Saturday, July 30, 2016

Back In The U.S.S.R. -- Beatles Just Having Fun Causes a Stir

One of the things I've always enjoyed is looking at the titles of books on peoples' bookshelves. Many years ago I came across a book on someone's shelf that proposed the notion that the Beatles were agents of the KGB, or something to that effect. I forget the title, but it made me pull the book from the shelf and page through it. In retrospect it may have been something from the John Birch Society, but wherever it came from the author was in a very paranoid place.

I only skimmed the contents, but still recall three of the authors arguments. The first, of course, was this song relishing a return to the U.S.S.R. The second was the ridiculous assertion that the song Revolution was actually calling for revolution. Lennon-McCartney lay it out fairly plain when they say, "But when you talk about destruction, well you know that you can count me out." And "If you want money for people with minds that hate, well all I can tell you brother you have to wait."

But the part of the book that intrigued me most was this third argument. The author asserted that by studying the music of the Beatles it was self-evident that the KGB was behind it because look how sophisticated their sounds became in such a very short time.

Yes, this maturing of the Beatles and sophistication of their sound in such a short time was astonishing. But so was the entire Sixties. Look at the technological advances that occurred in that decade. It blows your mind. The early Beatles had guitars, amplifiers and microphones. It wasn't until after their first album that they had access to four-track recording, which enabled them to add virtually limitless numbers of tracks, though this too had limitations. Multi-track recording, synthesizers, backward masking and all manner of audio pyrotechnics soon came along. Songs were no longer created by having the group sing into a microphone. Add to this the genius of George Martin behind the scenes, who was himself brilliant at enabling their creativity to flourish, and it's no wonder their music was magical.

The book's premise was laughably absurd.

So why did the Beatles write a song like Back in the U.S.S.R.? Here's the backstory. The song was written while the Beatles were doing their India thing with the Maharishi. Mike Love of the Beach Boys was visiting at the same time, so the story can be told from Paul's viewpoint and Mike Love's recollections.

"It's tongue in cheek. This is a travelling Russkie who has just flown in from Miami Beach; he's come the other way. He can't wait to get back to the Georgian mountains: 'Georgia's always on my mind'; there's all sorts of little jokes in it... I remember trying to sing it in my Jerry Lee Lewis voice, to get my mind set on a particular feeling. We added Beach Boys style harmonies." ~Paul McCartney

"I was sitting at the breakfast table and McCartney came down with his acoustic guitar and he was playing Back In The USSR, and I told him that what you ought to do is talk about the girls all around Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia. He was plenty creative not to need any lyrical help from me but I gave him the idea for that little section... I think it was light-hearted and humorous of them to do a take on the Beach Boys." ~Mike Love

Well, the paranoid Birchers evidently didn't think it very funny. You can read a more detailed account here.

The song is purportedly a cross between Chuck Berry's Back in the USA and the Beach Boys' California Girls. You can compare them here.


Flew in from Miami Beach BOAC
Didn't get to bed last night
On the way the paper bag was on my knee
Man, I had a dreadful flight
I'm back in the USSR
You don't know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR, yeah

Been away so long I early knew the place
Gee, it's good to be back home
Leave it till tomorrow to unpack my case
Honey disconnect the phone
I'm back in the USSR
You don't know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the US
Back in the US
Back in the USSR

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind
Oh, come on
Hu hey hu, hey, ah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I'm back in the USSR
You don't know how lucky you are, boys
Back in the USSR

Well the Ukraine girls really knock me out
They leave the west behind
And Moscow girls make me sing and shout
That Georgia's always on my my my my my my my my my mind

Oh, show me round your snow peaked
Mountain way down south
Take me to your daddy's farm
Let me hear your balalaika's ringing out
Come and keep your comrade warm
I'm back in the USSR
Hey, you don't know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR
Oh, let me tell you honey

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Never been to the U.S.S.R., Russia, Ukraine, Georgia or the Urals, but we did entertain some guests from Duluth's Sister City in the Soviet Union way back in time, and I still have an unopened bottle of the vodka they brought to us as a gift. I wrote this blog post in part because a growing number of readers of this blog are from that part of the world. If you're one of them, do you remember this song? Is it still popular? Thanks for checking in. You may also follow on Twitter @ennyman3.

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Meantime, life goes on... Enjoy the weekend.

