

Retrofit cohousing can fill the housing gap. The cohousing model originated in Denmark in the 1960s. Architects Katie McCamant and Chuck Durrett brought the concept to the United States in the 1980s. The legal structure is typically a Home Owners Association (HOA) or Housing Cooperative.

Most cohousing communities are multigenerational, but over time, become senior communities because of people who agein place. There are around 11 established senior-only cohousing communities and more in the forming stages. Most cohousing communities are new-build or adapted developments and some retrofits.

Research points to a variety of cohousing benefits. The most often mentioned benefits relate to reducing social isolation. The cohousing secret sauce provides for intentional socializing, neighborly support when under the weather, sharing chores, sharing expertise, and having neighbors who share similar interests.

Compared to the general population, cohousers are more likely to be a homeowner, highly educated, Democrat, White, female, and age 60 or older, according to the Cohousing Research Network.

Traditional cohousing communities may not represent the characteristics of a broader segment of the population that is interested in cohousing but unable to access, or would be interested if they knew about it. This is where retrofit cohousing can help fill the gap.

How a cohousing community gets started is like forming a club. A few strong advocates seek others to join the community development efforts. In addition to finding like-minded people who want to live together, they must also have the financial resources to invest in land, design and construction, patience to decide on countertops and landscaping and have the time to wait while all this happens. This ground-up process often takes three to five years or more with potential members coming and going.

The cohousing model can also be applied to more structured housing configurations such as existing CCRCs, stand-alone independent living communities, assisted living or long-term care facilities; and people living dispersed within a geographic area such as the Beacon Hill Village in Massachusetts.

beacon hill village

Beacon Hill Village in Boston is a member-drive organization that provides services so members can lead active lives, while living in their own homes and neighborhoods.

Retrofit cohousing communities are more diverse. Data from a 2012 Cohousing Research Network study by Angela Sanguinetti compared the residents of retrofit cohousing communities (those that grow over time in existing residential developments) with the residents of traditional cohousing (new-build or adapted developments that start from scratch, involving a full group of members in the planning process who move in all at once).

When applying the tenets of cohousing, “retrofit” can also be a community of people who don’t live in the same proximity. Housing is housing, but the cohousing culture is what makes the community. The Beacon Hill Village is an existing dispersed community of 500 seniors who agree upon how to be active and supportive of one another rather than reliant on others to “take care” of them all the time. They provide neighborly support with one another and coordinate outside social and physical care giving when necessary.

The Beacon Hill approach would be appropriate to multigenerational communities as well. Since all are aging, it seems like people don’t get around to planning for their life care until it’s almost too late.

chung nyc coho

Jeddy and Cynthia created an accidental cohousing community in Flushing, NYC.

Residents of retrofit cohousing in one place include more young people, full-time students, renters, racial minorities, single householders, and households with fewer financial assets. An example, while not called “cohousing” is the case of a group of apartment dwellers in Flushing, New York City who became an accidental community.

Sanguinetti’s study finds that retrofit cohousing residents did not differ from traditional cohousing residents in terms of political affiliation or the level of education. The retrofit model may mitigate some barriers for a broader group of interested cohousers by being less resource-intensive.

The social support that cohousing offers may be beneficial for an aging population. Senior cohousing has received recent attention as a model to support well being, and aging in place through emotional support and activities of mutual assistance (e.g., doing errands, driving, cooking, or going for a walk with a neighbor), downsizing, and safety.

How does retrofit cohousing work? In a retrofit situation the community development steps are the same as for a traditional cohousing community. “Burning soul” advocates and other group members may or may not live in the same building or community. They may decide to move into the same apartment or condo complex, but would follow a typical cohousing development process such as these three steps that were identified by CoLiving Canada:

Feasibility study

  • Discuss and agree upon community values and perhaps, a higher purpose, which would fill the need to walk their community values talk while participating in service projects;
  • Whether you’re three or thirty people, come up with a name and “elevator speech” identifying the community. Referring to yourselves as a “bunch of housemates” doesn’t tell about your community story;
  • Community cohesiveness could be built around a higher purpose of community service that binds a community together.
  • Once you kick the can down the road a few blocks, check your state laws about homeowner association regulations. You will find they set up HOAs that do not mirror cohousing very well – lots of centralized power and control, lots of voting. Save this intil later, because conforming cohousing declarations with state laws is a chore.

Develop budgets

  • There likely will be common expenses that relate to community activities, coordinating transportation, common meals, intra-community communication and a fee structure to pay for all or part.
  • Community values and mission are umplemented through the budget by teams – overall steeringteam equivalent to a board of directores, social events, managing building and grounds, procesd and governance, finances and legal matters,
  • The entire community approves by consensus the budget or any action for that matter, and the steering team ratifies the action also by consensus.

