Monday, February 29, 2016

Flat-Footed Flatheads

Part of my evening reading the past few weeks has included Ron Brotherton's Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories. So I found the following email from a friend more than a little intriguing.

We live in an interesting period of human history. One of the ruling philosophies of the Boomer generation has been "Question Authority." And because of our knowledge of history, of propaganda and the media (cf. Edward Bernays and Marshall McLuhan) we're not without foundation to take this stance, up to a point. It's the age of suspicion.

Being suspicious is one thing, but when we distrust everything it can put people into some pretty precarious places. Advances in modern medicine have eliminated many of the diseases that ravaged communities in olden days. In earlier times there were reasons families were large. Many of those children were never going to reach adulthood. But now, with conspiracy theories surrounding the very vaccinations that have made us safe from polio, small pox and other deadly diseases we're seeing a rise in some of these diseases that had been nearly eradicated.

Brotherton doesn't mock and dismiss people who believe conspiracy theories. His book's aim is not to catalog all those rabbit holes. Rather, he attempts to present new research on how the brain works and why we tend to be so susceptible.

This past week I once again watched Woody Allen's Zelig, a fictional documentary about a "chameleon man" who becomes like whoever he is around. It's a clever psychological study about our efforts to fit in. While serving as a masterful piece of entertainment it simultaneously affirmed one of the basic reasons the masses are susceptible to many of the most absurd assertions.

Here's a portion of yesterday's  email, which the writer titled, Flat-Footed Flatheads.

There's this growing phenomenon occurring on YouTube promoting a flat earth theory. They believe the Earth is a flat disk with a dome over the top they call the "firmament" that is described in Genesis of the Bible... separating the waters above from the waters below. On this dome the universe is projected to us including the sun and all the stars. Another claim about Antarctica is it's a wall of ice that goes around the entire edge of the disk. Underneath are the usual layers of earth, crust, mantle, core, etc. They also claim that the UN logo is an actual map of flat Earth.

As creative as it sounds, it's laughable how serious the followers are. I'm not going to explain why the earth is a sphere. Anyone with a couple of thumbs can Google it. What I am going to discuss is the nature of conspiracy theories and the people who follow them. I can be charged as guilty for being amongst this crowd for a sizable portion of my 37 years. The reason I fell into this stuff was I felt hopelessly disenfranchised as a disabled person. There was a theory and explanation for every injustice and corruption present in the world. It's almost a religious experience, the level of catharsis these theories bring to a lonely tortured person. So I get it. I understand why people fall into this tomfoolery.

This is where I have to turn my back on these people. There's definitely something bizarre going on in a possibly sinister way. 

* * * *
Some of my friend's observations here and Brotherton's assessment of conspiracy followers dovetails with Eric Hoffer's invetigative analysis and conclusions regarding people swept up in mass movements. His book The True Believer is a classic. Here are a few quotes.

"When our individual interests an prospects do not seem worth living for, we are in desperate need of something apart from us to live for." p. 24

"When people are ripe for mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely one with a particular doctrine or program." p. 25

"A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence." p. 44

"The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning, but from its certitude." p. 76

This should be enough to chew on for today. Let's see what happens next.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Writers Share Their Passions at One River, Many Stories

Thursday evening I attended an unusual event, the first of a series of such called One River, Many Stories. The concept, as I understand it, is to generate stories by area writers about one theme, in this case the St. Louis River, a major feature of our Northland watershed. To prime the pump, a series of events have been created to make area writers aware of the project. And what better way to attract writers than to have other writers talk about writing?

The gathering was held in the new Ecolibrium3 building in Duluth's West End, constructed (or rehabilitated) using funds from the flood disaster that produced so much devastation a few years back. The working theme for the event was Storytelling Across Platforms.

Thursday's event consisted of a panel discussion about writing, featuring Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer Sam Cook, MPR's Dan Kraker and the enthusiastic Lucie Amundson of Locally Laid. Karen Sunderman of The Playlist served as moderator.

The 90 minute event was efficient and rich with insights about the platforms, processes and problems of being a writer in the 21st century. What a lively batch of thoughtful people spilling it out! The room felt electric. You'd never believe that just talking about writing could be so entertaining. But then again, writers are passionate people. They don't just sacrifice big chunks of their time to edit, revise and re-edit their prose unless it matters to them at some profoundly deeper level. Certainly this was evident in Thursday's gathering.

I myself took an ample quantity of notes and noticed a few others in the room with pads open, pens a-scribblin'. There was plenty of takeaway from what was shared and even as a standalone event it would have had value, but as kickoff for a series it was quite effective.

Here are some of my own notes from last Thursday...

L to R: Karen Sunderman, Sam Cook, Dan Kraker and Lucie Amundson.
After a brief introduction, Karen Sunderman asked what platforms the three writers use.

Sam Cook said his platforms were print, online, blog, Twitter, video. He began his career with the Ely Echo and the chief types of writing he does are news features and columns.

Dan Kraker has been with Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) in Northeast Minnesota for the past five years. His primary platforms are radio, web, photography and -- reluctantly -- social media. His writing career began as an intern with the Utne Reader. He discovered public radio after college.

Lucie Amundson shared that her basic platform is creative non-fiction. She has been a writer for The Family Handyman among other things, and he book Locally Laid is just coming off the presses.

Sunderman: What makes a good story?

Amundson said, "Something has to happen." Kraker shared he likes action, but likes to include a little reflection at the end. Also there needs to be something at stake. He always asks himself, "Why should people care?" Interesting characters are also a part of it. Cook added that news stories "still need to be the inverted funnel." He elaborated on how he as a writer always considers his audience.

