Sunday, June 13, 2021

Ishiguro's Klara Is Apparently No Fiction

I have a habit of acquiring, through purchase or library borrowing, more books than I will read. My curious approach to reading is to try to read a little of each one. Afterwards, I have three stacks: must read, hope to read, most likely not finish. Books in the latter stack is that are library books will be returned. If they are books in my possession, they will be shelved. 

Which brings us to Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the SunKazuo Ishiguro is unquestionably one of the great novelists of our time. At this moment Klara and the Sun is in my Must Read stack. Having. book like Klara in that stack is forcing me to finish two other books there so I can dig into it. 

In the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway this past year, Hemingway is quoted as saying that writers who win a Nobel Prize never produce anything great again. Ishiguro is proving Hemingway wrong. 

Ishiguro's stories are beautifully crafted and each an original. He paints such vivid characters and scenes and always leaves you feeling something and engaged in reflection. For example, in Never Let Me Go the story is told by a character who is nearing her life's end and discovering how many different ways what she experienced was misunderstood while living it earlier. This led me to reconsider many events in my own life and the ways I failed to see what was really happening.

WHAT PROMPTED this excursion into Ishiguro's writings was an article I came across this week about robots being created to serve as assistants for health care providers. Their mission, among other things, is to brighten people's lives. They can also do "talk therapy."

For the past 30 years I've held the opinion that by the time Baby Boomers are in nursing homes, there would be renewed opening of our borders to immigration in order to have more workers available to attend to our needs. (i.e. empty bedpans, keep us company, etc.) It never entered my mind that robots might be created for this purpose one day. 

The article is a photo gallery with a bit of description as regards what you are seeing. It's titled, Meet Grace, the healthcare robot COVID-19 created.

Having been introduced to Klara, the AI narrator of Ishiguro's novel, I can hardly wait to hear the rest of her story. 

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Related Links

See my reviews of two other Ishiguro novels I've read in the past couple years.
The Buried Giant
The Unconsoled

Friday, June 11, 2021

Nashville Skyline and a Selection of Images from the Country Music Hall of Fame

Nevada Bob Gordon was in Nashville this week recording his second album. A lot of history here. Charlie McCoy, one of the session musicians on Bob's first album recorded here, also contributed to this second set of songs. Next thing ya know, Nevada Bob will be singing "Act Naturally" as he steps onto the silver screen in Hollywood. He'll have to complete his book deal first.

I enjoyed Nashville the three times I went there on business. As John Sebastian sang in Nashville Cats that there were thirteen hundred and fifty two guitar pickers in Nashville back in 1966 when Bob Dylan recorded Blonde On Blonde. (Charlie McCoy was a session musician for that Bob, too.) I'm certain there are way more than 1,352 guitar pickers there today.

Nashville has been the heart of country music for ages. Photographer Gary Firstenberg, who has been in accompanying Nevada Bob this week, sent these photos from Nashville and the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

The gator guitar of Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dun.
The Queen of Rockabilly
21 #1 hits on the Billboard country music charts.
Kentucky-born songrwriter whose memorable songs included
"Dark as a Dungeon" "I am a Pilgrim" & "Sixteen Tons"
They were all there, as were many others.
He knew what he wanted, and found itin Nashville.

A life too short, whose music lives on.
A man of distinction.
It's the real deal.
A little piece of the Nashville Skyline

Be sure to visit Gary Firstenberg's photography site: 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

My Unkind Letter to Mother Maybelle Carter

Grave of Mother Maybelle Carter. 
Photo courtesy Gary Firstenberg.
To my shame I once wrote an unkind letter to the much respected and now legendary Mother Maybelle Carter. I was young, a hippie artist and idealist at the time. I had just purchased her newly released double album of 1973 and was more than a little disappointed. I'll explain why in a minute.

I was attending Ohio University in Athens, Ohio at the time. My eclectic mix of musical interests ran the gamut from Bowie to Velvet Underground to Jefferson Airplane, Beatles, Stones and all the various forms of rock and roll, to jazz, classical, folk and bluegrass. 

My own family roots were Kentucky and West Virginia so that my "native tongue" could be considered to be bluegrass. The college hosted a long weekend Folk Festival in 1971 in which many familiar names were present. Mary Travers, The Youngbloods, Doc Watson and many others were there. There were three days of workshops during the day, with a lot of spontaneous bluegrass immersion.

The following year the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's major hit triple album was released, Will the Circle Be Unbroken Mother Maybelle was featured on this album but I also listened some older records with A.P Carter. Maybe the soundtrack for Deliverance popularized the genre and made it mainstream. Whatever reason I was drawn to it, just as I had been to earlier folk music. 

Mother Maybelle's 1973 double album
So when Mother Maybelle's Mother Maybelle Carter album was released, I purchased it as soon as I saw it. I really don't know what I expected but my first and immediate reaction was something akin to Greil Marcus's response to Bob Dylan's Self Portrait

Why? Three reasons. First: It was all instrumental. What happened to the songs? I was a lyrics guy. I liked Nine Pound Hammer and Tennessee Stud for the stories. Second: the album included a bunch of studio chatter that was fun and seemingly original on Will the Circle Be Unbroken and now came across as cliche. Third: It seemed to me something that was assembled to capitalize on her name. Record companies like Columbia are in it for the money but I held it against her personally. 

