Sunday, February 18, 1996


Back in my junior high days, when I was yet to be diagnosed as a clinical neurotic, I was merely known as a bit of an eccentric, but still a dork. One of the many happenings I staged was to announce my intentions to run for President of the United States in the year 2004. That was the first year I was eligible (I turn 35 in November of 2000, days after the election and as all of you Constitutional scholars know, you have to be 35 to become President). I handed out flyers and got quite a bit of excitement going on in the hallways of Parkview Junior High. I don't know if my peers actually thought I was electable, but they were happy to see a dork with a dream.

These days it only seems as if the current Presidential campaign began in the seventies, and you don't see many kids who dream of becoming President. Now days most kids want to be rap or rock stars, basketball or movie heroes, or the host of their own daytime talk shows. And who can blame them? There is little prestigious left about becoming the President. Politics is an unattractive, corrupt sport and the winner of a campaign ain't necessarily whoever wins the election. The scrutiny, the inflexibility of the system, the partisan backstabbing, what are the rewards to such a job? It might have been Nixon who said being a public figure means living under the view of a microscope. Being the President means living under the view of a proctologist.

Consequently we haven't exactly had a string of outstanding Presidents lately. Granted, over the years the position has lost a lot of its allure. We now celebrate President's Day by getting a day off and having big furniture sales. Little thought or feeling is given to those that have served this country well, those that made the decisions that affect where each and every one of us are today. Being President is no longer as impressive or as desirable as being a rich CEO of a multinational corporation. The ridicule of the opposition, the media glare, the political game playing, is what being President is currently about. It's hard to tell what came first, our most recent Presidents lack of inspiration and leadership skills or the whole machinery that robs the position of any of its historical glamor and significance.

The power of the position is what motivates most candidates today. Maybe it is naive to believe it ever was any other way, but what is lacking is what President Bush described as the "vision thing." People no longer become President to lead the country to where they see us being in the over all scheme of things. It's not so much about being a visionary as it is playing the role of the ultimate politician and pleasing the majority so that your popularity polls remain high. What separates the successful Presidents from the failures are those that had a vision of where they wanted to lead the country, and despite any personal shortcomings, the power of that vision more than made up for the downfalls of the position.

For those that have dreamt or are dreaming of becoming President, it is hard to maintain the vision in an age of cynicism and corruption. For example, what big preparations and plans is our future President of the year 2004 up to these days? Well on this particular Saturday night he enjoyed a dinner of already cooked tater tots along with steamed broccoli. He sat back to enjoy the made for TV movie featuring his favorite alien, Alf. What he has learned over the past twenty years is that often a long distant dream can be just as blurry or even blurrier than a lack of that "vision thing." Distilled inspiration.

The lure of serving one's country and going down as a positive blip in history is now seen as a blurred dream. Problems aren't solved anymore, they're disguised and passed on. Our schools are full of kids more worried about learning what they need to know for their lucrative careers, and worried about who's dating who, and what the latest episode of Friends is about rather than dreaming of filling the void of leadership, of vision of where we as a community need to be. Politics has turned a lot of people off, and we are raising a generation of cynics who care little about it. It's more attractive to most of us to live in the present and get as much money, power, acclaim and fame as we can and enjoy the fruits of our labor than it is to remember that kid with aspirations for the White House, who still has her ideals who still wants to do what is right for the country not what makes herself come off well. Happy President's Day 1996.

Monday, February 12, 1996

Dances with Wolves

Skipbo! Hope you all made it through the lines and got your Shania Twain autograph.

Last week I learned a lesson about successful teamwork. Today, many organizations put all their faith in a system, feeling that if the system is strong enough, it doesn't matter who they plug into the slots. Upon much reflection, I learned otherwise as I took my two nieces to see those feisty, fightin', growlin, mighty Minnesota Timberwolves. I doubt few have suffered through the seven miserable seasons as much as I. From Scott Roth to Bob McCann through Marques Bragg, I have learned the NBA through the woes and struggles of our local franchise. Yes, I am one of the few and far between, a Wolfies' fan. And I have been rewarded. They have won all three times I have seen them in person.

No other professional sports franchise has been so inept for so long a period. Each season the improvement that is supposed to occur with an expansion team has been kicked away as we hear excuse after excuse. Coaches come and are fired. Players are brought in and sent away. We have never been lucky in the draft, and up until last season, the club never made a good trade. Someone could literally write a book on how not to run a franchise simply by recounting the Timberwolves' history.

The current team was supposed to be competitive, and finally with local legend Kevin McHale in charge, the organization seemed to finally have some competence at the top. But this season has been more disappointing than any of the others because it has just been more of the same. The talent is more abundant than ever (no Charles Shackelfords, Gary Leonards or Gunther Vetras). The coach, Flip Saunders, seems to walk the walk of a man who knows what he is doing (unlike Jimmy Rodgers or Sidney Lowe). Yet just like previous seasons, the losses come about twice as often as the wins.

A team with Christian Laettner, Tom Gugliotta, J.R. Rider and Kevin Garnett should win more often than it has. But despite being a league of stars, the NBA isn't only about talent and talent alone. It's about being able to make an extra pass to get a higher percentage shot. It's about being able to quickly guard an open man off of a double team. It is a league of mismatches, of being able to exploit the other team's weakness. What ails the Wolves isn't so much not having the players to compete, it's a matter of not utilizing the players into a system that takes advantage of what they do well, and minimizes what they don't do so well.