The 90-minute program was dense with great advice for young writers and reminders for veterans. Kraker mentioned the classic Hemingway observation that "you have to be willing to throw away your babies." But Amundson added that those babies can be put in a file and saved for later. She has a whole file of them.

Radio is a different medium and one thing Kraker noted was how well it can capture emotion.

Sunderman's next question pertained to interviewing.

Dan Kraker structures his interview in the straightforward who, what, when, where, why approach, but then drills down to emotion questions. Sam Cook said he consciously strives to establish rapport with a beginning set of questions, but the best questions come in response to things the subject says.

Lucie Amundson made the excellent observation that it's good to swallow your pride and be dumb People open up. Dan agreed and affirmed, "Silence is powerful."

Sunderman underscored this. "When you stop yourself and listen, amazing things happen." She's also made a career of interviewing.

Sam Cook shared that because he's written about fishing all his life people think he's an expert fisherman when in reality he's really too busy with deadlines and his writing objectives. "I don't care if I'm good at fishing. I want to be good at catching a story."

The next topic was humor. The author of Locally Laid exudes it, and explained how this aspect of her personality was formed while growing up with in a French Canadian home where the parents' English was not that good. Kraker said humor isn't his thing, but he tries to find joy in what he is doing. Sam Cook explained that he's not looking for humor but if it's there he might use it.

Sunderman next asked, "How much do you think about your audience."
Amundson says she just writes, but does think about tone. She writes for "someone who is curious. Someone who wants a good story." Kraker explained, "I think if it is surprising and interesting to me, it will be interesting to a wider audience." Cook said he very consciously thinks about a specific reader and not the masses. "I trust my gut." He said he pictures different individuals from the person who is walking out of McDonald's to the woman in the nursing home.

The last segments covered their processes, dealing with deadlines and early inspiration. For writers present it was a rewarding 90 minutes that flew by fast. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this last section.

"Deadlines are tough, but without deadlines I wouldn't get anything done." ~Dan Kraker

"We're hardwired to respond to story." So true. But I failed to note which panelist said this. My apologies here. If you took better notes than I, send me an email and I will give proper atttirbution.

* * * *

The next meeting will undoubtedly be interesting as journalists discuss the challenges of writing about tough issues in the community. The controversial topic selected deals with the mining industry. The working title is PolyMet: How journalists report on tough issues in their community

The proposal for PolyMet Mining Corporation’s sulfide mine in northern Minnesota is only the most recent example of an issue that generates strong feelings and clear divisions in a community. When a controversial, local topic creates strong divides in a community, the job of the journalist gets precarious:
* How do journalists negotiate these kinds of stories?
* Do they take sides? Do they weigh in with their own opinion?
* Is it possible to be objective in a situation where choosing a side is sure to alienate someone?

One River, Many Voices has asked three veteran journalists — two of whom based in communities with deep roots in mining — to come talk about the role they see for journalism and how they are covering the PolyMet story.

The event is next Thursday, March 3, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. It will again be at Ecolibrium3. I recommend coming early because the room will undoubtedly be packed.

You can learn more about the speakers and the One River, Many Voices project here.

Special thanks to Karen Sunderman who always does such a great job in moderating these kinds of things. Thank you to everyone involved in assembling this program. You've whet our appetite for more.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Poem About Truth

May 18, 1944. At Hitler's war conference he is told that the enemy has carried out two spy operations during the night on the heavily defended French coastline. At one place, near Calais, German troops have found an orange peel, an empty flask and a shovel lying on the beach. Years later they would say that they also found a landscape painted on driftwood, a finely crafted homemade flute and a dagger. In the estuary of the river Somme, two British commandos were discovered in the late afternoon. "They came ashore in a rubber raft," General Jodl, chief of Wehrmach operations, tells Hitler. "They claim to know nothing."

The scene changes to a French restaurant once frequented by Napoleon. The restaurant serves excellent Italian fare. Three nights have passed. A stout German woman makes pasta in the kitchen. Two French chefs argue about how to make croissants. They are smoking cigarettes and sipping wine. They know that Hitler is a madman, but it does not affect their cooking. The taller chef, thinnest of the two, is also a writer. At night he composes poetry in the same way that a garden produces flowers. The effect is dazzling. His mother also was a poet, as was his grandfather. He does not believe in war or death. He is restless, anxious about love, and lives alone. If he had a lover, he knows that he would write less poetry, since he writes only to fill his piteous empty hours. When he reads his poems, he cries, then burns them. He is brutally honest with himself.

The following evening he overhears a Nazi under-lieutenant commenting on Britain's secret operations. He seizes the opportunity to become part of an adventure. He never again sees his home. Later that night the chef is captured in a forbidden zone near the Seine whereupon he fakes an English accent and says he is a spy. He is blindfolded and driven to a chateau where he must stand before Rommel. He makes up a story about a wife and daughter in Britain. The details are vivid, but Rommel loses interest and orders him to be shot. That night he writes a poem about the event and leaves it in his cell. The German officer who reads it laughs at the insipid rhymes and melancholy metaphors. He shares it with his friend who notices that the word "mayhap" is misapplied and that "appenage" would have been a better choice of words than "freehold."

By week's end a hundred eyes have beheld the poem. Many jokes are made of it. Heinrich (we do not know his last name), a company agent from Stuttgart, makes a copy of the poem and translates it into German. In the translation he improves the meter and resolves the problematic third stanza. He sends it to his mother who does not understand it, but keeps it in a small wooden box on the bureau next to a framed photo of the Führer.