Oh well. It wasn't the first time I said something unkind that I'd later regret. It may have been the first time I wrote something unkind to someone of stature, and thankfully the last (if my memory serves me well.)

I just finished listening to it again on YouTube, the first time in near 50 years. (You can listen to it here. It's friendly and warm, and it's unpretentious.) I'm hoping that whoever opened that letter discarded it before she ever laid eyes on it. And when I meet her on the other side, I'll ask her forgiveness just in case she opened it herself.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wild Elephants on the Loose in China

Some stories stimulate the imagination more than others. Yesterday I heard about a herd of elephants on the loose in China and several tag-along thoughts popped into my head. One of these was the film 12 Monkeys with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis. Wild animals on the loose. Sharknado came to mind as well, just because it is so bizarre. 

What happened is that 15 elephants left their nature preserve and began a road trip. As of today they have done about 1.1 million dollars damage to farmland, plundering and pillaging. According to a story in Travel & Leisure, 675 police, 62 emergency trucks, 12 drones and 11 tons of food have been deployed in an effort to keep the elephants from ransacking the city of Kumming, capital of Yunnan province.

The story also appeared in today's Wall Street Journal, with a somewhat comical observation that perhaps the leader of the herd "lacks experience and led the whole group astray." (This wouldn't be a veiled, tongue-in-cheek barb regarding our government leaders, would it?) The title of the piece is, "A Herd of Wild Elephants Wandering Across China Captivates Millions."

Now actually, they have only traversed about 300 miles and China is roughly the size of the U.S., so they've hardly wandered too far across China. And when you dig further, this herd is only about 15 in number. Whether the herd be large or small, the elephants are large and the story does have a weird factor.

Evidently millions in China have been watching this story unfold. Now, the story's been carried to the four corners of the world via news media and social media. Here's an ABC account with some footage of these lost vagabonds.  And here's a photo on Twitter of the sleeping herd with that darling little toddler scrunched between them.

I can't help but wonder what these elephants are thinking as they explore some of the cities they're passing through. 

To close this out, George Orwell once had to deal with an elephant out of its element when the young Orwell was stationed in India. I first wrote about that unhappy story here: Shooting An Elephant. My hope is that this unusual event will have a happier outcome for everyone, because the world world is watching.

Agatha Christie's last crime novel was titled Elephants Can Remember. Will this herd remember how to find their way home?

Here's a link to the WSJ story.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Inspired by Saved! A Dylan-Themed Painting by Claude-Angele BONI


Over the course of many decades of Bob Dylan's career, countless lists of Bob's best songs, best albums and rankings have been published. A recent article on ExpectingRain.com ranked ALL of Dylan's songs from 1 to 382 or something like that. (Brittanica.com says he's written 500+, but I will overlook the shortcoming in that list. I've personally thought the number closer to 600.) 

That task certainly required a monumental amount of work and seems immensely challenging because there are simply so many great songs. How narrow down even a top 10 list. Believe me, I've tried. 

The point of that intro is to make this observation: I don't believe I have ever seen Saved in a top ten Dylan albums list, and maybe not even in a top 25 list. Yet truthfully, when it comes to earnest energy and passion, this album has a lot of great songs. 

Granted, it's unflinchingly saturated in Gospel earnestness, which doesn't create an enthusiasm for repeated listenings if one is adamantly opposed to this kind of thing. So be it. I personally think a lot of these songs should be sung in church. I mean, why not? 

I share this by way of introduction to French artist Claude-Angele BONI's painting, Saved! Her evocative representations frequently remind me of Dali's memorable landscapes and symbolic imagery.

I'd planned to publish this on Pentecost Sunday. It is Ms. Claude-Angele BONI's portrayal of Bob Dylan's evolution over the years. Here is her explanation in her own words.

Upper half...

Dylan casting the dice as: DYLAN-MAN / as every man he is at first an adolescent contesting the image of the father, then in search of love at any price he looks for good fortune.

Dylan flying  with horns as: DYLAN-SATAN (which means  the Outlaw-Dylan who sings "but all my fathers they've gone down." ( In Christianity and Islam, in both of those two religions of Abraham, Satan is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn, who used to possess great piety and beauty, but rebelled against God,) 

Lower left

In the lower left quadrant you've got DYLAN-ADAM  holding a book of behavior in one hand and giving a name to an animal. 

Lower right

In the lower right you've got DYLAN-BORN AGAIN dressed as Jesus. He is a father now and he needs some help from his Master. "Lord protect my child"  

"I was under the influence of Slow Train Coming and Saved when I did it. It's more a painting on the ASCENSION than the PENTECOST but it fits the same."

Related Links

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Serious Labor Shortages Are Threat to Economic Recovery

Help Wanted. Now Hiring. It seems like everywhere I go I see signs announcing the need for workers to fill vacancies.

