Saturday, June 23, 2018

Pedro Albuquerque Sheds Light on U.S. & E.U. Economics and Our Current Political Climate

I met economics professor Pedro Albuquerque in a somewhat freaky manner. My family was reading the book Freakonomics and a section of the book made me want to write about incentives as they relate to economics. I did a Google search and found an interesting blog titled Incentives Matter. As I read some of the articles I felt like I'd discovered a kindred spirit, which made me want to contact this blog writer to get to know him better. To my astonishment he was actually here in Duluth, teaching economics at UMD. We soon had lunch at Pizza Luce which led to inviting he and his wife Sophie to our Philosophy Club. Eventually they moved to the south of France, but we've stayed in touch. Occasionally events in the news lead me to reach out to gain his perspective on things from outside the country. Since reality is mediated to us through only partially reliable media it is useful to have a network of collaborating or alternative perspectives. I've found Pedro's perspectives fresh and insightful.

EN: Briefly summarize your career and what you do.

Pedro Albuquerque: I was born in Brazil and I have a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I lived in Duluth while teaching at UMD's Labovitz School of Business and Economics and I'm now a professor at KEDGE Business School in the metropolitan region of Aix-Marseille in the south of France.

EN: You lived in the U.S. for a while and now live in France. Economically and politically, what is similar and what is different?

PA: I've lived in the U.S. from 1995 to 2010 and, retrospectively, I must say that those were great times, specially the years before 9/11. Our expectations about the future were much more optimistic then. Having lived for 15 years in the U.S. and for 8 years in France I can say that there are many similarities between these two societies, which have origins in their common revolutionary roots, after all the American Constitution and the French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen, having both benefited from the pen of Thomas Jefferson, are based on similar values, ideals and struggles. In this sense I don't think there are two other developed societies that have so much in common. But there are many differences naturally, most of them stemming from the contrasts between common law in the US and Roman civil law in Continental Europe, which lead to American corporate capitalism on one side and to European social market capitalism on the other side.

EN: What is the appeal of socialism for so many Americans? What is the track record of socialism in Europe?

PA: The US, despite its enormous historical achievements, has been until now unable to extend the benefits of its successes to the whole of its population. This is particularly true when compared to the more evident social successes of some Western European societies. One popular but disingenuous explanation is to attribute Western European relative successes to socialism, so the mentioned appeal. Reality is more complex however: socialist experiments in Europe have all failed badly, with the developmental disparities between Western and Eastern European societies being the best example of how negative was the impact of socialism in many of those. Some have argued, and I agree with them, that the success cases weren't due to socialism but to ordoliberalism, a modern version of social and economic liberalism that emphasizes institutional building, good governance, social protection and sensibly regulated market capitalism. Nordic societies would be examples of ordoliberal successes.

EN: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Capitalism?

PA: I believe that Joseph Schumpeter's work is still the most important in explaining the strengths of capitalism: it promotes creative destruction, a system of incentives where innovation is at the heart of entrepreneurship and its rewards. This has never existed before in history. The weaknesses come from the instability and conflicts that rise from this same creative destruction. Finding the right balance between innovative disruption and social peace is in my opinion the greatest challenge of modern societies, which becomes even more important as the pace of social, economic and technological transformation accelerates. I'd like to add that we should never forget that modern societies like the American or the French are still in the middle of the revolution of ideas that gave rise to the modern era.

EN: The divisions between right and left (conservatives and liberals) in the U.S. seem more extreme today.

PA: I like to think about what's happening today in the US as another backward step in the incomplete path of the American Revolution. This is not new in the relatively short American history, it has had enough of its Andrew Jackson versus Abraham Lincoln moments. Still, it's quite surprising to observe that the U.S., the clear hegemonic winner of the post-WWII period, is now at the front of the political destabilization process that has been taking over the world since 9/11. Very candidly, from a social scientist perspective, I wouldn't have ever predicted this historical outcome. I've always had enormous faith in the American humanistic and progressive fiber, and I'm still in awe at how badly it has been faltering recently.

