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It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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I sat through a lunch and learn meeting on social media yesterday. A co-worker launching a new social networking site – one of the first this company has ever considered – partnered up with a social media expert from another Fortune 500 company across town that leads the market in a number of food categories. This expert gets a six-month sabbatical from his organization to go uncover how other companies are approaching this new world of marketing/social networking (and I want that job!).

At first glance, the average outsider looking in might wonder what food has to do with medical technology. Answer: In the world of social media, it’s all frighteningly similar.

Our discussion during lunch wandered around from individual backgrounds and experience (e-marketing, corporate PR, engineering) to the rapid pace of change happening to the Internet, which has since its inception been traveling at the speed of carreraour CEO’s Porsche. Roughly six months in our everyday life equates to two full years on the Internet. And there is no speed limit on the information superhighway.

Just how do large, staid companies differentiate from those organizations in the world nimble to the ways of the ‘Net?  We cower in fear…at least at the onset.  The corporate board rooms filled with 50-something, graying men and women look quizzically at their marketing VPs talking about Twitter feeds and branded YouTube channels. They scoff at CEO blogs that actually INVITE customer feedback and potential criticism to the newly launched widget.

That is until their very own board members – other corporate leaders who are vying to stay relevant in the land of social media/networking start asking questions at the conference table.  This level of CEO-to-CXO peer pressure starts to drive the inevitable change big, fat, slow-moving companies must make. It’s not up for discussion and it’s not an if/then choice. It’s a “when” choice and the “when” was yesterday. Mr. or Ms. CEO, if you missed the boat, you’re going to do more than get your feet wet if you hope to catch up. There is no room for another mistake.

Given the macro-economic state of the world, a fever pitch now resides with all things social media/networking. Nothing is more “mission critical.” To message to customers – to actually sell product and generate revenue, compete and be legitimate – companies simply must open the door on this next phase of marketing.

And really, it’s just the sands of business paradigms shifting yet again – like they  always do. The landscape might feel new, but the level of risk and reward is the same as past transitions.

The ride, however, is vastly more interesting than anything I’ve ridden to date.

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Elitists feel they have outstanding personal abilities, intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or some other distinctive attributes, and therefore their views and ideas must be taken more seriously or carry more weight. In addition, they may assume special privileges and responsibilities and feel they have earned certain rights that others do not or should not have based on their level or position in society.

The proliferation of elitism has been underway since the dawn of human kind. What’s become worse in the past two decades is how many people automatically place themselves into this elitist category with no basis of reason. As populists in society strive toward breaking down the walls and barriers created by the elite (to ensure everyone has the same human rights and opportunities), elites attempt to further widen and deepen their moat protecting their belief that the privileged few have every right to make and enforce the rules.

What’s more, the new elites stem from recent generations of children who grew up expecting life to be handed to them in perfect order – further widening the gap between the haves and have nots. In fact, the common middle class that most of us grew up in, has now latched firmly on to the orbit of the elite.

The hard work our mothers and fathers once performed – the work that made our nation strong – has been tossed out with the bath water in the past 20 years. The yuppies, Gen-Xers and Millenials feel society owes them the vast rewards of life simply for waking up and putting on their socks.

And since elitism endorses the exclusion of large numbers of people from positions of privilege or power, this class in our society is essentially turning its collective head further and further away from its roots – away from the very parents or grandparents who worked two shifts so the family could enjoy a warm home, a reliable car and new shoes as the kids’ feet grew. Today, the 4,000-square-foot homes, Beemers, Audis and Mercedes are not the exception, they are the rule.

I’m sick and I’m tired of 20-somethings and younger walking around with their hands out – like baby birds waiting to be fed and chirping their beaks off until the mother Robin satiates their demands. These kids, our children, are clueless. They lack responsibility, respect and a fundamental concept of what labor is all about.

How are we suppose to begin fixing the recent economic malaise in the United States and globally, when our “most valuable asset,” our best and brightest, are entering the workforce with no concept of what work is all about? The learnings that once came with earning a decent wage for a decent day’s work are gone.

We’ve created the “gimme” culture of elitists and I’ve never been more personally disgusted and disappointed by a mind set than this one.

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When a major Interstate bridge shook, fell and crumpled into the Mississippi River a couple months back, there was an oh-so-brief moment when everyone rushed to the rescue and recovery of those who survived and the families of the 13 who did not.

Today, crews began constructing the new bridge that will span the river and, eventually, rejoin this major artery of transit through Minneapolis. As the first pile of dirt was being moved, the federal government announced an additional $124 million in funding on top of the $250 million already promised to build a new bridge. But where is the help for the people who need it today?

A few news stories and articles have appeared in local papers and broadcast outlets as survivors make their cases for the financial help they need to rebuild their own lives. So far, there hasn’t been a big groundswell of support from local, state and federal agencies designed to assist in situations like this one. Some just need new transportation as their car may have sat under 10 feet of water for two weeks. Others might need help with medical bills and lost salaries because their injuries kept them in hospitals or out of work for weeks on end.

Legislators and Governor Pawlenty are “working on a plan” to help with this need, which will get addressed in next year’s legislative session.  This alleged help that’s coming may as well come in 2011.

When compared to the big picture of replacing a bridge, providing some financial help to those who need it seems like a no brainer. But apparently it takes buckets of brains at the very top, followed by endless hours of meetings and debate to make it all happen.

Our country is red-taped to death and this is just another example of how priorities have shifted to the detriment of our very neighbors whom we turn to when earth-shattering, life-changing tragedy strikes.

C’mon Minnesota! Let’s not forget the ones who need you the most.

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I’m not ashamed to say that I work for a large corporation. The company makes about $12 billion a year and continues to grow. Its world headquarters sits right here in Minneapolis, about 13 miles from my home. The company employs 38,000 people around the world and its products enhance or save the life of someone every five seconds of every day throughout the year.