Design and Construction

  • If you’re sharing a big house, there will be design issues about designating common spaces and storage. Some design and construction in retrofits may be necessary if you’re in an existing condo community or apartment building is adapted. This may include renovating an existing dwelling unit into a common space with a guest room and common kitchen which was the case at Boulder Creek cohousing in Colorado;
  • Identify resident needs, how the “site” functions – if it is in an existing physical development like a condo association, apartment complex, or households dispersed within a given boundary;
  • Determine what are considered “common spaces” which may not be literally common, but function in common. These may be in private homes for shared meals and meetings, civic spaces, churches, libraries

Looking for a few cohousing retrofit pioneers. There are plenty of individuals who are interested in cohousing. Some of you may have managed to form into group that has begun the traditional cohousing process but you’ve bumped into obstacles including lack of money, no suitable land available, professionals such as architects who are only willing to give so much upfront service, group members who can no longer wait for the community to get off the ground. There are well-documented war stories.

I want to prove the concept. I’m seeking one or more people, preferably in the Denver-area to organize a retrofit cohousing community and facilitate you through the process.

  • Maybe, you don’t need a place to live or have bumped into some community development obstacles, but want to create connections with other like-minded people as a hedge against loneliness and living in isolation;
  • Maybe you live in an apartment building and your neighbors are interested in a more collaborative lifestyle;
  • Maybe you are affiliated with an existing assisted living community and want to adopt appropriate cohousing principles

There are varying opinions about whether what I describe is actually cohousing, but regardless, I want to hear from you. Email adoecos@yahoo.com

In case you’re wondering about my interest in this topic, I became Medicare-eligible this year and live in the Silver Sage Village cohousing community in Boulder, Colorado.

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I was a Cheyenne Frontier Days ‘Carny’ – The World Needs More Cowboys

carny cfd

Carnival worker Anise was my mentor many years ago when I worked at the Bill Hame’s Show during Cheyenne Frontier Days. CFD is again upon us. It’s the last full week in July, plus an extra weekend. I’ve been away from Cheyenne for many years, but still manage to make to CFD for at least a few days each July.

The chutes opened for another Cheyenne Frontier Days. I don’t know if I’ve missed one.

I’ll be up for Cheyenne Day and getting some men and women on the street interviews with CFD volunteers for the Volunteer Crisis Fund tribute I produce each year.

I like to be a part of the action.

There are a bunch of locals who could care less about CFD and leave town during the busiest time of the year.

My mom was big into CFD. She used to sing in a group called the Dearies organized through her women’s club. They sang old time songs and rode in the parade, as did my sister and I. Later, we sold pop at the parade.

Back when I was a newspaper columnist in Lander, I wondered what it was like to work in a carnival and decided to give it a go. I had a pretty good experience and can see how people get addicted to that vagabond lifestyle.

Turns out that the TV and movie business is a lot like the carny life. I worked an ABC Sports gig for a CU – Nebraska game which was as grueling, but didn’t involve sales.

This is my account of that July weekend.

Pink Floyd’s “Money” filled the clear, still evening surrounding the double ferris wheel across from the balloon dart game booth at the Frontier Park carnival where I worked for the Bill Hames Show.

Running off to join the carnival was something I’d always wanted to try and there’s no better time than the present. Getting a stranger to hand you their money with the chance nothing will be given in return is entrepreneurship in its purist form.

I always had a very romantic view of the carnival life as one of freedom, no cares, and endless foot long hotdogs.

The world needs more cowboys.

It’s now 7:30 pm on a busy Saturday night during CFD and I met Wes who had traveled with the show for many years. He finished his supper and escorted me across the Midway where I was introduced to Dozier Simmons.

He and his wife, Angelyn, manage a half dozen games for Kelley’s Concessions out of Alabama and one of several companies affiliated with the Hames Company.

“Here’s a shirt and badge. This is Anice. Just do what she does,” Dozier said as I pulled the blue knit polo shirt over my head.

“The object of the game is to buy a dart for a dollar, bust a balloon for your choice of a small mirror. Five wins for a large mirror,” Anice explained.

“Mirror” is a misnomer since the prizes are non-reflective square pieces of glass with pictures silk-screened on the back.

“I’m just part time – a couple nights a week. I live in Englewood and work at a print shop in Denver. I share a motel room in Cheyenne with one of the other women and her boy friend. I used to work full time, but the guy I was with beat me up and I left the show a couple years ago. Dozier asked if I’d work for him again,” she said while tying a knot in one of the spare balloons.

The game is really rough on the fingers – the world needs more cowboys.

Each of the mirrors slips into a cardboard sleeve to protect the paint and prevent patron injuries.

No matter how careful, I still managed to slice little cuts where I never thought had any useful purpose like on the index finger cuticle which gets irritated each time a balloon stem gets tied off.

My hands bled the entire weekend.