With the move to center, Laettner is a prime example of this problem. While not the prototype post-up, shot blocking, rebounding intimidator like Hakeem Olajuwan, David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal or Patrick Ewing, he is more athletic than most centers, and with his outside shooting ability combined with his penetrating and passing skills, he has become the Wolve's most effective player. There's a unwritten rule in the NBA that a team cannot be a championship team without a dominating center. The Wolves have bought into this, and despite Laettner's unique skills and improved production, they remain puzzled how best to utilize him.

The one position the Wolves are truly lacking is probably the most important position on the court- point guard. Terry Porter is certainly a step up from Chris Smith, Winston Garland and Scottie Brooks, but he is no longer a full time player. Darrick Martin has shown signs of being a better than average player, but too often makes bad decisions at crucial times in the game. Without an adequate point guard, too often the offense breaks down, and the aforementioned mismatches are not taken advantage of. Rather than hide this weakness, the Wolves continue to try and play despite of it. Rather than use the passing skills of Gugliotta, Garnett, Rider and Laettner, the Wolves seldom do anything to utilize that part of their offense.

The most successful coach in the team's history was Bill Musselman. What made him different was he took the players he had, developed a system foreign to the rest of the league and was successful because he didn't try to compete playing the other team's game. This is a useful lesson to be learned by anyone interested in effective teamwork. The moral of the Wolves' seven years of bad luck is that if a team doesn't take into account the individual skills of its players, they will not be successful. You can increase your talent but that doesn't mean a better end result if the system is what is broken in the first place. The people involved are often more important than the systems in place- an often overlooked concept.

Monday, February 5, 1996

Warm Ideas, Fuzzy Thoughts

Cold enuf for ya? Sure you can take the easy way out and go about and have a bad attitude about our recent stretch of weather. You can mutter or scream how none of this is fair, how those people down south complaining about it dropping to twenty six degrees, or the people out west declaring one inch of rain, "the storm of the decade," have got to get a clue. You can kick yourself about choosing to live in an area that is sometimes more suitable for Eskimos. You can roll your eyes at the idiots who have to pretend like the cold doesn't bother them any as they walk around with a thin coat and no hat and no mittens. But what is the use? Like so many other things in life, why not adopt a positive attitude and instead of dwelling on what you can't control, look for the sunny side of things?

For example this winter has been the most opportune time to stretch out and practice an increased vocabulary. You get to use words seldom applicable at other times: frigid, Arctic, bitterly, blasted, polar, goose down, Gortex, unrelenting, hypothermia, nippy, to name a few. Also, I don't think soup has ever tasted better than it has during the past week.

You can also take this time to appreciate the use of all your cold weather clothing you never wear at other times in fear of looking like a dork. It's hard to look cool (no matter how cool you feel) in a parka and a ski mask. One benefit is everyone looks like a dweeb, so you my friend, finally fit in with everyone else.

This has also been an excellent week to learn that your car, your furnace, your water systems, might not work if you were to be transferred to Pluto. Machinery tends to moan and groan about having to function in weather designed best for the Admiral Byrds of the world.

Have a runny nose? This cold works better than any non-prescription decongestant. Just stand outside and breath deeply, and even bodily fluids have a tendency to become icicle like. That disgusting spit you might step in during the dog days of summer? Nothing but a frozen pile to slip on these days.

Like the smell of exhaust? There seems to be plenty of it in the air. The need to warm up one's car means plenty of fumes will hover no matter where you wander. If you are forced to take a bus, that indescribable mixture of every day fumes you encounter now don't seem so out of place.

The tingling sensation of losing all feeling in your extremities can be achieved quicker than any time before. What a blast!? I've never been so pleasantly and surprisingly numb in so many unusual places! The beautiful blue hue of the tips of your cold little fingers? What a unique color! Listen to that dulcet musical sound of your own chattering teeth! That rosy red thing that used to be attached to your face? Why that was your nose!

Also, we all are learning much about relativity. Next time it climbs to anything above zero, man will we ever be thankful for the balmy heat! Any doubters about the concept of wind-chill and whether or not to believe in it, those doubts have either been reinforced or disproved. Now we all actually know what thirty below feels like, without using fancy weather charts. Chances are you may never be colder the rest of your life!

We are all getting a lesson in the universal beauty of nature. You don't need no thermometer, no newspaper, no weather person to tell you it's cold out. You don't even need the Governor of the State to tell you it's dangerously cold out. As soon as you open that door in the morning, you can tell, because it hits you in the face like a wall of ice.

That irrational annual fear you have about the Earth breaking out of its orbit and hurtling away from the sun? Maybe people will start to take you more seriously now. And if you were to ever fall off the face of the planet, this might actually be what it kinda feels like.

Best of all this weather has brought us all closer together. Weather always is unfortunately, a topic of discussion. But the extreme nature of this stretch of weather has gotten people thinking of it all as a big joke someone upstairs is playing on us to test us. Now even the most inane weather talk seems somewhat comical. And there is that pleasant notion that if it gets any colder, we're all going to have to huddle together to conserve body heat. Walking past people on the street, you can't help but smile as you glance toward your destination, as you look at the unreal world around you, as you look past the layers of clothing, as you ignore the shivering, and know that we are all in this thing together.