Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Listeners

"The more data banks record about us, the less we exist." ~Marshall McLuhan

Listening is nothing new. By that I mean, listening in by others such as eavesdroppers or Big Brother. Back when the telegraph was invented people who wanted to send messages would have to give their messages to telegraph operators who relayed the message to a receiving operator who could then deliver the message. As people began getting paranoid about sensitive information or ideas of significant value being overheard, they often devised methods of coding their messages. Buy and sell orders from stock brokers might receive such treatment, for example.

If you watch old movies you'll occasionally see scenes in which telephone operators are all connecting callers and overhearing conversations. It must have been an interesting occupation. I remember the days of "party lines" in which multiple households shared a single phone channel. When you picked up the phone to make a call, you were supposed to listen first to make sure the line was available. As a kid I remember picking up the phone once and hearing two women talking. Instead of hanging up I kept listening, until one of them scolded me, ordering me to hang up.

There are other kinds of listeners. I don't know how much phone tapping the FBI did, but we know it happened. Americans who travelled to the Soviet Union would be warned that their phones were probably tapped as well.

The Lives of Others is a powerful film about the monitoring of East Berlin residents during the Cold War. The film focuses on a Stasi officer (GDR secret police) who is listening to the apartment of a playwright and a prominent actress. Would you live differently if you knew you were being monitored?

The Nixon White House was brought down in part by it's own "listening." The president had wired up the Oval Office (and maybe more) so as to capture all his conversations... including some that he would live to regret. When the tapes were subpoenaed by a special prosecutor for the Watergate break-in, segments were erased... without explanation.

When we're active in forums and in discussions on Facebook or other social media, we may not be aware of how many people are out there lurking. The word lurker brings to mind the image of a person standing behind the curtain in your living room while your family is having an important discussion, or not so important. To lurk is to be listening but not participating.

Maybe there is a sense in which our whole news media apparatus turns us into a nation of lurkers somehow. We listen to what the talking heads tell us about events in Washington or city hall, but most people don't participate in the discussion. Sporting events differ in this regard. The fans may not be on the field, but their cheering can energize a team to give it the extra oomph they need to bring home the winning touchdown.

This week's new WikiLeaks story is about last week's leaks regarding Clinton campaign and the tactics it used to undermine Bernie Sanders. Brings back memories of the antics Nixon's campaign chiefs pulled, which earned him the not so kind epithet "Tricky Dick." It's apparent that once you're a public figure, you really don't have much privacy anymore.

The listeners aren't just listening to important people. We're all being listened to... by Target, Amazon and anyone else with something to sell. In the early 1990's, when Amazon was just a twinkle in the eye of Jeff Bezos, Erik Larson wrote a book called Naked Consumer: How Our Private Lives Become Public Commodities. The book is about how companies "spy" on the private lives of consumers. One reviewer wrote:

Larson, in his clear and precise reporting, tells us how tax dollars have enabled marketers to find us, zero in on our secret wishes, and persuade us to buy things we don’t need. We are all on lists that help companies locate us, determine what we are patsies for, and how to make us empty our pocketbooks.

This was happening long before the Internet. Today it's 10X. I know that it creeps some folks out when they do a search for something unusual in the morning and an ad for the same item shows up on their Facebook page in the afternoon. Then again, proponents will argue that the consumer is always right, and what better way to give consumers what they want than to know them intimately. In other words, the marketers are listening.

Times have changed. The quantity of new info being broadcast per day is startling. When we speak out ourselves and strive to be heard, we're all too conscious of our voices being lost in the noise. And yet... it's quite apparent that someone, somewhere, really is listening.

Meantime, life goes on....

Saturday, July 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The book's premise was laughably absurd.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

August Twin Ports Arts Scene: Let's Do It

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

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

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

Primary sources for this material come from people who sent me notifications and from Zentangled Esther Piszczek, whose new book just came out: Patterned Peace - Original hand-drawn artwork ready to color (A Stress Break Coloring Book) Check it out.

Duluth Quantum Computing Project: Storytelling in a Digital Age

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

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

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

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

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

Also in Superior:

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

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

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

Art Receptions (arranged chronologically courtesy Esther P.)

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

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

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

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

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

ART FAIRS and Other Happenings

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

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

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

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

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

Zentangle Pattern Drawing Classes with Esther Piszczek, CZT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

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


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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meantime, ....

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

Greetings cards @ J Skylark in Canal Park, Duluth

Cool source of Baby Shower gifts and gifts for infants:

Free Range Film Festival Celebrates 13th Season This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Martin DeWitt Revisited: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 and His New Show at the Zeitgeist

When I was a kid we had a swimming pool and I always thought it was fascinating how the surface of the water had this certain look of undulation as the light reflected off it when the sun shone through it, casting strange shadows on the pristine floor of pool. Somehow painter Martin DeWitt has figured out how to capture that effect. I find it impressive.