EN: How is this playing out in Europe? Is the E.U. threatened? That is, will the E.U. unravel and what will be the end result?

PA: Europe has been very badly affected by those internal struggles in the U.S. given its prominent role in reconstruction and stabilization of the continent after WWII and the influence of American culture and business in the region. There are therefore only two possible outcomes for Europe, which has its own ghosts to deal with: it will bend back towards its most primitive political instincts and disintegrate into relatively irrelevant and isolated aging nations, see the recent example of Italy, or it will grow over the tutorship of the U.S. by finally taking responsibility for its own future as a still very influential federation of nations, accepting immigration as a social force instead of a social handicap. Despite some recent political accidents there are also some even more important positive surprises such as the election of Emmanuel Macron in France. It's very hard then to predict how this situation will unravel, we're clearly at a historical crossroad, but if the past serves as a guide I still remain mostly optimistic about the end result. Social change is the only historical constant and there is always sunshine after a storm.

* * * *
Related Link

Friday, June 22, 2018

Vigorous Discussion Ensues After Philosophy Profs Explore Existentialism and Authenticity at Magnolia Salon

All photos on this page courtesy Machelle Lind
Last night's featured presenters at the Magnolia Salon were a pair of philosophy professors, Steven Ostovich, Ph.D., philosophy chair at St. Scholastica and Gordon Marino, Ph.D. from St. Olaf College and author of The Existentialist's Survival Guide, subtitled How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. Even before the event began you could feel the kinetic energy of electric expectation.

Suzie and Gordon Marino with Glenn and Emily Swanson.
The evening began with Glenn and Emily welcoming us and sharing with newcomers some of the rituals and the overarching theme of the Salon: living creative life. They then introduced the profs, who essentially held a prolonged Q&A forum betwixt the two of them over next hour or more, Prof. Ostovich serving as a Dick Cavett of sorts. Their banter was relaxed and the room was engaged as Steve asked questions and Gordon responded with stories. After this, they opened the floor for questions, which erupted with a send-up of hands, questions from every table in the room without exception and without ceasing for seemingly an hour straight.

What thrilled me was knowing that few, if any, here were philosophy majors in college, yet every person in the room seemed totally engaged. Here are a few of my own takeaways from the never-boring-for-a-minute two hours.

What is existentialism as a movement? Gordon Marino described it as a motley crew of philosopher-writers who explore matters of choice, the meaning of life and the limits of reason. It was popular after both World War I and World War II, global events that were exceedingly disruptive in Europe especially.

Gordon Marino listens to a passionate question.
What is meant by an Inauthentic Age? With social media being so pervasive, people become more concerned with how they present themselves, with posturing rather than being authentic. "We've lost a lot," Marino said. As a result we sense our own alienation because we are not ourselves. This sense of alienation is at the heart of existential writing.

In response, Sartre wrote, "Existence precedes essence." We define ourselves by our actions. We exist in time,. Therefore the choices we make create and reveal who I am.

Marino, who also authored Kierkegaard in the Present Age, is the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf, so he spoke with great fluency about Kierkegaard. He noted that Kierkegaard addressed issues of morality and faith, obedience and virtue. In our modern era, young people are not interested in hearing about self-discipline and obedience. For Kierkegard, obedience to God involves a leap of faith, by which he means one cannot find God by means of reason. Reason has its limits.

Camus is another favorite of Prof. Marino. He began by citing The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. "Once you give up hope, you're free to be creative," he said. Camus carried this further in The Plague where Dr. Rieu was cognizant of the futility and uselessness of his every action to stop the plague. The point Camus makes, though is not to give up just because you can't win. He emphasized that "the value of what you're doing is more important than the success of your battle." In other words, we are all fighting on two battle fronts. The external world is broken. Even though we will never fix it, it is worth the fight, our responsibility to work toward fixing, toward healing. Then there is our own inner battle. Even though we will never be perfect, it is our task to improve ourselves, to work toward wholeness, even if we never reach it.