As it turns out this appears to be a national problem, not just a Northland issue. Nearly every restaurant is short of help here. A friend who owns 11 fast food restaurants between Duluth and the Twin Cities normally employs 350, but has to keep things running with 250 employees. Panera Bread has put up a sign that says they're limiting hours because of the shortage of help.

The government's good intentions in providing financial help above and beyond regular unemployment has, for many, become a disincentive for returning to the workplace.

In addition to labor shortages we have materials shortages, partially caused by labor shortages in this arena. According to a Bloomberg article, Biden's infrastructure plan could be hamstrung by the lack of qualified workers to execute this ambitious dream. Currently the U.S. manufacturing industry has 500,000 positions unfilled.

The great irony here is that this massive infrastructure push has as one of its aims to provide Americans with more jobs. But with the shortages in materials, we may end up outsourcing to other countries, benefiting others rather than those we're supposed to be helping. Lumber (now up five-fold) aluminum, copper and cement prices are high due to tariffs, so building homes has become exceedingly expensive. (EdNote: We have lots of copper inside the U.S. borders, but have made it near impossible to mine it.)

An article at CNN.com begins with this telling Q & A: "Chicken, lumber, microchips, gas, steel, metals, chlorine and ketchup packets: What do they all have in common? They're all (nearly) impossible to find."

A New York Times article this past week is titled "How the World Ran Out of Everything." It explains how the evolution of "Just In Time" manufacturing and sales systems resulted in businesses minimizing inventories. The concept of J-I-T is fine when all is good. It reduces waste, and reduces the amount of space you need to store things, which also reduces costs. It's efficient. 

But when the entire system experiences a major hiccup -- like our unplanned year-long pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, these efficient systems can be disrupted in ways many businesses could never have imagined. That appears to be what we are now experiencing, at a time when we believed everything was opening up with clear sailing ahead.

Once again, Andy Grove has been proven right. His book Only the Paranoid Survive details all the forces that businesses must juggle and manage. He then asks, "What happens when one of these forces -- government regulations, consumer demand, raw materials, labor, financial impacts, legal matters, etc. -- hits us with an unexpected 10X tsunami?"  

For businesses that survive this will be remembered as the year of the wake up call. 

The weird thing is that politicians and think tanks will undoubtedly spend gobs of money and time piecing together a strategy designed to ensure that it never happens again. Alas, these things can never be so easily predicted. It will surely come in a manner that was unforeseen. Like Pearl Harbor. Like 9-11. Like the Housing Crisis. Like the Pandemic. It will be original. It will be different next time.

Something to think about. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Munger Mission: Another Excuse for Bikers to Get Out and Explore the Munger Trail

“Bicycling is a big part of the future. It has to be. There's something wrong with a society that drives a car to work out in a gym.”—Bill Nye

One of the items in Duluth's 2035 planning for the future of the city is making more bike lanes so that it's easier and safer for bikers to get around town. Tuesday, while I was in town doing errand, I saw that there has been a lot of reconfiguration taking place on Superior Street. Bike lanes are being added and newly painted lines for parking cars more efficiently have been added. 

All about the city there are hiking and biking trails. On any given day you can see biking and hiking along the Lakewalk, with extensive trails all the the up the waterfront. On the Western end of town these bike trails stretch South to the cities of Carlton, Moose Lake and even Hinckley. That portion is called The Munger Trail. 

THE MUNGER MISSION
This year, Joelene Steffens of Carlton Bike Rental & Repair has created special event to encourage people to experience the rewards of biking Minnesota's Willard Munger Bike Trail. It's been dubbed The Munger Mission.

The concept is fairly straightforward. Purchase a starter kit, which has maps, mission instructions and goals. Your primary objective will be to take photos of yourself with your bike in front of the three bike shop locations in Moose Lake, Carlton and Hinckley and share them on one of your social media platforms or website. Upon completion you'll receive a Munger Mission Accomplished T-shirt and become eligible for bigger prizes.

EdNote: Although the business is a bike rental shop, you do not have to rent a bike from CBR&R to participate in the mission.

Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash
On May 18 the Duluth News Tribune featured a story titled "Munger Mission" aims to get riders out on the trail. The story by Jamey Malcomb begins, "Bicycle shop owner hopes to encourage people from around the state to use the Munger Trail and patronize the businesses along its route."

If you live anywhere between Hinckley and Duluth it is easy-peasy to get to one of the three CBR&R locations as a starting point. The Carlton location was initiated in 2011 with a ribbon cutting ceremony that included the late Congressman Oberstar. Congressman Oberstar was a noteworthy supporter and advocate for trails and biking.

I've not personally biked the trail from Carlton south, but I can tell you from experience that the trail running along Jay Cooke State Park is beautiful any time of year, spring, summer, fall and winter. Biking in winter is somewhat hazardous however. The Munger Mission began June 1. You can start any time and have until the end of September to completer your tasks.

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You can sign up online or, if you prefer, at one of their stores. Addresses for the store locations can be found on the CBR&R home page at carltonbikerental.com.