It is possible the original poem is still in existence somewhere, but no one knows for certain. My cousin, who married a German woman, says that her father saw the poem, the original version, and remembers that it was called Truth Is A Fire That Burns. We do not know if this was the same poem, or if he saw the poem at all. After the war many German soldiers say they saw the poem, and many more say they made copies of it to send to the Fatherland. We know, of course, that most of them are lying. Over the years versions have appeared in journals, some superior to others, all of them improvements on the original. I have seen it thrice in English literary journals -- once, I believe, in the Antioch Review, though it may have been one of the other college publications that begin with the leter A. Someone told me that it has been translated into 57 languages. In Thailand, the mountain peoples now say that it is the Word of God.

No one remembers the French chef who gave his life to produce the poem. His unknown name has been swallowed up by history, but his poem lives on in human hearts.

Translated 8-22-98
E. N.

A Poem About Truth is one of the stories I posted on my original website in the 1990s.  The story owes its existence to the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, whose work I had been captivated by for many seasons. Several sentences employ devices that could be labelled Borgesian. The story was included in my short eBook titled Newmanesque, which is available on Kindle.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: A Visit with Jeff Frey of CPL Imaging

"Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative act." ~Ansel Adams

I met Jeff Frey in 1987. My success in setting up an advertising program at AMSOIL that year caught the attention of a marketing VP for The Chromaline Corporation, a small manufacturing firm here in the screen printing industry. I was hired to become their in-house ad agency.

Chromaline had gone through four ad agencies in less than three years and, among other problems, their literature lacked continuity at the time. I set about to review and analyze their sales and product lit. After having been at AMSOIL, where standards were extremely high, it seemed the Chromaline lit (at this time) was shoddy at best. The product photos on these printed pieces looked especially bad and washed out, so I decided to switch the company to another pro photographer in town who I thought did decent work. First, however, I had to find the original photos that were used in the literature. Chromaline made photostencil films and emulsions in an industry where imaging is important.

Then it happened. I still remember the moment. I saw a black and white glossy, so crisp and rich it was literally eye-popping. The subject matter: a gallon container of photostencil emulsion. I knew then that the problem lay not with the photographer. I found it stunning that a boring, black container could look so dynamic.

Jeff's work has always been nothing short of astonishing. He does true magic with a camera. There are no shortcuts. His equipment is always state-of-the-art, and the outcomes always worth the effort.

Like myself, Jeff is also a New Jersey transplant to the Midwest. But high standards are what brought us together. This past week we talked about the photography business.

Ennyman: How did you get into photography as a profession?
JF: It was a hobby. Then I worked at a camera store here in Duluth, got friendly with an established commercial photographer and partnered up with him. I had pursued the hobby seriously when I was working in the camera store.

Ennyman: What have you enjoyed most about the photography business?
JF: The sales tax reports. (laughs) Writing the check to the department of revenue.

Besides that, my favorite thing to shoot is people at their jobs, because I allow them to participate in the building of the image. They tell me what is important, what they do, how they manipulate what they do. It’s a collaborative effort where the subject is helping to create the image.

Now, with digital, when I shoot to a computer, it’s very easy to get feedback and work together.

Ennyman: What are the two or three biggest mistakes that amateur photographers make?
JF: Thinking they can make money at it. (laughs)
An artist is not necessarily an entrepreneur. Just because you can satisfy customers with nice pictures does not mean you can have a successful business.

Ennyman: What about lighting… how important is that with digital?
JF: It’s every bit as important as it ever used to be. But you don’t need as much now.

You’re way better off making it right from the start. Basically I weigh the situation. After I understand that aesthetically it can happen one way or the other, I ask where it is going to take less effort. You have to know the limits of Photoshop. When it comes to light on someone’s face, there’s no way I am going to try to fix that later.

Ennyman: Do you have any secrets you’re willing to share that help turn good photos into great photos?
JF: Make sure the eyes are in focus. Also, it always makes a photo more interesting with more depth if you include a complimentary foreground element.

Ennyman: How has the digital age changed professional photography?
JF: Formerly, a Polaroid test was as much immediate feedback as we could get to check lighting, etc. The Polaroid was never the final product. You always had to then shoot the film and hope you get it right on film, like facial expression or catching the peak of a jump with a dancer. The dancers are thrilled because they don’t have to jump forty times to make sure you got it once.

I don’t have to worry about bringing different types of film, different speeds, different color balance film. Now we can white balance in the camera, can change the sensitivity on the fly.

Check out a portion of Jeff's portfolio here

* * * *

This interview was posted seven years ago today. Jeff and CPL Imaging can also be found here on Facebook

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Artist Kamikaze VII: Dystopian

Next week at Pizza Luce is the opening for Artist Kamikaze VII: Dystopian

The event pairs artists who work in different media to collaborate in making art reflecting a theme. This year's theme is Dystopian, a word that seems to be popping up a lot these days. Dystopia is essentially an antonym of Thomas More's Utopia.

Dystopia has been defined as a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. "Utopia" is the blueprint for an ideal society with no crime or poverty. Dystopian societies appear in many artistic works, particularly in stories set in the future. Famous examples include 1984 and Brave New World, and Ayn Rand's Anthem.

Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. Dystopian societies appear in many subgenres of fiction and are often used to draw attention to real-world issues regarding society, environment, politics, economics, religion, psychology, ethics, science, and/or technology, which if unaddressed could potentially lead to such a dystopia-like condition.