Tonight there’s another woman working with us named Amber. “I’m trained as a nurse and working here until something opens up in town,” she said.

Amber was tenderly limping around the area in obvious pain. “It’s not my foot, it’s my back. I was shot in the abdomen and it hit a disc on the way out,” she pulled up her shirt and showed the scars. “I ruptured another disc moving a box of these mirrors and have to have surgery again.”

After I arrived, the counter was divided up into thirds, “Amber takes the first third, I’ll take the middle and you take the other end,” Anice said with authority, since it’s her joint. I was the newbie and was at the end of the lineup.

There’s an infinitely long imaginary line separating each of the sections, sort of like the invisible cylinder above a basketball hoop used to determine goal tending.

Common courtesy is to avoid cross-hawking. Taking a fellow carny’s business is counter productive. Anice advices me, “If you pull that stunt on one of the guys who’s traveling with the show, he’ll knock the hell out of you. I’m just telling this to you for your own good, if you decide to do this again.”

The dart game marks are pretty easy to spot: biker types wearing all black and mirror shades – “Hey buddy, I’ve got an Ozzy mirror that would go great with the Ozzy T-shirt you’re wearing;” pre-adolescent boys minus parents with their fists gripped around several one dollar bills – “Do you play Little League? Then this game is a cinch. Bust one and win a Bon Jovi mirror;” young touchy- feely couples – “Hey pal, why don’t you be a gentleman and win her another one of these cute panda bear mirrors;” grandparents escorting grandchildren too short to see over the counter – “Tell you what, I’ll let your little cowboy stand on the edge here so he can  be equal to the taller kids.”

The Simmonses stop by to pick our money on their regular rounds. This time, Dozier has a swelled up eye and skinned up elbows. “Some college kid from Colorado punched him out over there. The police took him away,” Angelyn said in a scornful southern drawl.

The carnival business is tough. I didn’t run into any trouble.

Of course the dart game is pretty easy to win, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who miss.

Losers are bad for business.

As soon as someone misses, the crowd disperses as if in mass thinking, “Yes, this game is somehow rigged.”

The hours on your feet are long and the mental intensity high.

At midnight, there’s only one more hour to go and even Anice’s bark is complacent. The smiles become forced.

When you get busy, you have to keep up the endless personal chatter with everyone waiting in line while you’re locating the right mirror or putting up more balloons so they don’t leave. Everyone who plays is a potential return customer.

It’s closing time.

Dozier calls my name, “See you at 10 in the morning. We’re each paid a percentage of our individual take. I inflated 150 balloons today and my jaw aches.

Angelyn hands me $31.00.

It’s now Sunday, the last day of CFD and the crowd is much smaller. When the rodeo lets out, there’s a brief surge. No night show tonight, either. Tomorrow  is a work day for the locals and many of the tourists are either gone or out of money.

Amber called in sick this morning and arrived late in the afternoon. I noticed she’s working another joint across the way and worry that I encroached on her balloon dart game turf.

Anice and I spend the morning chatting between marks. It being Sunday, religion dominates the discussion. Anice is a born again Christian and feels carnival witnessing is part of her calling. There’s a Shroud of Turin mirror which is very popular today – both sizes.

A young drifter asks me if it’s okay to stow his bag under the counter. He’s looking for Dozier to ask him for a job. The next big stop is the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. We hit it off, probably because I didn’t rifle through his stuff.

He turned out to be real hard worker.

The food isn’t very appetizing and I chose to go without, which proved to be a mistake.

By nightfall the marks are getting tired and not as eager to play. Women and kids just ask to buy a mirror.

“No they’re not for sale. There’s more personal satisfaction in throwing the dart.”

Men try to get better terms and ask “How about three darts for a dollar, or two wins for the large mirror?”

At 10:00 pm the place comes to a screeching halt.

The air is finally quiet.

The neon lights stop flashing.

“Let’s get this place cleaned up. I want it to look like we were never here!”, Juanita screams to three kids in charge of sweeping the asphalt parking lot.

Juanita runs the joint across from ours in which softballs are tossed into a milk can to win a Spuds McKenzie stuffed toy.

The women who operate each of the joints are the informal lead workers supervising the “slough” which is the carnival dismantling process.

There are a dozen of us sloughing. All the prize stock is bagged and locked in the water race trailer.

The dart game trailer is hitched to the panel truck and hauled out.

The parking lot is empty.

It’s now 2:15 am.

Dozier hands me $50 and says, “We’ll see you next year.”

I earned enough to make a deal with another CFD vendor and ended up buying a pool cue from him.

Carnival inner circles are tough to break into and I felt like I gained a little respect among my fellow carnies by paying my initiation dues all the way through the slough.

Next time I do this, I’ll remember a pair of gloves – and eat more often!

The World Needs More Cowboys.

