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The Bell Curve

JOSEPH N. BELL --

August 24, 2000

My friend and neighbor, Treb Heining, stopped by Friday on his way

home from the Democratic National Convention. He came bearing gifts: a

cap and a spiffy blue shirt, both carrying the crest "America 2000, the

Democratic Convention."

Treb knew where these suckers would find a good home.

I wish I could have created a shirt for Treb with an inscription

reading: "I survived two political conventions in two weeks."

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He not only survived, but in the process listened to every speech and

watched every film at both conventions from the best seat in the house:

the photographers' platform directly in front of the podium, from which

he directed a crew of 21 balloonists.

Most of us have lived for years with the illusion that the function of

a presidential convention is to send a winning candidate out to do battle

for his party. But ever since Treb's first convention in 1988, the real

contest has been over the number of balloons dropped on the

conventioneers.

Before 1988, a drop of 50,000 balloons was considered spectacular.

When Treb took over the balloon performance at the Republican convention

in 1988, he introduced some revolutionary new techniques (Treb can

inflate and tie 22 balloons a minute) that produced 150,000 and

counting--and smashed the Democrats. So did George Bush. The other one.

The Democrats began to understand the importance of the balloon stakes

in 1992 and especially in 1996, when the 20-foot-high ceilings at the San

Diego Convention Center cramped Treb's style considerably. He told me

plaintively: "I said to the Republicans that year, 'Why don't you people

think about the balloon drop when you pick a convention site?' "

The Democrats, you may recall, won both the balloon and presidential

contests four years ago. You can make whatever connection you like.

So this year, to level the political playing field, Treb and his

partner and companion, Kelli Sipp, engineered a balloon standoff at the

two conventions. Treb was in charge of balloons and confetti in

Philadelphia, and Kelli -- with a distinguished record of design awards

-- won the Democratic job and enlisted Treb's help on the mechanics and

logistics of the balloons. The result: Somewhere between 150,000 and

200,000 balloons hit the floor at both conventions. Thus neither

candidate takes the balloon edge into the campaign getting underway.

Sitting in their kitchen the other day, I asked Treb and Kelli -- both

of whom consider themselves political independents -- to reflect on these

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