Other famous dystopian novels that we are familiar with include Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Iron Heel (Jack London), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K. Dick) and A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess).

An estimated 20 local artists have been randomly paired. The opening reception is slated for March 3, from 7-9 pm. The public will have an opportunity to vote for their favorite works from 7-8 with winners announced afterwards. There will also be music by Israel Malachi.

Previous Artist Kamikaze themes have included Monochromatic, Gnomes, Time, Elements and Intergalactic. This one sounds as interesting as can be.

*Much of this paragraph constructed from Wikipedia .

Monday, February 22, 2016

Graham Greene's The Tenth Man

This weekend I watched again The Tenth Man, a made for TV film based on Graham Greene's novella of the same name. I'd been a huge Greene fan in the 1980s when I read anything of his that I could put my hands on. Favorites include The Third Man, A Burnt-Out Case, The End of the Affair, The Quiet American and The Heart of the Matter, among others.

A singular feature of his stories is their global settings, especially in regions of unrest. As it turns out, he worked for the British government as a spy, not unlike Ian Fleming, John Le Carre and a few other well-known Brit authors. The Tenth Man takes place in mid-century France.

It's a story about a wealthy French lawyer named Chavel who confronts his existential reality. That is, the book was written at a time when Existentialism held sway as a dominant philosophy, defined and re-defined by authors like Camus, Sartre and situation ethicist Joseph Fletcher. The story opens in Paris during the Nazi occupation of France. Chavel, played by Anthony Hopkins, is minding his own business heading to the office when suddenly a dispatch of Nazi soldiers blocks the streets to take captive a couple truckloads of men. The men are arrested randomly, for no other reason than the fact that they were "there."

Chavel, being the attorney that he is, cries out, "Whose in charge here," as if the normal laws of social justice should apply. But his appeals fall on deaf ears. This is man's lot, Greene seems to say. Chavez is caught up in circumstances beyond his control.

As an aside, this opening scene of Nazi-occupied France so reminded me of the current series The Man in the High Castle based on a story by Philip K. Dick in which the Axis powers won World War II and divided North America between them. It is 1950's America without Leave It To Beaver.

The next twist in Chavel's story comes when it is learned that several Nazis were killed in an incident involving the French Resistance, including an officer, and several prisoners must be shot in return, another form of absurd justice. The Nazi guards leave it to the prisoners themselves to determine who will be handed over to be shot. One in ten is the number.

There are thirty in the cell, and in the end they decide the fairest way here would be to draw lots. Chavel bristles at this, but accepts it, only to draw death by firing squad as his lot as well. Whereas the other two men who drew the same fate have resigned themselves to it, Chavel protests. And then he grovels. Being a man of wealth and property, he turns to his fellow captives and offers all he has to anyone who will switch places with him. The others are disgusted by this and point out that it is a ridiculous deal since the person who accepts it is going to die anyways so how could they enjoy it.

But a man accepts. He's ill and perhaps soon to die anyways, so he figures that if he takes the estate he could bequeath it to his mother and sister. Chavel the lawyer draws up the papers and has witnesses sign the document, after which he has second thoughts. But this change of heart is too late, as well, and the deed is done.

The story moves to after the war, and in time Chavel can't resist returning to the estate which once was his. What he finds is somewhat shocking. The place is in disrepair, the gardens neglected. As luck should have it, because he knew her brother, the mother and sister permit Chavel to stay on as caretaker. In short order Chavel discovers the degree to which Therese Mangeot hates the man who allowed her brother to die on his behalf.

At one point they are talking and she makes a statement of how much she hates the scoundrel, and senses that Chavel feels the same.

"Sounds like you hate him, too," she says.
Chavel replies, "No, I don't hate him. I just despise him for what he did."

As the story evolves the tension mounts when another man shows up at the house claiming to be Chavel. It's terrific storytelling. Like all Graham Greene's works the books keep you turning the pages, eager to see what happens next. Good books are like that. And good films the same.

To say more than this is to say too much, but it;s a compelling story and a really fine film.

If you can find it, you should take the opportunity. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Treasures of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum

For several years I have been aware of the existence here in Duluth of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, but had no idea what it was. The museum is housed in a former Christian Science church building within a block of the Kitchi Gammi Club and across from St Luke's Hospital. For reasons unclear to me I assumed that it was $7 or $12 to get in, so I was lacking in sufficient time or curiosity to actually investigate.

When I learned last week that a private collection of Dylan memorabilia was going to be displayed here in May, in conjunction with Duluth Dylan Fest, it seemed worthwhile to check it out.

First surprise: it's Free. Second surprise: it's awesome.

Yesterday I discovered that the Karpeles Manuscript Library here in Duluth is one of a dozen such Karpeles Manuscript Libraries around the country, in cities from New York to Charleston to Texas and Santa Barbera, and all manner of places in between. It is purportedly the world’s largest private collection of original manuscripts and documents.

According to Wikipedia the library was founded in 1983 by California real estate magnates David and Marsha Karpeles, with the goal of stimulating interest in learning, especially in children. How did we end up with a Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth? As it turns out, Dr. Karpeles is a graduate of Denfeld High, one of the high schools here in our city, and a graduate of UMD. Upon coming home for a class reunion he was asked why he didn't have a Karpeles Manuscript Library here in Duluth, whereupon he purchased the retired church structure and made it home to an ongoing series of exhibits.