Political Myth No. 2:  “Cowboy State” and “Equality State” are contradictory nicknames

There’s been quite the flap over the University of Wyoming slogan about the world needing more cowboys. Phil Roberts wrote this perspective in this piece in Wyoming Almanac.

The new University of Wyoming recruitment slogan “The World News More Cowboys!” has caused quite a stir among Cowboy Nation.

On its surface, the slogan is exclusive to men which has caused the uproar. The Wyoming mainstream seems to think it’s another liberal and politically-correct fake-news conspiracy and no big deal.

Maybe I’m just old school and think that a slogan or logline needs to stand on its own without explanation or rationale.

Apparently, along with the slogan, are images of non-stereotypical cowboys, who would be an Asian student smiling at the camera while at the library.

Maybe a woman signing up for a class at the registrar’s office.

Cognitive dissonance.

That’s a little heady. Whether or not one ad campaign touting the least populated state in the nation gains any traction is anyone’s guess. The negative pushback has received more national media attention than the UW administration hoped.

Particularly since the story is now about the provincial Wyoming mentality about western expansion and Native American genocide vs. whatever image the school is trying to project about there is “no such thing as a cowboy” except in myth.

osu cowboys slogan

Oklahoma State University’s alumni and friends are the epitome of loyal and true. With a love of all things orange, you can help share the spirit of OSU with the next generation of Cowboys and Cowgirls! 
If you know a high school or transfer student that would make a great addition to the Cowboy family, please consider passing along his or her information.

The other aspect about this strikes me as weird. Oklahoma State University (OSU) also are the Cowboys and came up with the same “The World Needs More Cowboys” slogan. Apparently OSU and UW came to an agreement that Wyoming could use the slogan, too.

I want to know the backstory about the Boulder, Colorado ad firm that co-opted the OSU slogan and paid $500,000 to “develop” it.

Just a coincidence?

OSU came to fisticuffs in 1993 over the Pistol Pete trademark infringement. OSU prevailed in that one and Wyoming can use Pistol Pete, but I haven’t seen that logo used in recent times. New Mexico State University recently settled with OSU about it’s Pistol Pete logo. NMSU has since moved on from Pistol Pete.

It takes academic analysis to explain the Wyoming slogans. Retired UW history professor gave a very thorough vetting of the issue in 2007:

Cowboy State? Equality State?

By Phil Roberts

The new Wyoming quarter, officially unveiled in September 2007, shows Wyoming’s license-plate bucking horse and next to it are three words: “The Equality State.”

It’s not the only place where the seemingly contradictory nicknames seem to joust for dominance.  The legislature designated the state officially as “the Equality State” back in the early 1900s, but even Wyoming Public Radio refers to Wyoming with the more “tourist-friendly” nickname, “The Cowboy State.”

The cowboy is an image that has been with us for a very long time. The bucking horse went on the license plate in 1935—the first logo on any license plate in America.

If a state has a “self-image” (something I often question), are we more drawn to one than the other?  “Cowboy State?”  “Equality State?”  Doesn’t one cancel out the other? Are these contradictions?

I say the two nicknames represent remarkably compatible concepts.  In modern times, the image of the cowboy has taken a beating, becoming stereotyped, for good or bad, as a term denoting reckless foreign policy, for instance, or fiercely intolerant and destructive acts against the environment.  Cowboys, in Hollywood film, have been gun-toting, fighting, hard-drinking white guys who showed educated sophistication when it came to dealing with women, the law and the community–the ones wearing white hats anyway.

But like all stereotypes, this one is mostly wrong when you look at history.  Open-range cowboys in frontier Wyoming came from every racial and ethnic group. Most didn’t have anything except a saddle and a backpack—and sometimes, his own horse. Few had even rudimentary education. They were mostly the floating transient population of their day.

That is not to say they lacked understanding of their environment. Unlike farmers who tried to change the landscape by clearing land and digging irrigation ditches or miners that dug big ugly holes in the ground, the cowboy lived with the environment. He put on a slicker when it rained, tied his hat down tight with a bandanna to keep the winter winds at bay, and tried to protect his charges from thirst, snow-blindness, and wolves. He knew he couldn’t change the environment; he just had to live with what it dealt him.

And the equality part?  Mostly, he judged other cowboys by how well he rode, whether he paid you back if you loaned him a quarter for cigarettes, how hard he worked, and whether you can count on him to watch your back in a fracas. Every man had to prove himself, regardless of race or ancestry. It didn’t matter how great one’s family was. It was what he was that counted. As my grandmother used to say, “Every tub sits on its own bottom.”

But there are awful lapses in how Wyomingites have dealt with “equality.” From the Rock Springs massacre to the Black 14 and Mathew Shepard, some would say “equality” isn’t a nickname Wyoming deserves. I disagree.

