Books, Cenarrusa, Football, Idaho

Spud Bowl

Bring on the Sour Cream

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: there is no better potato in the world than the Idaho potato. World class. Dependable quality. The tuber gold standard. And the “brand” is valuable.

Years ago some enterprising fellow in New Mexico got the bright idea of importing potato sacks with the “Grown in Idaho” mark and filling them with spuds grown, of all places, in New Mexico. A stop was put to that pronto. You can’t have an Idaho potato grown in New Mexico. It’s like Champagne. You may call it champagne, but if it ain’t made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and bottled there, it isn’t “real” Champagne, it is merely sparkling wine. Same with an Idaho spud.

So, given the historic Idaho association with the Famous Potato, it’s a natural, I guess, that the once named Humanitarian Bowl football game is now the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. But Idahoans best brace themselves. The jokes are just beginning.

On Twitter, @TheRobMorse writes: “I’d like to see Chip Kelly coach against Hayden Fry in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.” And @ParkerShield22 says, “Gatorade shower replaced by players spreading butter and sour cream on winning coach and wrapping him in aluminum foil.” You get the idea and, believe me, there are lots more where those came from.

To be serious for a moment, the news of the renaming of the bowl should cause Idahoans – at least those with some responsibility for the state’s “brand” – to consider, well, our image. For a state frequently confused with Iowa – “I was in Des Moines once is that anywhere close to Boise?” – being almost completely defined by an admittedly superb agricultural product may have some real downside.

A lot of marketing folks would tell you, Idaho doesn’t have a brand. Maybe the same is true of most states. New Jersey’s brand? Hazardous waste sites and Tony Soprano. Kansas: The Tornado State. Or, North Dakota: You Can See Canada From Here.

Idaho is Famous Potatoes.

It’s a tough time for the state branding business. Washington State recently ended all state-sponsored tourism promotion. USA Today reported this week that at least 20 states have cut back on efforts to lure visitors, which really means they aren’t marketing whatever “brand” they have.

Not everyone is throwing in the towel, however. Michigan has been all over the air with its pretty good Pure Michigan campaign. Not bad for a state whose largest city can boast of a good baseball team, and not much else, playing amid years of decay. Montana, a state with a real brand, has big billboards in downtown Seattle and a new tourism promotion chief who has the good sense to market the state’s two iconic National Parks.

Idaho’s real marketing problem may just be that a state with such a vast collection of individuals will never be able to settle on one image, slogan or brand. Some Idahoans would be comfortable with calling our place “The Wilderness State,” but that certainly wouldn’t fly with the “no more wilderness crowd.” How about the “State of Big Hearted Rivers?” Nope. Rivers here are for more than floatin’ and fishin’, we use that water to grow, er, potatoes. The no-growth, “I wish it were 1950 again” types might opt for “Idaho – the tick fever state.” Not a winner with the economic development crowd.

Idaho: We Know Nuclear. Nope.

Idaho: Nevada Without the Gambling. Won’t catch on.

Idaho: Easier than Utah to Get a Drink? Even that isn’t really true any longer.

Idahoans should just embrace the iconic potato and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl as the best we got. It’s has put us on the map, or the Internet, after all. Google those words today and you’ll get 1,500,000 hits. It’s not Iowa, yet, but it’s a start and it’s not – thank your potatoes – in a class with the Poulan Weed-Eater Bowl.

 

Fly Fishing, Idaho

This One Didn’t Get Away

Marshburn FamilyHonor Among Fishermen…

Steve Marshburn – that’s him with his wife, son and Sage fly rod – finally got his expensive fishing gear back recently and how it happened is really quite a story.

Marshburn, an Army Ranger at the time, was fishing in the spring of 2005 from a float tube on Hebgen Lake near Yellowstone Park in southwestern Montana when his brand new, $1,000 rod and reel, complete with his name engraved on the reel, slipped from its perch on the tube and rapidly sank to the bottom of the lake. Marshburn was left with two memories of the trip – the three pound rainbow he caught and a belief that the rod and reel were gone forever.

Enter 84-year-old Vic Redinger of Billings, Montana. Thanks to a one-in-a-million snag, the Internet and persistence, Redinger was able to return the fishing outfit, five years after it was lost, to Marshburn in Chubbuck, Idaho.

The Billings Gazette has the full account and whether you have never wet a line or live to fish, you’ll enjoy a sweet little story that will go some distance in restoring one’s faith in basic human decency. It’s as good a fish tale as you’ll hear in a while.

Happy Labor Day.

Fly Fishing, Idaho

Hope over Experience

efork_bitterroot1-dayle-langley2It Will Be Different on the Next Cast

I’m convinced that fly fishing – much like politics – is a simple matter of hope overcoming experience. You can pursue the wily cutthroat for hours – days – and still believe that the next cast, the next perfect march of fly through riffle, will produce the fish that will keep you coming back and back.

Politicians, even successful ones, must practice the same “hope over experience” approach when wooing voters, building support and passing legislation. In both pursuits, you fail much more often than you succeed. Still, the pursuer of votes must believe that the next handshake, like the next successful presentation of an elk hair caddis, will produce affirmation, success and hope over experience.

In baseball, if you hit safely three times out of ten, you can get to the Hall of Fame. The success rate on a stretch of trout water or under a capitol dome is much, much lower.

Fly fishing (politics, too) is – excuse me – a brainy pursuit. It is all about practice, patience and persistence. You have to think about many things at once and if your mind wanders, even a bit, your fly is in the bushes or your waders are full of very cold water. Same thing in politics, although I know a lot more politicians than fishermen (or women) who can’t get their line untangled, if you get my drift.