Some people collect cars (Jay Leno), others collect art or sports memorabilia or Hollywood movie posters. David and Marsha Karpeles collected historical documents. In addition to their dozen or so manuscript libraries, the Karpeles have as many as 200 mini-exhibits in schools and office buildings around the U.S.  In this 2004 article and interview in the L.A. Times the Karpeles share how they got into collecting:

In 1977, we took two of our kids to the Huntington Library in San Marino. The kids had no interest whatever. We had two cases left to see when they started asking if we were ready to go. But then my daughter Leslie said, 'Daddy, Daddy, here's a letter written by Thomas Jefferson.' My son Mark found one by George Washington and said excitedly, 'Look at the cross-outs. He made mistakes just like me!' They knew they were looking at originals famous people had touched, a completely different thing from just reading the documents. All of the sudden, everything changed for them.

At the library I was told that if I wanted to buy rare documents, I had to go to Sotheby's or Christie's auction houses.... So I sent away for catalogs. Most of the things for sale were unimportant, but then I turned a page and almost fell off my chair. It showed [one version of] the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, at an estimated sale price of $40,000. I got it for exactly that much, though now it's worth $2 [million] to $3 million.

The current exhibit in Duluth features manuscripts and documents from Robert Fulton, inventor, engineer, and artist who brought steamboating from the experimental stage to commercial success. There are original diagrams for the development of the torpedo, as well as documents pertaining to the creation and acquisition of the early ironclads that fount in the Civil War (many years after his death.) Fulton's creations helped make the young United States competitive in the naval battles during the War of 1812.

In the late 1700s Fulton proposed (to France) a submarine concept that he names the Nautilus, but they rejected the notion, for skuking around underwater and sinking enemy ships like that was not "an honorable way to fight."

It was in Paris that Fulton began to execute his first steamboat ideas, with a large paddlewheel on the side of the boat for moving the vessel. Returning to the U.S. his steamboat concept found suitable funding in New York and by 1807 he had a 150 foot steamship. Fulton boat required more efficient waterways and he went on to lobby for the Erie Canal. Documents and drawings pertinent to these developments are on display in Duluth.

If you find Fulton and steamships to be a tad obscure for super-interest, other displays and amazing finds have been through this way and more will assuredly return in the future. One such document that I saw yesterday is The Final Declaration of Allegiance Treaty signed by every Indian tribe in the United States and by the President of the United States. Not all of the chiefs who signed wrote their names, but all left their thumbprints.

The manuscripts are displayed in special cases which have little devices to monitor moisture levels within the case. Moisture is what damages old documents.

Near the entrance of the sanctuary there are a number of items of special interest to people who find ancient Egyptian history exciting. There are small statues of Egyptian gods as well as etched sandstone from the era when Moses lived in Pharaoh's palace on the Nile. Pretty heady stuff.

Other themes that have been displayed here over the years include Manifest Destiny (Treaties and docments pertaining to the expansion of our nation's boundaries), The Dreyfus Affair, Cortez + Pizarroand theConquest of the New World, Ferdinand and Isabella's Letter to the Pope announcing Their Possession of The New World on the Return of Columbus, and plenty more. One that especially caught my eye was titled Man's Inhumanity To Man, with documents pertaining to discrimination, oppression, slavery, violence and religious freedom. This collection includes the original version of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as well as the Counter-Emancipation Proclamation signed by Confederate president Jefferson Davis.

The peacefulness in the sanctuary was soothing. 

To see what other historic, musical, literary and scientific themes the Karpeles have so graciously collected and shared, visit this page.

Discovering the Manuscript Library in Duluth felt like accidentally uncovering a rare treasure. Thank you, David and Marsha, for this gift.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Barbed Dialogue At Its Sharpest: Sweet Smell of Success

"Maybe I left my sense of humor in my other suit." 
~ Sidney Falco

This week I decided to watch Sweet Smell of Success again, the 1957 stinger starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. The genre is film noir, the story of an unethical Broadway columnist and his conniving press agent. Lancaster excels as the heavy, J.J. Hunsecker, with Tony Curtis clothing himself in the role of the slimy and unscrupulous Sidney Falco.

There are three features of this film that make it exceptional. First is the sizzling dialog. Second is the evocative cinematography. Third, a taut storyline that crackles with tension.

The four main characters here are Sidney Falco, J.J. Hunsecker, J.J.'s sister Susan, played by Susan Harrison, and her boyfriend Steve Dallas, a jazz guitar player played by Martin Milner (better known for his role in the TV show Route 66. Essentially, J.J. doesn't want his sister involved with a jazz musician but uses Falco to do the dirty work lest he sully his own reputation. It's a sordid game that Falco is willing to play because his only ethic is what it will get him for himself.

For Hunsecker, everyone is a pawn, including his sister. He has to control all the pieces on the board. There are no people in his world, only pawns to be manipulated. He's a beast who can't see his own beastliness, and for this reason is a very scary character. Susan sees this, sees how toxic her brother is, and must escape to keep her sanity and sense of self intact.

The power of the dialog is noteworthy, like professional prizefighters jabbing, parrying punches with flurries of smashing body blows and right hooks to the side of the head. When I saw that Ernest Lehman had written the screenplay I had an "Aha" type of recognition. His other Hollywood scripts included the explosive Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, North by Northwest, West Side Story, Hello Dolly!, The Sound of Music, and The King and I. The guy is good and worth further study.

The names of the two main characters are noteworthy.  J.J. Hunsecker combines the word Hun with the soundalike Bloodsucker. It was Attila the Hun who forced the Eastern Roman Empire to pay tribute to the Huns in exchange for the use of trade routes. J.J. is just this kind of power in the New York arts and culture scene. Bow before him or become meat for the lions.