“The cowboy state” ought to reflect the non-stereotypical past—when being a cowboy meant honor, capacity for hard work, and respect for the individual. In some ways, it is “historical”—a touchstone to look back to for inspiration. It is retrospective—even a mythical way for us to identify with the past.

And the “equality state”—that nickname is aspirational—a goal toward which we ought to be striving. While we likely will continue to come up short, being mindful of striving for equality ought to continue to make us not only a more humane society, but conscious of our state’s reputation for friendliness to visitors, for dedication to community, for tolerance of other’s views—and for valuing individual differences.

And the two nicknames aren’t contradictory. As we aspire to greater equality, we need to remain true to the “cowboy” way that brought us this to this point—not just the Hollywood version, but what came from the reality of the Wyoming cowboy of the open-range days.

After all, they are both on the same coin.

Democrats: Is there a better story other than ‘POTUS IS A BUFFOON’?

trump cartoon

Whether you like POTUS or not the only way to change things is at the voting booth.

I’m growing tired of my progressive friends espousing what they despise about our sitting president.

Yeah, he’s a womanizer, disrespectful of people different from himself, a pathologic liar and otherwise a dastardly dotard – not to mention his staff members.

But those are given.

In which case, why rehash all that day-in and day-out?

Democrats have no identity, let alone a story boiled down to an elevator speech.

It’s like arguing that cigarettes cause cancer. We all know that. Even the tobacco companies believe it. It’s printed on every cigarette pack. I won’t even get into the “it was the Russians” or “it was the electoral college” or any of the other red-herring issues. The Trump campaign was just a little smarter, but I digress.

Why waste time, words and energy?

Every anti-POTUS comment translates into a free ads for the sitting president that energize his base even more. POTUS stands for “Making America Great Again” but his roadshow casts that in a different light. Witness his recent whistle stop in Montana.

If you’re not in favor of making America great again, what do you believe?

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 7.24.28 AM

As of June 2018, this map shows there are 90 competitive districts (brown). You can rest assured that the Republicans are out in force.

Here it is 2018 – the midterm election cycle – and there is no coherent message from the Democratic Party.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is trying to reinvent herself; Elizabeth Warren is on the stump; I still get emails from Bernie. But it’s the same old anti-POTUS schtick.

If I’m wrong on this, please set me straight.

Sure there are candidates who have this figured out, like MJ Hegar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez running for congressional seats in Texas and Hawaii.

Based on Hegar’s video, I put down $5 and am following her congressional race. No facts and figures cluttering up the really great story.

The map on the right shows where the contested districts are located. If you live in a safe district, like me in Colorado’s 2nd CD, send your money and pound the pavement for candidates who may have a chance turn the tide. In the fall of 2017, I spent a lot of cyber-time helping get Doug Jones elected. As an analog action I had pizza delivered to volunteers in Huntsville.

There’s a lot a volunteer can do from afar.

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This is a 1980 Ronald Reagan “Make America Great Again” campaign button from my collection.

Republicans are really good at principled messaging. I think it was Ronald Reagan who originally coined “Make America Great Again” slogan and articulated what people feel in his famous “morning in America” ads.

Obama took a page out of the Reagan playbook, with his “Hope and Change” campaign. He was a very principled, retail politician. Unlike his Democratic predecessors he told stories rather than spouting facts and figures.

I picked up a book called “The Political Brain” by Drew Weston. The book shows how a different view of the mind and brain leads to a different way of talking with voters about issues that have tied the tongues of Democrats for much of forty years—such as abortion, guns, taxes, and race. You can’t change the structure of the brain. But you can change the way you appeal to it.

BUSH DUKAKIS DEBATE 1988

Michael Dukakis was unable to recover from his non-principled responses during a debate with George HW Bush.

In 1988, Mike Dukakis is asked during a debate if he would favor the death penalty for a rapist if he assaulted and murdered his wife, Kitty. His response wasn’t about how horrific the crime is, or how he would feel or his wife’s anguish, he responds with the data show that the death penalty isn’t a crime deterrent.

Sheesh.

Republicans have boiled down Democrats to “tax and spend liberals.” That’s a throwback to the 1932 New Deal and the 1965 Great Society. Democrats haven’t gone on the offensive and come up with a four-word stereotype for Republicans.

More recently, NeoCons call progressives “libtards”, a term that has largely gone with no response, but a term that galvanizes their base.

democrat republican stereotypes

Despite the stereotypes, Republicans have a better story.

When I engage in a conversation. I’ve thought about a principled response and say something like,  “I stand for strong family values – a safe home to raise kids; a strong neighborhood and excellent schools.” It’s usually the end of the conversation.