The relative lack of success in trout fishing may explain why certain types of people – politicians – gravitate to the sport. Two of our brainiest presidents – Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter – were passionate fly fishermen. They also generally rank as among the most unsuccessful presidents. I would argue both have been victims of a bad rap in the history books. It’s time for some revisionism about both men – both engineers, both self made from humble beginnings who took up the fly rod for recreational and intellectual reasons.

Hoover once said, “Fishing is a… discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before fish.” That sounds like something Hoover would have said, but the old engineer was right. Forever the engineer, Carter has written well about fishing and become an expert fly tier.

Carrying all that baggage from the Great Depression – Carter had his own Iranian hostage baggage to lug around – helps me understand why a brainy politician, who didn’t succeed all that well at his chosen profession would seek solace on a stretch of water. Unlike politics, fishing is a solitary pursuit. Man against trout. And even when we know the river and its inhabitants will win the vast majority of the time, we keep casting. Hope over experience.

“Fishing is much more than fish,” Hoover also said. “It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers.”

Amen. Any president who knew that simple fact can’t be all bad. I’ll think about the much maligned engineer/politicians from West Branch and Plains today when I am unsuccessful the vast majority of the time, but still loving every minute of it.

Cenarrusa, Fire Policy, Haiti, Idaho

Haiti and Idaho

missionariesThe Curious Case of Idaho’s Identity

By now most of the world able to access the Internet, buy a newspaper or listen to the BBC knows that a group of Idaho missionaries is behind bars in Haiti. Just what has happened is – and likely will remain for some time – a mystery. You know, if you have been following the world-wide story, that the eight Idahoans and the two others have been accused of coming dangerously close to trafficking in the shattered lives of the children of earthquake ravaged Haiti.

I have no idea what really happened in this troubling case, and I’m suspecting that the generally incompetent government of Haiti has about the same level of understanding. Perhaps the best that can be said is that a group of well-intentioned folks took well-intentioned actions that, when examined in the clear light of day, look pretty unsophisticated, naive, or even in the language of the Third World – imperial, or perhaps imperious.

I’ve been in New York the last couple of days and the Haiti missionary/human trafficking story has been all over the place. [Perhaps as a testament to how much New Yorkers – at least public radio-listening New Yorkers – desire to understand the Haiti-Idaho connection, I appeared this morning on WNYU’s “The Takeaway,” to provide an “Idaho perspective” on this international story. I had at least a moment’s pause speaking for the entire state, but when in New York, hey someone has to speak for us.]

Here is one takeaway from the missionary story, and it is all about the curious mindset some of our fellow Americans on the east coast and elsewhere in this diverse land have when they read a headline that says: “Idaho missionaries charged with bad stuff in Haiti…”

These fellow citizens wonder just what is it about that strangely shaped western state, home to good potatoes, formerly home to a bunch of crackpot, white supremacists, and headquarters of a growing football dynasty, that such a story could emanate from there?

It will come as little surprise to anyone who has traveled the country a bit that Idaho is about as well understood as the rules of cricket to most of our fellow countrymen. It is not so much that the state has a bad image as that it has almost no image at all. Or, perhaps more correctly, some folks assume the worst given a generally blank slate to draw upon.

In one sense, Idahoans (you could have said the same of Montana in the days of the Unibomber) might say, who cares what others think or the conclusions to which they jump? We have a sense of ourselves. We know what we are about. But, in life and in the “reality” of the 24 hour news cycle, perception matters. There is a perception that Idaho fosters, well, strange things.

I wish the world’s perception of the state I have called home for 35 years now was more in keeping with reality. For example, I talked at length with a concerned Idahoan last week who was about to leave for his second extended trip to Haiti to see what he can do to improve the availability of clean water and evaluate how to mitigate earthquake damage to prevent long-term environmental degradition to an already badly degraded landscape.

I know, I know, man bites dog is news. A narrative of out of control missionaries, fueled by something in the water in Idaho, fits the all-too-common preception of the Gem State.

Sad that is, but also true.

Cenarrusa, Christie, Economy, Idaho

A Long, Slow Recovery

Idaho Struggles to Regain Economic Footing

Years ago when Idaho’s economy was built around timber, mining and agriculture, the state tended to come late to a recession and leave early. No more apparently.

At the annual Idaho housing conference, organized by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, the state’s top economist, Mike Ferguson, predicted an agonizingly slow recovery in Idaho. Ferguson opining that it could be a year from now before the Idaho economy really starts to feel like it is growing even modestly.

Other participants in a panel on issues and trends in Idaho – Bob Uhlenkott and Randy Schroll of the Idaho departments of Labor and Commerce, respectively, and health insurance industry watcher Elwood Cleaver – generally agreed. Slow recovery is the expectation and unemployment could go higher. Idaho’s current unemployment rates slumps at 8.9%.

Brad Carlson at the Idaho Business Review has another estimate of the not exactly gloomy, but still very measured outlook.

Ferguson, the long-time state economist, made a telling point when he said that Idaho’s economy has suffered more than might once have been the case during the current downturn thanks to Micron downsizing in the high tech sector, Albertson’s (now Supervalu) headquarters departure from Boise and the demise of the much touted, but now bankrupt resort at Tamarack.

The increased diversification of the Idaho economy since the 1970’s has been a good thing, but at the cost perhaps of having the state’s economy behave more like the rest of the nation when a slide begins.

Always looking for a silver lining, I would note one minor growth area in the Idaho economy. The No. 1 Idaho wolf tag has sold to a North Carolina bidder for $8,000. I wonder, does that qualify as foreign investment?