Sidney Falco is an equally interesting name. One immediately thinks of the Falcon, carnivorous bird. In point of fact, the falcon is one of 37 species of raptors in the genus Falco. Unlike hawks and eagles that kill with their talons, falcons kill with their beaks. Falcons also have exceptional visual acuity. They are swift, and dangerous. The pathetic Sidney is also without conscience. From the opening he is established as a schemer.

When you read some of the great lines, you realize it isn't just what was written but how it's delivered that gives it its force. "You're dead, son. Get yourself buried." Hunsecker's tongue is a stiletto to the gut. Of his 67 films Sweet Smell Of Success was his highest rated performance by the critics on The film did not do well at the box office when released, in part perhaps because it was ahead of its time.

The smell here isn't sweet, but it is intense. I recommend the book as well, more of a long short story than a short novella. You can also find the original screenplay here.

Five stars out of five.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Bootlegged: Unofficial Duluth Dylan Festival Schedule Turns Up In My Inbox

With snow melting off roofs this morning, one can't help but get the feeling that spring is not far behind. In Duluth that means two major weeks related to music: Duluth Homegrown Music Festival (May 1-8) and Duluth Dylan Fest (May 22-29). The word is out that this year's Dylan Fest will be bigger than ever, with at least six new events to fill out the week, several of them noteworthy.

What follows is the email I received, with the qualifying disclaimer that venues and times may undergo minor revisions.

Duluth Dylan Fest 2016 Schedule

Final venues and minor adjustments in times will be officially out soon. Also, specifics on what bands play at which events will soon be finalized. Watch for the final schedule on facebook at duluthdylanfest. Or, go to

Many events are free, but several will be ticketed events. Tickets will be available shortly after the schedule is finalized. If you want to sign up for the singer/songwriter contest, please email your name, address, phone number, and email address to Or, you may call 218-391-6299 (John). Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you all to help celebrate the 75th birthday of Minnesota’s native son Bob Dylan. Here is our tentative schedule:

Sunday, May 22
NEW Launch of 48 hour film fest, Carmody’s 7pm
Bob Dylan Trivia @ Carmody’s 9pm

Monday, May 23
Dylan Art Opening & concert; Red Mug 6:30pm
Singer-songwriter Fred Gillen Jr. (NY) 7 pm
Highway 61 Revisited radio show; KUMD 5pm

Tuesday, May 24
NEW Dylan Marker installed in front of birth home (Mid-afternoon)
Dylan 48 hour film festival; Zinema 2, 6:30 pm
Duluth Does Dylan CD release party; Clyde Iron,     8pm

Wednesday, May 25 
NEW Poets of the North Country @ the Underground 6:30pm
NEW Cowboy Angel Blue at Karpele’s Manuscript Museum.
Karpele’s will also house an exhibit of rare Dylan photos and documents throughout May. NEW

Thursday, May 26  
Blood on the Tracks Express Train,  5:30pm  (Recommendation: Buy tickets early. This event sells out.) Bands play on train, and Dylan cover band at destination

Friday, May 27
Singer Songwriter Contest @ Clyde Iron 7pm

Saturday, May 28
Possible bus tour to Hibbing and back
NEW Postage Stamp Cancellation 11 am – 2 pm AAMC Annex with music across the street at Valentini's.
Concert; Sacred Heart Music Center 7 pm

Sunday, May 29
Farewell Brunch & Music at Zeitgeist Café
This was a wonderful windup and send off last year.

Here's a really great song that Bob has sung nearly 500 times in concert that originally appeared on the album Planet Waves, an album in which he makes reference to the hills of Duluth

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Blog on Blog: from the laptop of a Dylanologist still in the foothills


The man is a giant not just in the entertainment field or the music field or the poetry field or any field we try to put him in. He’s a giant in the field of not allowing himself to BE in any one field, let alone to be PUT in any one field. The more I read about him and his music, the less I know. Criticism, interviews, biographies, liner notes, reviews . . . the amount of material is mountainous. And the question still is, do we know Dylan any better after reading more and more of what’s been written about him.

1962 NYC
I thought I knew the guy well back during those heady days of 1963-64 when I was a freshman at Harvard. He was the main attraction at our Freshman Spring Weekend. It was rumored all week that Joan Baez might show up as his guest, a rumor which luckily turned out to be true.

Shortly after I had arrived in Cambridge, someone gave me a copy of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the artist’s second studio album which had been released the previous spring. It was special. In the intervening fifty-two years, it has not only retained its significance for me, but that significance has increased.

Next Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of Suze Rotolo’s death. Dylanologists argue about her significance in Dylan’s life after he arrived in New York City, but there can be little argument that among the 36 studio albums Dylan has released since 1962, the cover picturing him and Rotolo walking arm-in-arm in the West Village is among the most recognizable and evocative. What it evoked for me that year was the feeling that companionship and physical closeness were the way to cope with the chill and loneliness of the world.

Listening to that album on a more or less daily basis was a big part of what I remember about the autumn of 1963. Then, on November 22, the album cover provided a different sort of comfort. My world, our world, the whole world was shaken to its foundation with the assassination of President Kennedy. Where before songs like “North Country Girl,” “Corinna, Corinna,” “Don’t Think Twice,” and to some extent, “Blowin’ in the Wind” resonated with the loneliness I was feeling just being so far away from home (a standard Dylan theme over the years, by the way), after this tragedy, I focused more on “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and again “Blowin’ in the Wind,” now for quite a different reason.