Restating this in a non-principled jargon-laced light, “I stand for marriage equality, affordable housing, community policing and a low student – teacher ratio.” This would cast me as pro-gay, handouts to poor people, anti-gun and pro-teacher unions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with these stances, but based on the Political Brain, voters will better relate to a candidate based on emotions rather than policy and data.

One of my hobbies is collecting political campaign memorabilia. Here are a few slogans I think are principled. I’ve surmised that candidates who include references to themselves have lost more times than those with visionary slogans. I’ll list them without election year or candidate:

  • Patriotism, Protection, and Prosperity
  • Peace and Prosperity
  • Making us Proud Again
  • Prosperity and Progress
  • Believe in America

Now what?

Jared Polis for Governor

I’m voting for Jared Polis on Tuesday.

I’m one to wait until election day to vote and if you haven’t mailed in your ballot yet, you have until 7pm on Tuesday June 26th to do so.

Who is my choice for governor?

My vote goes to Jared Polis in the Democratic primary.

Why?

I’ve known Jared for many years, I think dating back to my days at Assets for Colorado Youth in the early 2000s. ACY was a positive youth development non-profit organization that taught teachers and youth serving organizations how to apply the development assets to the daily lives of kids.

Jared and his foundation were strong supporters of alternative approaches to students, other than the “containment” approach.

He also was chair of the Colorado State Board of Education where he was supportive of education and classrooms in all their forms in Colorado.

I remember when he first ran for the 2nd Congressional District. It’s a diverse district encompassing the very Republican south part of Weld, Broomfield, Adams, Jefferson, and Summit counties and blue Boulder County.

I’m not one much for political litmus tests. Any candidate who says they can pass all of them is telling you alternative facts. I don’t have a political score card for the gubernatorial candidates.

I think it comes down to style.

Jared knows how to govern toward the middle when it comes to inflammatory issues like the natural gas fracking. He can’t be a purist on the issue having to balance drilling interests in Weld County with the hard core no-fracking stance in Boulder.

The 2nd CD is a microcosm of the state of Colorado. Whoever gets elected will not be able to keep any purist campaign promises, be it to the teachers, the energy industry or the gun lobby.

Jared is a maverick and not afraid to buck the system. When he first ran in 2008, he dared to challenge long-time Denver politico Joan Fitz-Gerald. She admirably served in the state senate and was the heir-apparent to the open seat. He campaigned hard and won in an upset.

When elected in 2008, was the most liberal member of his congressional class and picked to be on a CNN reality cable show featuring himself and freshman Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis – one of my East High School classmates and longtime family friend – from Wyoming’s at large district 1 and the most conservative members of the class.

Jared could have staying in Congress forever, but he chose to stay home this time around. He and Marlon have two young kids and while I don’t know if that was a reason why he chose to run for governor rather than stay in Congress, I imagine it was a part of the decision making equation.

His hands-on experience with federalism coupled with knowledge and work at the state level makes Jared the most practical and best-suited candidate in my mind.

Besides his list of credentials, he’s a really nice guy.

Facebook Community Boost videos: At least, make them look good

Facebook brought an event called the Community Boost to Denver

Facebook is putting on a full court press to get the gig economy to become an integral part of the macro-economy. How do we turn our hobbies and cottage businesses into real money using facebook groups, ads, photos and video?

I attended the free grassroots road show, Community Boost, that recently rolled into Denver. It was a classy event at the Cable Center near the University of Denver.

The Cable Center is a non-profit organization that educates the public about, I suppose, the great things that cable TV has done for the good of society.

My background is public access TV, which was a provision of the original Cable Communications Act of 1984 that set up community access channels as a ploy to avoid regulation as a public utility and dodge FCC oversight.

I had to check out the CATV museum with the history of cable and honors all the pioneers who made billions of dollars.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I digress.

The event’s goal was to provide basic information and some hands-on experience about how to use facebook to increase website traffic, get more buyers / customers and ultimately how to buy more facebook ads through micro-market targeting and subsequently make more money for your fledgling business and for facebook.

facebook booster creative

The facebook Community Boost exhibit area include the Mobile Studio that provides in-phone apps to edit pix and video.

I’m a filmmaker and facebook is trying to turn everyone into rough-around-the-edges filmmakers, which devalues the work that I and all of my colleagues do.

Nonetheless, if you’re going to make video, you might as well post stuff that at least looks halfway decent.