Friday, July 29, 2016

August Twin Ports Arts Scene: Let's Do It

Words are interesting. For example the name of a thing is not the same as the thing. It's just a batch of characters that in themselves mean nothing. Yet we involuntarily associate it (the name) in our minds with the thing so that ultimately it's a separate entity, a separate thing. In the same way an artist is separate from his or her art. So is the name of the piece of art. When an artist creates a piece of art and names it, she actually creates two things! Names and titles can, however, add a dimension to a piece. Sometimes I think the title says more about the artist than the piece itself.

There are people who would suggest that art should be evaluated on its own merits apart from the artist. Yet strangely enough I know that as a reader I am engaging a mind when I read a piece of writing. A story, article or book is like a window that reveals the person, though it's possible the person prefers hiding and concealing by means of their stories. Usually, though, we're looking to encounter the person, making a connection through their ideas expressed in words. Mark Twain and G.K. Chesterton may be long gone, but we know them and engage their thinking processes by means of their written legacy.

Your homework assignment this month will be to pay attention to the artwork you see in various galleries and public space, and see what it says about the artists who produced it. Notice how their minds made decisions as they created their work. Pay attention to the names of the pieces, too. Don't Think about what they were striving for, and what they are revealing about themselves. It's a game you can play.

Primary sources for this material come from people who sent me notifications and from Zentangled Esther Piszczek, whose new book Patterned Peace just came out.

Duluth Quantum Computing Project: Storytelling in a Digital Age

This looks pretty awesome. It's a free eight-week workshop by Artist Kathy McTavish and the DAI to examine digital-based art. The project will focus on digital-based art throughout the months of August and September 2016. The public is invited to come to one or all of the sessions, and no previous knowledge is required. Sessions will take place Thursdays from 3-9 p.m.; Fridays from 12-6 p.m.; and Saturdays from 3-9 p.m. at 3 West Superior Street. Each week will focus on a different area of digital-based art, exploring the poetics of code and the rich landscape offered by networks, hypermedia navigation, geo-locative storytelling, generative algorithms, and community authorship. The experience will culminate in a collaborative installation in the 3 West Superior Street downtown storefront, with a companion website and discussion. The activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

On the Rocks Art Studio has classes for young and old alike. They're located in Canal Park if you've not yet been. You can learn more here.

Effervescent local artist Erika Mock produces "textiles for body and soul." Her wearable designs light up a room because they light up your spirit. For inspirational ideas about clothing and her August/September schedule, visit this page.

A weekend of Art in Bayfront Park, an annual art fair that draws artists from a broad spectrum of disciplines as well as long distances, will be here August 18-21.
The Belknap Art Market will be alive with sunny skies this Saturday. Evidently they'll be moving some of what's inside out. If you're out and around Superior, drop by the Belknap Plaza to welcome Bitty Babes Bows to their fun little open air marketplace.

Their announcement states that they'll have "artful items from Rachel's Distinctive Decor, hand-crafted western red cedar Furniture and other Yard, Garden, & Home Stuff from Grandpa's Workshop, Skin Soothing Specialties from Paula's Potions, a fine selection of Hand-Crafted Jewelry from JLG Designs, and assorted Jams, Jewelry, Sundries and Suncatchers. Oh yes, and don't forget the cute crafties and Watkins Spices from our Watkins Home Products Vendor." Gorgeous weather is also being dialed in.
And while you're there check out the art on display inside, which includes a section of Zentangle-inspired art by Esther P. and a number of piece by yours truly.

Also in Superior:

Drawings and paintings by Adam Frankiewicz & Amy Wilson
North End Arts Gallery
1323 Broadway, 2nd Floor, Red Mug Building
Corner of Hammond & Broadway, Superior
Gallery Hours: Thurs-Sat. Noon to 6 p.m.

The Tall Ships are coming to Duluth August 18th through the 21st. Just so ya know.

Also check out 400 Paintings. Read the interview with AJ and learn the backstory and details about AJ Atwater's online exhibition. Mark you calendar for August 12-21.

Art Receptions (arranged chronologically courtesy Esther P.)