Working for a company that does so much good for others enables me to drive home at night and sleep well. Even in my own distant way, the contributions I make at work five days a week have a small impact on the lives of other people. The information shared through the corporate communications office that I’m a part of ultimately helps people (physicians and consumers) make good decisions about life-enhancing and even life-saving medical technologies.

PawlentyWith that little preamble, Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s Governor, stopped by my company this week to say farewell to our outgoing CEO and welcome the newly elected CEO to the company. As a Republican, Pawlenty has long been a friend of corporations of all sizes that call Minnesota home. It’s hard for him to ignore a milestone happening at one of the largest businesses and employers in the state.

So during an employee event mid-week, the Governor made his appearance, shook a few hands, said a few words of encouragement and congratulations, then continued on his important schedule.

My politics are middle-of-the-road. But I voted for Mr. Pawlenty and I can say that his “no new tax” policy was one big reason he got my vote. My decision is based on the enormous misappropriation of state funds that occurs in Minnesota. Until legislators and the administration can fix the problem of flushing money down black holes and instead putting it into the right places, I’ll continue to appreciate politicians who are adamant about NOT raising taxes.

This is the second Governor of Minnesota that I’ve stood within a few feet of. The first was Jesse Ventura, who in person was actually a kind guy and quite articulate…a freak of nature who had no business running state government, but pleasant nonetheless.

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CBS’s “60-Minutes” reran a story that first aired last April. The topic: Snitchin’.  Or shall I say, the topic is really about how impressionable kids in some cultures throughout America are readily adopting a philosophy that says refusing to help police authorities solve crimes of any kind is cool.

 

The scariest segment of the show was when five black kids, ages 14 to 19, sat together and explained why they wouldn’t share information with cops – even if they were eyewitnesses to murders, rapes or robberies. Why? Because rap artists (so-called musicians) with street cred in the black community have generated the concept that helping the po-leese is like tattle telling on their brah-thers.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m not a fan of the rap music genre. I also don’t groove to country music, heavy metal, or anything associated with opera. We all have our dislikes.

I’m also my own man, which is to say I’d never allow a musician’s lyrics or commentary guide my life decisions.  If a rapper wants to further perpetuate ideas of persecution by legitimizing the use of words like “nigger” and “ho,” and at the same time, idealize the worn out concept that ALL white cops are out to “get” minorities based on the color of their skin – go right ahead.  I’m not listening. Likewise, I don’t need to hear other artists, like Bono, espouse his personal beliefs on me. He can have them, just don’t rub them in my face.

I have my own values. I’ve formed my own opinions. I don’t appreciate anyone using a bully pulpit to politicize their position.  And who on God’s green earth made celebrities experts on the War in Iraq, the AIDs crisis in Africa or the genocide in Dafur? Millions of words have been printed or said by far smarter people than a L.A. or New York City celebrity twice removed from his or her own reality.

I’m fed up with this persistent woe is me attitude. If you don’t like something, do something (writing lyrics about killing cops doesn’t count). What would those who preceded our generation think of this nonsense?

Can you imagine sitting down with Martin Luther King Jr. today and hooking him up with the latest rap song on your iPod? Do you think for an instant that activists who began important movements in their lifetimes would appreciate the extremist slants the movements have taken in recent years?

Activism is part of every generation, every culture. From the time Neanderthals persecuted each other to the era of Adolf Hitler’s plan to create a master race. Ideas are born and ideas die based on how people conduct themselves and how those philosophies are adopted and carried out. Some see great success and some see quick death.

But nothing good can come from this next generation of young adults who embrace a lackadaisical stance on their role in society. No good will result from people who ignore their communities, close their eyes when they instinctually know the difference between right and wrong, and stop caring about others who don’t live within the ‘hood.

Snitchin’ as a concept, a philosophy, a way of survival won’t help anyone no matter what the rapper du jour thinks or says. Ideas like this turn back the clock on progress that began decades ago, they don’t advance it.

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Out of the chute let me say I’m not a big professional sports fan. Sure, I follow (at arm’s length) the home town teams of the Vikings, the T-Wolves, the Twins and the Wild (although I just don’t get hockey). Pro sports are, in my view, getting closer and closer to resembling the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise and less like a place where great athletes can show off their prowess on a team or a field. Therefore, I’m much more a watcher and fan of the Olympics - where amateurs (and yes, some professionals), can legitimately compete.

A recent trade completed by the Minnesota Timberwolves however, prompted me to think back on the tradees career – at least that that has been visible to me through the media.  Power forward Kevin Garnett has moved to the Boston Celtics after 12 years as a T-Wolve. He came right out of high school – one of the only talents in the NBA to do so and become a superstar. Fans here watched as he matured and became an MVP player – one of the best – many people say.

Like many NBA greats, he is deserving of an NBA championship, but it has eluded him because of many reasons, none smaller than inept ownership and management of a team that has shown windows of greatness – only to be defeated by poor decision making by the administration.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have a history of great teams. NBA championship teams. So as Garnett moves to Boston and joins several other mature players hungry for a winning season, the Timberwolves enter a rebuilding phase.  Boston gets the better deal.

Not only is KG an athlete and a winner, he is a quiet contributor to the community he lives in.  While in Minnesota, Garnett gave millions to various causes – many involving kids who live in poverty. These kids only need a boost, a glimmer of hope, to stay on a good path – to stay in school.  Garnett provides millions of glimmers of hope to kids each year.  So the City of Boston will benefit through Garnett’s transition to Massachusetts. And the Celtics, they benefit as well with a new leader, an MVP-type player and someone who wants to win it all before his days on the court are done.

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