This month some of his current work is on display at the Zeitgeist Atrium in a show titled Nature of Space + Hybrid Forms. His experiments with shape, form and texture continue to evolve, producing some stunning work. If you have a little time to kill downtown, check it out. For a good meal and art, the Zeitgeist Cafe can be a tasty destination offering a feast for the eyes as well.

We conducted our first interview in 2012 in conjunction with DeWitt's Homecoming exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute. This is an update using the current show as a springboard.

EN: You come from a family with several artists in it. How did that happen? Who were your mutual influences?

Martin DeWitt: That’s right. I have two older brothers. Terry, lives in Memphis, is an architect – who also paints, mostly in watercolor. Mike, an artist, lives in Turtle River, MN – painting since he was nine…Our great Aunt Helen was an artist… she gave Terry and Mike some of tubes of her oil paints and brushes…way back when…c. 1950 – that got them going. Plus, our great Uncle Ralph was a renaissance man of sorts – an architect/artist/engineer – he studied at the Sorbonne before the First World War. Some of his early drawings and paintings were stored at grandparents house...our formative years and mutual influence come from growing up in Southern California I am sure – the ocean, the light, atmosphere and creative innovation vibe (Hollywood, Disney…!) was paramount – as was a burgeoning art and design sensibility evolving there in the ‘50’s and ‘60s…as a kid, no doubt I was influenced by both my brothers…I wanted to do exactly what they did…sports, art…seeing them be creative was an especially a big influence…plus our parents, though not artists, where risks takers (moving from the Midwest to So. Cal in the late ‘40s) were always supportive!

EN: You each have your own voice and different looks. Your fascination appears to be abstraction, experimentation and design. What have been your biggest influences that differentiate you from other artists?

MDW: Well for sure…I am keen on the potential of abstraction to offer a synesthetic experience for the viewer and emote a powerful visual and perhaps emotional experience. Not sure I am different from any other visual artist out there though – always observing seeking inspiration and a unique point of view…taking risks with the work…exploring, experimenting with new media…staying curious, responding to contemporary ideas and issues, trying to communicate to a broad audience…via this visual language format…my influences are endless; cross cultural world views, yogic art, mandalas, Native American shields, Chinese Sung landscape painting, 19th – 20th century European and American art movements, Eastern and Western philosophies, the Bauhaus, modernists Wassily Kandinsky, Arthur Dove, abstract painters of the New York School…, Black Mountain College, and contemporaries, Irene Rice Pereria, Joan Mitchell, Betty Parsons, Robert Irwin, Richard Tuttle, Gerhardt Richter, and countless more…and then, George Morrison, of course.

EN: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 strikes me as unusual because I do not recall your work being concerned with political issues. Can you outline the issue that inspired this piece?

MDW: Yes, this is my most recent painting – in response to the ongoing violence, systemic racism against indigenous communities in Mexico – not unlike close to home and throughout the world. On September 26, 2014, over a hundred indigenous students from the rural town of Aynotzinapa were on their way to Iguala, Mexico, in the State of Guerrero, to demonstrate the ongoing political and economic injustices. 43 of the students were rounded up, detained, disappeared, then murdered…by drug cartel thugs – who were aligned with the Mayor of Iguala and his wife…as a tribute in solidarity to the killed students, an art exhibit at UW Madison in 2015 and a surge of protests throughout the world have continued to protest the murdered students and the ongoing violence…in the midst of a violent world…people’s memories lapse…and repress…my painting is a small condemnation of the event…and an effort to bring greater awareness to the students tragic demise…I wanted to paint them a beautiful picture…

EN: If this is not a first, how have you engaged issues in the past? What were the issues and why/how did they motivate you to address them?

MDW: Actually… much of my work has been and continues to be politically inspired…current events and issues. I am quite taken with the power of art to express one’s feelings, thoughts and emotions regarding a tragedy, political issue, or humanitarian calamity. A significant example immediately comes to mind throughout world calamity and art history. Pablo Picasso’s monumental painting “Guernica” – denounces the horrors of war (Fascist bombing in 1937 of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.)… In response and protest to the US invasion and Gulf War, in 1991, I painted “Firebomb over Euphrates…” my most large scale painting then – this same year in Jan.-Feb, together with a handful of other Duluthians, I stood on the corner of Superior Street and 14th Avenue East hoisting a placard “no blood for oil” - on a regular basis, during morning rush hour. These are small things one person can do. In 1992, I created a multi-media installation in response to the Bosnian War – the genocide. Travel to Cuba in 1998-2000, inspired me to paint a series of mixed media works, in solidarity with the Cuban people, especially the artistic community there…struggling, day by day, seeking self expression…family and art…in response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, then Afghanistan, I painted a series of paintings titled “Redwhiteblu”…questioning the integrity of “Old Glory”…the imposed Patriot Act…nationalist ideologies and political pressure, just cause, preemptive strikes, folly, sanctions and the death of 7,000 American soldiers and possibly nearly half a million Iraqi solders and civilians, children and adults.