Thursday, August 4, 8-9 p.m.
Jamie Harper, "Salvaged Medium", Pizza Luce, 11 East Superior Street. Winona based painter Jamie Harper's show consists of over 40 paintings using latex house paint on hollow core doors with Northwoods' themes.
Note: Music at 9 p.m. with $5 cover: Black River Revue, Feeding Leroy, Charlie Parr

Saturday, August 13, 7 p.m.
Lydia Walker, Studio 15, 15 N. 3rd Avenue W. "This will also be the closing party for Studio 15. There will be food, refreshments, and music." Art That Stimulates The Mind, by Teri Cadeau, Duluth Budgeteer News, Feb. 20, 2015 at 12:29 p.m. (article about Lydia Walker and Studio 15)

Beaner's Central, 324 N. Central Avenue, Artist Jamie Burwell. Show runs through August.

Red Mug, 916 Hammond Avenue, Superior, Superior High School Youth Art Show The show, which is also a blind raffle art fundraiser, consists of 8"x8" pieces of art created by local youth, alumni and local professional artists. $20 buys a number that is secretly linked to one of the 8"x 8" pieces of art. Numbers are revealed at the end of August when art will be available for pick up. All proceeds go to Superior High School Art Program.
Show runs through August. Read Take a Gamble, Fund a Field Trip, by Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram.

Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, 222 E. Superior Street, Arna Rennan, "plein aire" painter. Show runs through August.

ART FAIRS and Other Happenings

As noted yesterday, tonight the Free Range Film Festival kicks off at the barn in Wrenshall. Christa Lawler's story in the Trib this a.m. includes a photo of the place so you'll know what you're looking for if you've never been.

Saturday, August 13, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Lakeside Lester Park Community Center, 106 N. 54th Avenue E, Nice Girls of the North 2nd Saturday Marketplace, "Free coffee, cookies, and a friendly atmosphere await while you browse a collection of handcrafted clothing and bags, pottery, jewelry, stained glass, photography, personal care products, baby items and much more."

While you're out that direction you might as well stop by the new Lakeside Gallery a few blocks west.

Sunday, August 28, 2-6 p.m., Hillfest, intersection of 6th Avenue E. and 4th Street (near the Whole Foods Coop) Vendors, games, food. A free family event.

If you're new to Duluth, you might not be aware that we have a summer movie night at Leif Erickson Park. Here's the August schedule for Movies in the Park.

Zentangle Pattern Drawing Classes with Esther Piszczek, CZT

Zentangle (R) Pattern Drawing 
Saturday, August 6, 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m.; Vaughn Public Library, 502 W. Main Street, Ashland, WI; Classes are Free, but limited to 15 students. Call 715-682-7060 to register.
Zentangle (R) kits will be available for sale, $10. (This class is FULL, however Esther might be invited back to teach in the Fall, so if you are interested, call to get on the waiting list!)

Teen Art Mini-Camp: z e n t a n g l e (R) Pattern Drawing at Duluth Art Institute (Ages 10-17) Monday – Friday, August 8-12, 12-2 p.m., Duluth Depot, 506 W. Michigan Street, Duluth; $90 ($110 non-members). Register by calling (218) 733-7560.

Looking ahead: Lake Superior 20/20, Friday-Sunday, September 23-25, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Esther will be at the Larsmont Schoolhouse, 701 Larsmont Rd., Two Harbors with at least 3 other talented local artists, 20 artists in 20 miles. In conjunction with the natural beauty of the fabulous fall colors as our season begins to change.

AND DON'T MISS Esther Piszczek's film Life & Art Entangled, screening at Teatro Zuccone, Monday 5:30-6:30 p.m. followed by an art opening in the Atrium from 6:30 till 8:30. 

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I'm sure we've missed something here...

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Do it. Get into it. Enjoy it.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Universal Basic Income: Our Only Hope for a Brighter Future (for All) or Sellout of the American Dream?

There's an interesting article in this month's July/August MIT Technology Review. It's interesting to me anyways because of recent readings about UBI, a.k.a. Universal Basic Income. The buzz in Silicon Valley is that with increased automation there's going to be a need for new thinking about Capitalism. Earlier this month we introduced this idea while reviewing futurist Calum Chace's new book The Economic Singularity. David H. Freedman's article "Basic Income: A Sellout of the American Dream" pushes back.

For a great starting point toward furthering the discussion, read the editor's column, in which Jason Pontin creates an imaginary dialogue between Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

[Aside: I personally enjoy any use of the imagination, especially these kinds of encounters of historical personages. A good example of the form is Peter Kreeft's rewarding Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. I'd known that Lewis died the same day Kennedy was shot, so news of his death was lost in the greater noise of the time. I had not known that Huxley also died the same day, so the collision of these three very different and influential men's ideas in a lengthy dialogue made for some illuminating reading. I myself used the device once to interview an uncle who had lost his eyesight during the Civil War and became a poet and newspaper editor.]