Here are a few tips to improve your videos:

  • Have a story in mind. Even on the spot, you can mentally compose a beginning, middle and end to your movie, even if it’s only 15 seconds long. If you use an in-phone app like Splice or iMovie, you can shoot clips, trim and reassemble them. If you don’t edit, lots of creativity can come about from the continuous shot – going from scene to scene while keeping the phone camera steady. The climax to your story is some sort of call to action – “Click here”, “Call us”, “Donate now.”
  • Hold your camera steady. Move smoothly hand-held. My preference is to shoot with the phone camera horizontally. TV screens and monitors are not vertical and horizontal video displays and looks better. If you’re webcasting facebook live, turn the camera horizontally until the image flips then start the recording.
  • Movies are 80% sound. Viewers can take video that’s a little shaky or out of focus but if the sound is bad, your potential customers will skip to the next video. The microphone is at the bottom of the phone. Get as close as you can to your action or subjects. Normal voices from across the room won’t be picked up. If you decide you want your voice in the recording, try to let your subject complete their statement and avoid “walking over” their audio with your excited utterances or laughing.
  • Fill out the meta-data fields. Facebook has figured out the meta-data thing and prompts you through the video upload with titles and key word fields. Fill them out and write the post narrative. Pick out a few key hashtags that are common-sensical. I see posts with six or more hashtags – many of which are nonsense which detract from the content.

If you’re interested in turning your volunteers or staff into better social media movie makers, I offer workshops about how to tell your organization or business story in a 140 character elevator speech. I also teach practical ways to light a scene, get good sound using inexpensive, everyday items.

facebook creative sources

The Community Boost mobile studio pushed 10 apps to edit images and movies.

What I learned from the Community Boost is that real filmmakers need to differentiate themselves from short-form shooters who know may how to point the camera and record, but make bad video look better with the bells and whistles graphic overlay apps.

At the same time, filmmakers can better promote their work using the short and rough cut formats.

Since attending the Community Boost, I’ve pushed out short videos a couple times for Boulder Community Media production projects that generated some pretty good organic engagement – a couple thousand views of one and nearing 1,000 views of another.

How that translates into more business is anyone’s guess but the phone keeps ringing and my friends keep making referrals.

The Community Boost was set up for lots of face-to-face networking, but during the breaks most everyone was sitting in the corners staring at their phones, computers and other screens.

The lunch was good, but nearly missed out since I ran into a filmmaker in the hallway after the facebook ads workshop.

Community Boost “Aha” Moment – Campaign 2016

facebook parscale stahl

The Trump presidential campaign successfully employed the same techniques as taught at the Community Boost. The Hillary campaign didn’t and the rest is history.

I had a big “Aha” moment during the facebook ads workshop.

It was about how to target the ads to particular markets and how different messages and their words, images, colors and other variables can be tweaked to maximize viewership and interaction.

Earlier, I watched a 60 Minute TV news magazine segment by Leslie Stahl. She interviewed the Donald Trump campaign 2016 social media guy Brad Parscale. Apparently, facebook offered to embed staff members into campaign organizations who advised about how to maximize use of facebook ads.

Parscale explained how they decided to focus on 3,000 voters in Wisconsin which ended up turning the course of the election. The Trump campaign tried out the facebook offer. The Hillary campaign didn’t and the rest is history.

Those of us in the Community Boost ad workshop learned in 30 minutes what was taught during the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook ads, with practice, can be a very effective way to micro-target market and maximize advertising budgets.

I get chided by friends about why I spend so much time on my facebook account and pages that I manage. I’d say three quarters of my business leads come as a result of my presence on facebook. “If I didn’t make money from facebook, I wouldn’t waste my time there,” I tell them.

I still don’t understand the psychology behind facebook and why people respond, but then again, it really doesn’t matter.

With 300 million guns circulating how can people be deterred from buying more?

guns with history

This video is a good example of how the gun culture can be changed by people believing their own observations, rather than their perceptions.

We’re a gun culture and nothing will change that. I used to think otherwise until there was yet another mass shooting by another American, killing 17 school kids and wounding another 15 in south Florida.

I don’t know about you, but I’m growing tired of all this.

I suppose the positive is the out pouring of care – random people wanting to donate blood, heroic acts by strangers, prayer vigils, flowers left at the scene, public officials decrying the action, social media memes.

Before the Texas 26 and 40 wounded, were 59 dead and 500 wounded in Vegas, before that it was Congressman Scalise shot while playing baseball this summer.

Before that, it was the June 2016 Orlando Massacre – 49 dead and 53 wounded.

Before that was in October 2015 at Umqua Community College in Oregon that was shot up by another twisted buy with 14 weapons in his apartment.

Rather than more laws, how can the culture change?

There’s an excellent scenario that played out in Manhattan with huge impact. Prospective first-time gun buyers get their wake up calls about gun ownership. Watch it here.

Buffalo Operation Rescue 1992

The gun control lobby should take a page out of the anti-abortion lobby playbook and start publicly shaming gun shop patrons.

The anti-gun lobby should take a page out of the anti-abortion playbook.

The anti-abortion lobby works hard to change the culture through grassroots efforts. It can’t pass laws that ban abortions, but put up roadblocks like strategic public shaming.

The pro-gun lobby says that more laws won’t keep guns out of the hands of anybody, let alone crazy people.