EN: Is your technique proprietary or can you share what the materials are that you have been mixing with the paints for some of those exceptionally textured pieces?

MDW: Process is a huge part of the creative venture… Over the years I have continued to explore a variety of mixed media and integrative mediums… I paint on multiple surfaces, canvas, birch plywood and Masonite panels. I also utilize found objects (dumpster diving…) painted into and onto… using brand name oil, acrylic, latex enamels (commercial house paint… gloss, semi-gloss, satin…flat…seeking out the unwanted paints…and frequent the recycling centers.) I use a variety of grits to create textural zones…sand…crushed brick and tiles…mixed into the paint to create a thick impasto – to hold and layer color – juxtaposed and reveal relationship to each other…all in an effort to explore a myriad of color characteristics, hue, value, saturation, brightness…translucency, fluorescence...As represented in my current Zeitgeist exhibit, all the paintings have continued to explore visual and conceptual abstraction and the expressive potential of mixed media with altered digital images. In this case, images of previous and recently created paintings are repurposed, as well as new photographs taken while in Mexico this past year have been digitally altered – then printed on canvas – as a new exploration resource and tool, resulting in a hybrid of elements, digital imagery painted into, latex enamel, acrylic, layered in compound color, texture and image integration.

EN: Thank you for sharing. Do you have a website I can link to?

MDW: Sure do, here you go:

EN: Where can people see more of your work or buy it? 


MDW: My show at Zeitgeist continues through July 30 and prices are noted on the labels unless marked as sold. Viewers are always welcome to visit my website where I have new and past paintings posted and available for sale unless otherwise noted. Folks can call, email or contact me via my website. In addition, I am happy to say that Lizzard’s Gallery here in Duluth has a small selection of my paintings. Plus, I have a series of original paintings and prints available for purchase at www.fineartamerica/

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Technique for Producing Ideas: More Thoughts on Creativity

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” 
~ Leo Burnett

When I wrote yesterday about creativity and "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" I still had a few stories to add.

Years ago I worked for a company that did something I felt was fairly progressive. They hired a consulting firm to put the entire management team through the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator Test. After interpreting the results, and without telling us what they indicated, they had us go off campus for a couple days to have us do exercises that not only revealed who we ourselves were but also whom our peers were.

Those familiar with Myers-Briggs know that the first category has to do with the intuitive-sensing scale. Some people are extremely high on intuition and others quite reality based.

The first exercise we did involved having us sit at tables in groups of six to eight. Then the facilitator gave us each a large sheet of paper and a marker to write with. He picked up a chair, held it over his head upside down, and began throwing markers in the air while walking around the room making noises, occasionally repeating, "What am I doing."

The group at my table began writing furiously. I thought he was a soldier in a pillbox and the markers were bullets exploding. Another at my table saw them as sparklers or fireworks. All kinds of translations were recorded for the duration of time that was allotted and when we finished the sheet of paper was nearly filled with possibilities.

Our lists we then read to everyone in the room, and the findings proved hilarious. We did not know that we'd been placed at tables based on how each of us ranked on the Intuitive scale. As it turns out, my table was comprised of the most intuitive/creative people in the company. When our list of interpretations was read to the group there was laughter. No where on our list were statements like, "He's walking around with a chair over his head." Or "He's throwing markers into the air."

By way of contrast, the table made up of the most extreme Sensing people had not one creative interpretation. Their list said, "He is holding a chair over his head and throwing markers into the air." And I'm not sure they added anything else to that list.

There were a number of takeaways from this first exercise. One of these was the surprising realization that all of the people in our finance department were at the S table. The facilitator noted, "Isn't it nice to know that the people counting the money and balancing the books are not doing it creatively?"

I'm in advertising, one of the professions where highly intuitive/creative people thrive. Hence, a number of good books about creativity have been written by ad agency heads. One of these is A Technique for Producing Ideas (McGraw-Hill Advertising Classic) by Young, James New edition (2003).

The book is a relatively short -- no, very short -- volume that essentially outlines the five key steps in the creative process. For many people, including creative people, creativity is in essence a mystery. Hence, we hear of writers waiting for their muse, artists waiting for inspiration. But if you're in the advertising game, do you really just wait around for inspiration to strike out of the blue? Are there ways to prime the pump? Are great ideas really only a matter of chance?