Freedman's article is a good read on an important topic. He suggests that there are many reasons the concept of UBI resonates is because many Americans are struggling economically. He points out that the wealth being created in Silicon Valley exacerbates the guilt of being rich in a land where .01 percent of the people "account for more than 20 percent of the country's wealth." The author suggests that the idea of UBI might be a result of this awareness of this growing wealth disparity.

Freedman notes, however, that just doling out dough on a scale being proposed will be far more expensive than we realize. In one of the article's callouts he states, "How much would a basic income cost? The simple answer is: a lot."

The article's section subheads spell out his view fairly strongly. "Sticker shock" and "Risky bet" stand out. In the latter part of the article he dismisses the call for UBI as unnecessary. He writes:

"It’s not just that a basic income would be a risky bet based on murky data. The bigger objection is that it’s an unnecessary bet. Existing safety-net programs could be expanded and tuned to eliminate poverty about as effectively but much less expensively, and they could continue to focus on providing jobs and the incentives to take them."

Is the real battle between proponents and opponents both wearing rose-colored glasses? People like Freedman believe that the information age will create more jobs to replace the ones automation is going to take and that UBI is unnecessary. Tech optimists see the possibility of a world where most needs (and job tasks) will be satisfied by technology so we'd better think of ways to make sure the unemployed are taken care of. It won't be enough to quote Jesus and say, "The poor you will always have with you."

Freedman concludes, "We aren’t yet close to running out of jobs, so why go through so much expense to make it easy for people to opt out of the workforce?"   He may be right for now, but since I don't possess a reliable crystal ball it feels comforting to know that there are people out there at least addressing the scenario.

Read the full article here.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Think about it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hinckley Release Brings Back Memories of the Attempt on Reagan's Life


The news is out. John Hinckley, the young man who attempted to knock off the president because of an obsession with actress Jodie Foster, is being released. What was he thinking? The courts concluded he was insane and they put him away. This week they have concluded it will be safe to release him, that he is not a danger to society. In fact, for twelve years he's been granted temporary release on numerous occasions to visit with his mother.

* * * *

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. We were living in Mexico at the time, working at an orphanage. We had just returned from town in the van. As we parked by the house and before we got out, Juan the cook came running up to the vehicle wearing an expression of distress. Susie's window was rolled down and he ran up to it, his hands gripping the door, shouting in Spanish, "The president of the United States has been shot!"

Susie and I leapt out and rushed down to the orphanage director's house where we found the other American's gathered in a semi-circle in front of the television. The news coverage, in Spanish, was almost comical because there were absolutely no details. it went like this:

Whether the president was hit or not..."No sabemos." (Which means, we don't know.)
Whether he is alive or muerte, "No sabemos."
Whether others were wounded or killed... "No sabemos."
On and on, question after question, with the same answer, "No sabemos."
This must have gone on for more than an hour and we stayed glued there because it was our only source of information.

All the while they kept playing and re-playing the footage of the shooting, the same questions repeated over and over, followed by the same refrain, "No sabemos." Eventually they showed footage outside the hospital, but again, the same lack of information: "No sabemos."

Here is unsettling footage that shows Reagan's cheerful, confident stride as he exits the Washington Hotel Hilton. Notice how swiftly the scene devolves into chaos and distress. I would call this PG-13.

Hinckley's release has become the occasion of a number talking points related to mental illness, the insanity defense, mental illness realities and gun control issues. (See WSJ story here.)

Watching the shooting by John Hinckley brought to mind another shooting many people saw on live television. In viewing the two one after the other, one can't help but notice similarities. In both instances the person being shot was surrounded by security officials (police, secret service agents) and media.

Most of us are familiar with the history of presidential assassinations in this country. It might be interesting to get schooled on how many failed attempts there were. Check out this slide show.

A conspiracy theorist might conclude that the release of Hinckley was timed for this week as a distraction from the Democratic Convention. On the flip side, other conspiracy theorists might be thinking that Hinckley's release at this time was timed to reinforce last night's convention message in favor of greater gun controls and strengthening of the Brady Bill.

Meantime, ....

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, Congratulations, Boom!