I acquired my hunting rifle from a friend. When I gave up the sport, I traded it to a guy who did some tile work.  I had a box of shot gun shells that I used for a movie prop and sold those at a garage sale. Guns and ammo are easy to come by – crazy or not.

I have to agree with that, particularly with 300 million civilian guns in circulation. One size does not fit all.

The crazies and bad guys get guns regardless of laws. The United States government is the largest consumer of firearms in the world, so it’s not backing off guns anytime soon.

newtown parents testifying

Newtown parents testifying before elected officials has fallen on deaf ears.

The politicos think that keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people is the answer. All crazy people have access to guns, but not all crazy people have access to mental health services.

That makes sense from a rhetorical standpoint, but I don’t know how politicians decide who’s the craziest, though.

Who’s crazier, McConnell or me? It’s a toss up.

It may be a personal choice to access mental health care services, but part of creating a new culture includes a social environment that makes seeking mental health services socially acceptable. Depression and other mental diseases are coming out of the shadows.

The POTUS 2018 budget slashes funding for mental health services which doesn’t exactly encourage people to seek services which are scarce. When a guy like the Vegas shooter knowingly goes up into a hotel with two dozen fire arms, that’s a public health issue.

While I’m sure that everyone personally deals with events like this differently, there doesn’t seem to be very many who are interested in creating the social and cultural change necessary to end gun violence.

I, for one,  haven’t followed the most recent Florida shooting much and end up watching the fake violence switching back and forth between Law & Order SVU and Criminal Minds.

Compared to anti-abortion zealots, the anti-gun group members don’t show the same long-term passion.

Before buying a gun, maybe prospective purchasers have to watch a video with bloodied up shooting victims. How about public shaming and protests in the rights-of-way of gun stores or on the public sidewalks in front of the Walton family homes.

Like the anti-abortion lobby, the anti-gun people should be grooming like-minded people to put in for appointed and run for elected public offices.

caleb keeter vegas

After the Vegas massacre, Kyle Abbott band guitarist Caleb Keeter posted this tweet after he was shot at during the show in Vegas.

I’m thinking that in the final analysis, the only people who get involved in trying to change the gun culture are those families and friends directly affected by the death or injury to a friend or loved one.

That’s a pretty small number of people and they can’t do it alone. The anti-gun lobby needs to come up with a higher purpose for their end game.

After Vegas, there was a country music guitarist, Caleb Keeter who had a wake up call after playing at the concert that night. He tweeted “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment all my life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was.”

Knowing his market, he may well go the route of the Dixie Chicks.

After the most recent Florida massacre, I doubt any legislators will put forth much effort beyond strong emotional responses, particularly since nothing happened after the 59 dead were sniped in Vegas, 49 were gunned down in Orlando, 27 school kids and teachers murdered in their school, nine South Carolina church goers shot in the back, another nine gunned down in a community college classroom. I lose track.

Here are three ideas to help change the culture without having to take anyone’s guns away since that’s not happening any time soon:

Short Term: Go to the shooting range and take a hunter safety class – The United States is a gun culture. If you don’t want to fire a gun, at least go to a gun shop and handle one – they have a distinct smell, they are heavier than the ones Detective Benson slings around. I used to be a hunter, but that experience gave me an appreciation for the power of guns and a realization that animals don’t stand much of a chance against them. I felled an antelope, shot at a few deer which was enough for me – it was a right of passage for a Wyoming guy. The country was founded on violence. The Constitution was written with that in mind – preserving and protecting citizen rights over that of the government – not storming into people’s houses, innocent until proven guilty by the government, right to privacy.

The last thing the government is going to do is take away people’s guns. That’s a scare tactic, but a successful one since the gun lobby continues to grow and the sale of guns is out of sight, despite nobody taking away any guns.

Medium Term: * Civil Rights Laws – Unless authorities uncover some hidden agenda behind the recent Florida massacre shooter, what about an “asterisk civil rights” class? Acting strange and owning guns do not rise to the “probable cause” threshold. People who are observed to have weird behavior, say odd things, post crazy facebooks posts need to put on some sort of “watch list”. After Orlando, I heard a news guy talking about this on the Today Show. He asked a Homeland Security guy about what it would take to “asterisk” civil rights laws so that anyone like the latest Florida terrorist could continue to be watched and monitored even if there is no probable cause determined. I think the only time limited martial law was approved was by the antebellum Congress at the time of Abraham Lincoln.

Long Term: Reapportionment – the US Census will be completed in 2020 and new US congressional districts will be drawn as well as state legislative districts. The SCOTUS ruled in favor of independent redistricting commissions taking gerrymandering out of the political process. This is an opportune time to create competitive state and national districts and balance when considering potentially divisive legislation.

If you didn’t read this story last time or this time, I’ll re-write the lead after the next massacre.