At this point one of the two presenters stated, "One of the great benefits of philosophy is that it aids us in self-reflection. What kind of person do you want to be? Are you making progress?

One of the questions asked by someone in the audience led to a comment about the medicalization of everything in the 21st century. We talk about depression and panic attacks, and have meds to deal with whatever we're dealing with. This was followed up with the observation that success can be just as destructive as failure. (EdNote: I thought here of the Simon & Garfunkel song Richard Cory based on the poem by Edward Arlington Robinson.)

Other takeaways from the evening included the following.

1) The first task of philosophy is diagnosis.

2) Existential living begins with the acknowledgement and acceptance of this fact: I am responsible for my life.

3) Philosophy is not about the love of knowledge. It is about the love of wisdom. It is important to know the difference. (EdNote: Knowledge for knowledge's sake makes us educated fools.)

4) Proper self-love requires affirmations. Most of us need to feel loved in order to love ourselves. Here he shared the importance of "being there for people on a consistent basis."

5) Living Authentically means being able to tolerate vulnerability.

* * * *
A special feature of the evening was the presence of Bob and Angel Dobrow of Zenith Bookstore. The Dobrow's joined our community after Bob's 20-year career teaching math and statistics at Carleton College. Avid readers they are, so to speak, living the dream.

There was much more, and a lot could be said about Prof. Marino's relationship to boxing, but rather than go there (because my notes are sketchy and my memory moreso) I'll hope to take a deeper dive on that sometime in the near future. It was fascinating.

Related Links
Gordon Marino's book will be available at Zenith Bookstore next door to Beaner's Central in Duluth. The store will be celebrating its One Year Anniversary on July 1. Thank you for being part of our community.
Next Thursday will be the Magnolia Salon Summer Send Off Party. Be sure to register so that they know how many Oldenburgers to grill for us.
If you do not live in this vicinity, you can find The Existentialist's Survival Guide here on Amazon.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Live the life you were meant to live.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Scathing Pen of That Ol' Curmudgeon H.L. Mencken

He was born Henry Louis Mencken on born September 12, 1880 in Baltimore, though most of us know him as H.L. Mencken. He wrote such bristling prose that if you look up the word "curmudgeon" in the dictionary it would have a picture of Mencken.

The Encyclopedia Britannica has this to say about him:
Mencken was probably the most influential American literary critic in the 1920s, and he often used his criticism as a point of departure to jab at various American social and cultural weaknesses. His reviews and miscellaneous essays filled six volumes aptly titled Prejudices (1919–27). In literature he fought against what he regarded as fraudulently successful writers and worked for the recognition of such outstanding newcomers as Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis. He jeered at American sham, pretension, provincialism, and prudery, and he ridiculed the nation’s organized religion, business, and middle class (or “booboisie”). 

Two recent references to Mencken in a short period of time instilled in me a desire to share a few of his quotes today. The first was an extremely well-written review of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The reviewer demonstrate's (a) that he has a point-of-view, and (b) that he is more than familiar with the arc of Fitzgerald's career, shining fresh light on the work he's done up to this point in time. I have included a link at the end of this blog post and--if you are a writer or critic--would encourage you to read.

The second was this quote that Ken Burns cited in his documentary on Prohibition, reproduced here:

"Five years of Prohibition have had, at least, this one benign effect: they have completely disposed of all the favorite arguments of the Prohibitionists. None of the great boons and usufructs that were to follow the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment has come to pass. There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished." --H.L. Mencken

If his barbed wit reminds you of Nietzsche or Twain, there's good reason. Both of these writers were among his influences. What follows are quotes from the pointed pen of this prickly purveyor of perspicacious sagacity.

* * * *
"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood."