Greetings cards @ J Skylark in Canal Park, Duluth

Cool source of Baby Shower gifts and gifts for infants:

Free Range Film Festival Celebrates 13th Season This Weekend

When Richard Hansen brought the DuSu Film Festival to the the Twin Ports several years back he wasn't the first game in town for alternative film. The Free Range Film Festival is now in its 13th year out there in the Wrenshall boondocks. "The Barn" is turning 100 this year so it will be an extra special time to show your face, settle in and enjoy out of the mainstream programming.

Nearly all of us have grown up on cinema and a large percentage of us will admit privately that more often than not the films Hollywood has been producing are all too often less than satisfying. For this reason Indie films and off-the-beaten-path film festivals have become so popular among film buffs.

This particular film festival has been dubbed “a farm fresh alternative to stale cinema” since it started screening films in 2003. To celebrate the barn’s important anniversary the festival has expanded the number of films it is screening to almost 40 as well as presenting a live improvised score with the Band “Portrait of a Drowned Man”. (I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds interesting.)

Annie Dugan, director of the Duluth Art Institute, is also the force behind this event, its chief organizer and advocate. “This year’s crop of films is particularly peculiar and delightful” says Dugan. “We have such a mix with lots of shorts so there's always going to be something that will capture as well as challenge our audiences. I feel like that is what watching movies together should be about.” This year’s lineup features a mix of animated shorts, narrative shorts and plenty of documentaries including a 10 minute short about a 90-year-old woman who tries bacon for the first time.

One thing that has happened after a baker's dozen festivals is that the event has gained a reputation as being fun and quirky. As a result, Dugan notes, they have been able to leverage this to acquire some really amazing work. “This year we were able to secure a film that made a big splash at Sundance called ‘Nuts!’ It tells the story of John Brinkley who tried to cure impotence with goat testicle implants and ended up inventing modern radio along the way. And a lot of it is done in animation!”

The festival features local filmmakers alongside national headliners. Brian Barber is returning to screen work that he and Paul Lundgreen from Perfect Duluth Day directed together: “Honeycomb Hideout” interviews Duluthian Rob Berry whose collection of cereal boxes is truly tremendous.

Friday, July 29th 7pm – 11pm
Saturday, July 30th, 2pm – 5:30pm and 7pm – 11pm

The two-day event is held in the barn at 909 County Road 4 just outside of Wrenshall, MN. You'll find the full schedule, driving directions and more at the Free Range Film festival website:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Has Moore's Law Run Its Course?

2016 has been a great year for A.I.  Watson beat the best of the best in Jeopardy. And a rival A.I. sibling defeated the world's best Go player. For artificial intelligence enthusiasts everything's been coming up roses. Siri will get smarter this fall, and smart cars will continue to prove their mettle on the nation's highways.

Meanwhile, unnoticed in the shadows of all these breakthrough events was this gloomy announcement: Moore's Law R.I.P.

Moore's Law is one of those things like gravity that has been taken as a matter of faith since it was conceived, or revealed. It's named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, who in 1965 observed that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit was doubling every year and would continue to do so. Ironically as this legendary "law" became universal lore it was modified to every two years. At that point right there someone should have noticed that there would be limits on how long this doubling could go on.

Technology's capabilities have had an amazing run though and it shows no signs of letting. I doubt that anyone who worked on the ENIAC could ever have imagined the power capabilities of our smart phones today. My uncle, who had worked with the ENIAC, said that the room-sized machine was powered by vacuum tubes. After about five minutes of run time a tube would burn out and they would have to walk around trying to find the burned out tube so they could replace it. (Read how vacuum tubes work here.)

Even if Moore's Law has slowed, making predictions about the future hasn't let up one byte. This year's buzz has to do with predictions about the Internet of Things (IofT). If you think that having all the computers in the world wired is remarkable, what's coming is apparently going to dwarf this when we have all our devices, houses, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture connected.

It's no wonder that some people are a bit fearful about the possible adversity that could be caused by a superintelligent computer that goes rogue. Some believe this could even happen in our lifetimes. For others there are more immediate issues we should be concerned about. Fortunately, 95% of what we worry about doesn't happen, so try not to lose too much sleep.

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On a lighter note, here's a link to an NPR story dealing with computers and creativity. Can computers can write good poetry? Can they write so well that you can't tell who or what wrote it? It's a six poem quiz. Read each and guess whether it was written by a human or a machine. I got all six correct. Can you?

Meantime life goes on all around you. Enjoy it while you can.