Seeing Suze’s ardent, even excited aura at having the whole street and the couple’s whole future to themselves, it was easy to absorb from that photograph the sense that despite the craziness outside, there was still warmth and security if we just turned to the right person.

Hardly Dylan’s first girl friend, Rotolo was nevertheless his first after his fortunes began to turn. They met in 1961 shortly after Dylan’s arrival, and the relationship lasted for three years. Rotolo was both lucky and unlucky to be in the right place at the right time as her lover’s meteoric rise to stardom was beginning. Chronicled most eloquently and, at times, poignantly in A Freewheelin’ Time, Rotolo tells her story with consummate objectivity and sensitivity.

The day I heard that Rotolo had died of lung cancer, I vowed to mark her passing with some sort of response for two reasons: I wanted to honor how influential she had been in that “freewheelin’ time,” and I wanted to reflect more conscientiously than I had in 1963 on how ephemeral are fame, fortune, youth, security, and love. (The computer Watson arrives at a similar conclusion with Dylan’s approval in the television commercial for IBM!)

Already at work on a series of 24-line untitled poems centering on what might simply be termed “the Dylan experience,” I wrote the following in honor of Ms. Rotolo:

Number Nine
- on the passing of Suze Rotolo, 2/24/2011

she was your “Bright Star,” a waif, a muse, yours
for almost enough time to be thought “stedfast”
your nomadic twin for a time musing for herself
and for her bourgeoning Village troubadour, she was
three years your junior; you’ve outlived her now
did your heart reach for that bright star whose
fair skin and golden hair you say dragged you
overboard amid talk and music and banana leaves?
did those Greenwich days fleetingly return, a union
a reunion you two built un-buttressed against distance,
family, different drummers, against diverging roads?
she said it was a “private little existence” and kept
a secret twinkle as she did—it lasted forty years
undiminished before the camera her confessor
how many more of your countless parishioners
chart their own freewheelin’ folkways years from
that February album cover where her wide-eyed
trust wrapped in dark green presses toward you,
where her arms are so tightly locked in yours,
where you amble toward more than a music scene
newly born buffeted by more than slush and wind?
indeed, as you’ve sung since those pre-natal buckskin
days, it ain’t you, not you - it was her, she did go away
from your window and your soul to save her own

* * * *

Dylan Fest Note
As many of you know, this May Mr. Dylan will mark his 75th birthday. Duluth Dylan Fest will once again mark this event with an eight-day week of events from Sunday May 22 thru the 29th. Five new events have been added including the placing of a city-sanctioned market in front of his Central Hillside home on May 24, the date Robert Zimmerman burst from the womb at St. Mary's Hospital here. The full schedule of events will be posted soon.

Meantime life goes on... all around you. Celebrate it.

Photo Credit: Ted Russeell

How Is Duluth Home? Tonight's Theme for DAI's Design DLH #4

If you have been following this year's Duluth Art Institute (DAI) announcements and mailings, you would have heard about the series of events and presentations called Design DLH. The fourth of six Design DLH sessions will take place tonight at Trepanier Hall, home to the American Indian Community Housing Orgamization (AICHO).  Tonight's topic: "How Is Duluth Home?" The presentation will feature Michelle LeBeau, AICHO Development Director; Nick Smith, musician and AICHO staff; Jacob Vanio, spoken word poet and musician; and AICHO artists.

Design is all around us, from the structures we live and work in to the shape of tools we use, the clothes we wear, cars we drive and the computers we surf the Internet with. It's actually a very exciting field. And I have been pleased to see the DAI recognizing design as an art form through this series of events and discussions.

Each Design DLH gathering has invited local designers to present ideas around a prompt that addresses some aspect of Duluth’s visual identity. The theme for Session Four, “How is Duluth Home?” will embrace cultural diversity in Duluth and the reclamation of Native American space. Tours of AICHO will be offered following the discussion.

Sessions are free and open to the public, but due to limited seating, RSVPs are required at  All of the events so far have been borderline overcrowded, though no fire marshall have been called in as yet to determine if we were over capacity.

* * * *
In a related note, the DAI Member Exhibition will taken down on Sunday. There are still a few days left to see the show which is in the Great Hall. Be sure to go upstairs to see Shawna Gilmore's fantasy paintings and Tweed Museum director Ken Bloom's "Public Domain" photography from 1976-78 Japan.

* * * *

More DAI News
The Internet Cat Video Festival, #CatVidFest, is a project of the Walker Art Center in celebration of online cat videos. It will once again return with favorite “celebricats” to make a Duluth premiere, presented by the Duluth Art Institute and Zinema 2 on Wednesday, March 2. Two show times will be offered—at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.—at Zinema 2, 222 E Superior St. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for students and $6.50 for senior citizens.

Throughout the month of March the Duluth Art Institute will recognize artistic achievements of area K-12 youth in the annual “Youth Art Month” exhibition. The display will be on view in the Great Hall of the Duluth Depot, opening with a reception from 5 to 7 PM on Thursday, March 3. The opening celebration will include further educational opportunities with free artist demos featuring Laura Gapske on Zine production, Cody Paulson and Tyler Johnson of Stack Prints showing off screen-printing, and Matt Kania demonstrating plein air painting. The reception is free and open to the public.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Symmetry: Understanding the Way Things Are

"Although bees have known for ages that hexagons are the most efficient shape for building a honey store, it is only very recently mathematicians have  fully explained the Honeycomb Conjecture: from the infinite choice of different structures that the bees could have built, it is hexagons that use the least wax to create the most cells." ~Marcus du Sautoy

As I read this I think again of how amazing our natural world is. There are ways of seeing in which everything falls into patterns that dazzle the mind.