"All men are frauds. The only difference between them is that some admit it. I myself deny it."

"Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."

"I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time."

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

"The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else."

"A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar."

"The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth."

"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it."

"An idealist is one who, on noticing that roses smell better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup."

"The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians."

"Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

"The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom."

"Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking."

"It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf."

Related Links
Superb review of Fitzgerald's Gatsby. Don't stop at the beginning which is harsh. Read it to the end. It's rich.
Britannica entry on Mencken 

Meantime life goes on all around you. Get into it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Iceland Thru the Lens of Ryan Tischer

Iceland is magical. I know this because I have seen some of the images photographers have brought home after they've been there. On June 29 Ryan Tischer will be showing some of the stunning scenes he captured during a ten day trip to this most unusual land.

Rumor has it that a number of galleries are collaborating to re-institute the monthly Friday Night Art Crawls that emerged in the days of the Ochre Ghost involving Washington Studios and the inauguration of The PROVE Gallery.

Ten Days in Iceland will open Friday, June 29th from 5:00 – 7:00 pm at Tischer Photographic Gallery at 5 West Superior Street, a hop, skip and a jump from Lake Avenue. Expect to be impressed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Magnolia Salon Winding Down for the Summer with a Send Off Party

Next week the Magnolia Salon is celebrating the end of its first season with a Send Off Party that will feature the Myers Wilkins World Beat Drummers - a much loved group of Duluth 5th and 6th graders who play in the West African Tradition.

The party will include yummy Oldenburgers and picnic food. It will be a chance to visit with the Salon presenters of their first season and meet some of the presenters for the Fall 2018-Spring 2019 Magnolia Salon season.

Please register in advance to give an accurate head count at: Donations for food, beverages and entertainment are suggested.
The Fall season for Magnolia Salon will begin again on Thursday, September 6th at 6:00PM

THIS THURSDAY'S FEATURED PRESENTER WILL BE Gordon Marino, author of The Existentialist’s Survival Guide: How to Live Authentically in an Inauthentic Age. Professor Marino will read from his new book and discuss it with Steve Ostovich, Chair of the Philosophy Department at the College of St. Scholastica. Marino examines the existential perspective that sees our psychological ups and downs as offering enduring lessons about living a life of integrity and can help us discern an inner spark that can inspire spiritual development and personal transformation. Marino is a professor of philosophy and director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College, boxing corespondent for The Wall Street Journal and frequent writer for the New York Times. The author will autograph books provided for sale by Zenith Bookstore.
Food and beverages available from Magnolia Cafe.

Thursday Evenings 6-9 p.m.
9/6 Adam Herman, author and musician
9/13 Kris Nelson, artist - chairs
9/20 Sarah Seidelmann, author and shaman
9/27 Arna Rennan, Scandinavian roots music
10/4 Ryan Bauers - living your creative life
10/11 Pat McCoy and County Extension nutritionist on One Veg/One Community and Healing Kitchen (invited, not yet confirmed)
10/18 Joe Klander and Kinderchomper (invited, not yet confirmed)
10/25 Blacklist brewing Oldenburg beer (invited, not yet confirmed)
11/1 Hari Shankar,Nidha Bhagsu and Marcus Wise (invited, not yet confirmed)
11/8 Cynthia Lapp and Inner Light Mandalas (invited, not yet confirmed)

* * * *
For details about other events and activities at Oldenburg House,
including Cookin' at the O', visit

Oldenburg House is located at 604 Chestnut Avenue - Carlton, MN 55718

Local Art Seen: Chromascope at the Prøve

Rotten Light by Dane Pedersen. Photography.
Last Friday evening I visited the Prøve Gallery for the opening reception of Chromascope, a show featuring 13 local and regional artists. The call for art restricted artists in their color selection to essentially the basic color wheel.

An unusual feature of the show was the manner in which it was laid out. Rather than having the works displayed sequentially about the gallery, the curators mounted the 19 pieces in a holistic, relational manner as if a collaborative installation. The aim is to create a greater visual resonance amongst the pieces within the white cube of the space. Furniture by Loll Designs had been installed to encourage viewers to sit facing the exhibit in order to more or less relax, contemplate the whole.

Kirsten Aune's large Textile On Cotton provided a focal starting point.
dispersing color in all directions.
Here is a listing of the featured artists: Ray Allard, Kirsten Aune, Billy Flynn, Susanna Gaunt, Linda Glisson, Margie Helstrom, Isaac James, Tom Moriarty, Lance Mountain, Philip Noyed, Dane Pedersen, Sue Rauschenfels and Pat Sharrow. The show will run through July 7.

Isaac Watamaniuk's Blue 65. Acrylic on canvas.

CE-5 by Lance Mountain. Latex on canvas.

Turquoise Light Wave by Phillip Noyed.
Lambda photographic print, Acrylic, LED
Totem Poles and Birch Trees, Sue Rauschenfels.
Mixed media.
The weather Friday was tumultuous. For hours that morning and afternoon the rain fell in buckets. Many had a foreboding that Grandma's Marathon might even be cancelled for the first time. But then, the sky opened and the sun shone in. Driving into town from the South one could see that the William Irving 5K run went off well, people returning to their cars or hotels, standing at intersections in clusters with runners in running gear accompanied by friends who came to cheer them on. Parties followed. The weather and the race may have contributed to the thin turnout at the opening. I couldn't help but recall to mind the many Prøve openings in which there were so many present one could hardly navigate the room.

"Chromascope" has been made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage funds. Support from Prøve Gallery is also possible through the private donations by Prøve Gallery Members and Collective.

Prøve Gallery is an contemporary and experimental art gallery in downtown Duluth.
Margie Helstrom provides a sense of scale for the work. Her piece, above
and over her left shoulder: Silly Rabbit, Trix Are For Kids. Acrylic on canvas.
BAM, by Kirsten Aune.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Eight Minutes with Howard Shapiro, Author ot the Graphic Novel Queen of Kenosha

This past week I received a review copy of Howard Shapiro's Queen of Kenosha, a soon-to-be released graphic novel about a young woman from the midwest who moves to New York City in an effort to make it as a rock star. Inasmuch as the story takes place in 1963, Dylan resonance is clearly apparent. This, however, is but the backdrop against which a much larger story takes place.

Though I've been aware of the graphic novel form for some time, I only started reading a few this past year or so, primarily because our Duluth Public Library has a shelf of them. The storyline for Queen of Kenosha runs like this: "A coming of age tale, this is the first installment of the Thin Thinline Trilogy, the fiercely independent Nina Overstreet has an axe to grind. A talented singer-songwriter slogging her way through the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1963, the Queen of Kenosha, Wisconsin, realizes that standing on the cusp of stardom gets her little respect and barely a cup of coffee in New York City. A chance encounter...."

Author Howard Shapiro lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and two sons. Shapiro is a Controller for the Pittsburgh-based Visual Effects firm, Animal Inc. He has also written four children’s books, The Stereotypical Freaks being his debut Graphic Novel. His 2008 book, Hockey Player for Life, has been the #1 downloaded children’s hockey e-book on Amazon’s Kindle chart since its arrival as an e-book in November of 2011.

EN: What was your motivation in writing this book? 

Howard Shapiro: When I did my first graphic novel, The Stereotypical Freaks the protagonist was inspired by an 18-year-old kid (John Challis) from my area who was in a battle with liver cancer which, sadly, he succumbed to. But in his last year his bravery and message of hope and living every day to the fullest was incredibly moving and inspiring and I wanted to honor his memory by basing the Jacoby character on him. When I did The Hockey Saint next, I wrote it during the Jerry Sandusky trial here in Pennsylvania and I was struck with how sports and teams in this area had caused people to lose all perspective on right and wrong. So, the book detailed how out of control sports culture and the idea of celebrity had overtaken us. Now, with “Queen of Kenosha” I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be a true, and also, safe American citizen. Does that mean that the ends justify the means to keep us safe or do we always hold sacred the ideals that the nation was founded on? Is "my country right or wrong" just a saying? The story takes place in 1963 but the questions that the characters discuss and argue about in the story are just as prevalent today and those questions were my motivation in writing “Queen of Kenosha.”