Near the end of the book Rocket Men, this is one of the effects the astronauts experienced, a new awe at the structure and order of the universe, man's smallness and the masterful combination of complexity, immensity and simplicity of the universe and its design.

“Nature seems to take advantage of the simple mathematical representations of the symmetry laws. When one pauses to consider the elegance and the beautiful perfection of the mathematical reasoning involved and contrast it with the complex and far-reaching physical consequences, a deep sense of respect for the power of the symmetry laws never fails to develop.” ― Chen Ning Yang

This is no new insight. The laws of symmetry are vast, and everywhere present.

“Since the beginning of physics, symmetry considerations have provided us with an extremely powerful and useful tool in our effort to understand nature. Gradually they have become the backbone of our theoretical formulation of physical laws.” ― Tsung-Dao Lee

Or as Paul Valery observed, "The universe is built on a plan the profound symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of our intellect."

The trigger for this blog post was the Marcus Du Sautoy quote about bees. It reminded me of Buckminster Fuller's work with Geodesic Domes. I heard a presentation on Fuller when I was young and it made an impression on me.

The harmonics between external structure and order and the symmetrical resonance with the internal phenomenon of our minds is endlessly fascinating. This was especially so for Du Sautoy. "Mathematics has beauty and romance," he wrote. "It's not a boring place to be, the mathematical world. It's an extraordinary place; it's worth spending time there... The reason why we do math is because it's like poetry. It's about patterns, and that really turned me on. It made me feel that math was in tune with the other things I liked doing."

The applications are endless. Fuller applied it to architecture and design; Da Vinci and Dali to art. Mozart to music. "I'm obviously attuned to pick up mathematics whenever I can see it. But in Mozart there is a lot of conscious use of mathematical symbolism and numbers..." Most masterfully, the same occurs in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

* * * *

"But actually a code is a language for translating one thing into another. And mathematics is the language of science. My big thesis is that although the world looks messy and chaotic, if you translate it into the world of numbers and shapes, patterns emerge and you start to understand why things are the way they are." ~Marcus Du Sautoy

* * * *

Symmetry is more than just the natural world. This desire for balance reaches into the realm of ethics and morality. Doesn't our desire for justice, and our sense that injustice must be rectified, stem from a sense that wrongs must be righted, or someone must pay when a wrong is done? Where does this sense of a need for moral symmetry come from? Do I dare say it seems innate in the fiber of our very souls?

That, friends, is a much longer discussion and equally profound in its implications. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

When Technology is a Bane and Not a Blessing

A few weeks ago when I tried to call a friend who works for a larger firm in town I was taken captive by the impersonal, electronic voice-activated phone router receptionist.

“This is the Omega Industries voice activated interface*. Please state clearly the name or department name you are trying to reach.” I dutifully reply, “Rob Johnson.” In response the tone-dead female computer voice replied, “Thank you. I will now connect you to Ronald Johnson.”

Well, rather than start over I decide I will ask Ronald Johnson to transfer me to Rob. Unfortunately, instead of Ronald Johnson I get a voicemail machine that says, “You have reached the office of Mike Willcox and Gerald Sullivan. If you would like to leave a message, press one.”

OK, so I am back to square one. I hang up and try again. This time I will tell the machine the department instead of the name. Believe it or not, I ended up in the wrong department yet again. I have no idea how this company stays in business.

Not everything high tech is heaven sent.

In theory technology is here to help us. But autocorrecting features on Microsoft Word and my iPhone drive me bonkers. Last night I tried to say "Thanks" to someone by saying "Tanx" and my iPhone changed it to Tanzania. So I decided to spell it rather than say it (using the smartphone's occasionally stupid voice recognition skills) and it wrote "T a NX" which was close but once the second time I tried it wrote Tanzania.

Naturally I can't help but think about a future in which cars will drive us everywhere and we'll just tell it where to go. Some believe you won't ever need to own a car because automated Uber fleets will just pick you up and drop you off while doing the same for everyone else.

"Where would you like to go now, Mr. Newman?"

One word I won't say is "Tanx."

I'm grateful that the company I work for has real people answering the phones when you call. I believe our customers feel the same.

* I used the word "interface" here because I did not catch what word was there, but all the rest is an accurate transcription. I mean no disrespect to Omega Systems. Voice recognition has come a long ways in the past two decades. It can still be frustrating at times.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Local Art Seen: Ken Bloom Shares His Resurrected Youth @ the DAI

The story goes that in 1976 a young Ken Bloom bought a one-way ticket to Japan with almost nothing other than a Leica camera.  Forty years later the fruit of this expedition is now on display at the Duluth Art Institute in an exhibition titled Public Domain: Street Photographs of Japan 1976-78.

When I think of Japan a number of memories come to mind. As a kid we used to play the game Risk and I always chose Japan as my "homeland" with my chosen color being black. In later years I think of Japanese filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa who some consider one of cinema's most influential filmmakers.

Bloom's photographs invite viewers to engage. His images capture moments in time three decades removed from the war that left this island nation scarred and tattered, a period that has itself now passed. History is fluid, but the lens freezes its details in the form of visual poetry.

A steady throng that included friends of the Tweed, the DAI and the local arts community remained present throughout the duration of the opening reception.
An artist talk will be conducted on March 15 at 5:00 p.m.
The exhibit will continue on display through April 2.

The Duluth Art Institute is located upstairs on the fourth floor of the Duluth Depot, 506 West Michigan Street. 

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Celebrate it. 

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