EN: And why this particular form of storytelling rather than a straight novel? 

HS: Excellent question! I find it best to write in a quasi-script form and graphic novels lend themselves to this incredibly well. I more or less sketch out the story, visually, in my head and then put together a synopsis from the scenes I envision. I then work with my editor, Christina Hickey, to flesh out the story.

Opening panel establishing time and place.
EN:  In your acknowledgments you tip your hat to a whole team of people who made this book possible. Was Erica Chan the illustrator or did she head up a team of illustrators? 

HS: Yes, Erica was the sole illustrator for the book. She did an amazing illustration job and was a wonderful creative partner throughout the process. She also did the coloring, some illustrators prefer that someone else do the color work but Erica did double duty, doing both the illustration and color work.

EN: Is this your first book together? 

HS: Yes and I hope that Erica will illustrate and color the sequels as well!!

EN: How long does it take complete a project like this? It’s clearly a lot of work. 

HS: The total was about a year and a half for the book which is a total of 176 pages. To give folks an idea, a good week will mean that we got three pages completed. That will help give you an idea how long it takes to complete a 150+ pages graphic novel! Add in the time to have it lettered and printed and your looking at a close to two year process.

EN: What is the mission of Animal Media Group? 

HS: Animal Media Group is looking for stories that can, hopefully, be turned into a TV series or a film. The company only publishes four to five books a year and they take a lot of time and put a lot of effort into the design and production of their books.

EN: The way you open each chapter with a picture of a record with song titles is clever. Can you elaborate on where this idea originated and how you use this device? 

HS: I started with the recommended listening songs at the beginning of each chapter when I did “The Stereotypical Freaks” mainly because that book was about rock music and how a shared love of music can unite people. It was a pretty natural thing, I thought, to list the songs that were inspiring me to write each chapter or the songs listed were the songs that the guys in the band were playing in that particular chapter. I got such a good response to that listing at the front of each chapter that each subsequent book has had a similar list of songs.

EN: When will Queen of Kenosha be available for purchase? 

HS: Thanks, it releases on October 9, 2018

EN: And when will the second and third books of the trilogy be completed? 

HS: Hopefully In October 2020 and we’ll wrap things up in October 2022.

EN: Though the book is fiction, it begs the question: were there Nazi cells working within the U.S. in the early Sixties?

HS: Well, not in the 60’s but before World War 2 there were cells in Los Angeles which we allude to in the book. I found this out from a great book that came out last year titled “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews and Their Spies Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America” by Steven J. Ross. And during the war there were Nazis sent to get into America thru Canada and into upstate New York and that plot was called the “Operation Pastorious.”

EN:  It’s actually an interesting concept to have a rock star also being a spy. Numerous authors have been spies or secret agents (Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, etc.) It would not raise many questions to have a performer do undercover work. Do you think this actually happens?

HS: Great question, but no I don’t think it happens. Interestingly though, another influence or inspiration for the book was the “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” book and movie. The book was a memoir by Chuck Barris who was a Game Show producer starting in the 60’s. He created and produced “The Newlywed Game”, “The Dating Game” and then created and hosted “The Gong Show” which I watched religiously back in the late 70’s. In the book he claimed to be a CIA spy and when the CIA shot that down Barris later said that the book was how he imagined his life would have been had he worked for the CIA.

EN: Howard, thanks for your time as well as these insights on your new book.

Related Links
The Hockey Saint
Pittsburgh's Coolest Offices: Animal Inc.
Animal Studio