In the second chapter of Young's little volume he tells about how ancient mariners, as they traversed wide open seas, would suddenly come across lovely atolls above the waters. The unexpected had an air of magic about it. "And so it is, I thought, with Ideas," Young writes. "They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind; and with the same air of magic and unaccountability."

Scientists understand that these atolls don't really just appear out of nowhere. They are the product of countless, unseen coral builders working below the surface of the sea. So Young asked himself, "Is an idea, too, like this? Is it only the final result of a long series of unseen idea-building processes which go on beneath the surface of the conscious mind?"

But he went further, wondering if these processes can be identified so they can be stimulated, corralled, developed into a formula. The fundamental prod behind all this was a single quest: "How do you get ideas?"

Young continues: "This brought me to the conclusion that the production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just a must a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool."

A little further in the book Young writes, "What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced; and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas."

What constitutes an "idea" you may ask. According to Vilfredo Pareto "an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements." (EdNote: You may be familiar with Pareto due to the principle named after him, a.k.a. the 80-20 rule.)

Young affirmed that “knowledge is basic to good creative thinking,” but that this is not enough. Rather, “knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships.”

I referenced the book in a 2008 blog post and see that you can purchase your own used copy for one penny plus shipping here at Amazon.

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

EdNote: Picture at top right by Spanish artist Pere Salinas.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

For the Benefit of Mr. Kite: How Creativity Works

"... Whether you're writing a Shakespearean tragedy, or trying to come up with a new graphic design or writing a piece of software, how we think about the problem should depend on the problem itself. Creativity is really a catch-all term for a variety of very different kinds of thinking." ~Jonah Lehrer*

* * * *

When Rolling Stone dubbed The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper as #1 album rock album of all time, here's how they defended their selection:

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the most important rock & roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock & roll group of all time. From the title song's regal blasts of brass and fuzz guitar to the orchestral seizure and long, dying piano chord at the end of "A Day in the Life," the 13 tracks on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are the pinnacle of the Beatles' eight years as recording artists. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were never more fearless and unified in their pursuit of magic and transcendence. 

The album was truly an incredible achievement on so many levels. As a creative endeavor alone it is astonishing. We studied some of the lyrics in high school English class. And we returned to it again and again over the years. No matter what period of life, the songs still hold up. But the real significance of Sgt. Pepper is due to it's ground-breaking creative expression.

In a 1987 article titled Cultivating Invention, Ernest Breton and Raelene Gold propose that creativity emerges from cultivating an environment that creates and nourishes creativity. Their article was directed toward businesses striving to create effective R&D efforts, but their insights apply directly to those ground-breaking influencers in the music industry.

"Like the farmer who removes impediments to the growth of plants, the company seeking inventions must remove impediments to invention," they wrote.**

In the visual arts this breaking down barriers, removing impediments to creative possibilities, is the story of modern art. Beginning with the expressionists, the various movements through cubism to total abstraction were a series of breaking down walls. The Sixties evolution from sock hop rock 'n roll to "anything's possible" only took a matter of years, not decades. The Beatles' output is essentially a documentation of this transformation.

In Sgt. Pepper everything that was happening converged.

It's interesting how different the songs are individually from playful (When I'm 64) to surreal (Lucy in Sky with Diamonds), to philosophically poignant (Within You, Without You). The creative variety explodes like an aural flower garden. Like Dylan, Beatles fans at this point began getting serious about song meanings. What was Fixing a Hole about? Who blew his mind out in a car in Day in the Life?

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Creativity doesn't begin and end with the creator. In music there is also the Listener. The one who hears the song adds his or her own experience to what has been created.  New meanings can be derived that weren't originally there. The song sets in motion new possibilities. This is especially so in classical music, so aptly exemplified in Disney's Fantasia.

* * * *
Getting back to Sgt. Pepper, the writing team of Lennon-McCartney was in full flower. The world was their pallet of colors to work with. Everything was possible. Their minds were open to everything being a potential song catalyst so that when John Lennon walked into an antique shop in January 1967, a 19th-century circus poster for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal appearance at Rochdale caught his eye. "Everything from the song is from that poster," he explained, "except the horse wasn't called Henry."

Here's the full text of the original Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal poster:
Grandest Night of the Season!
On TUESDAY Evening, February 14, 1843.
Mssrs. KITE and HENDERSON, in announcing the following Entertainments, assure the Public that this Night's Production will be one of the most splendid ever produced in this town, having been some days in preparation.
Mr. KITE will, for this night only, introduce the
Well known to be one of the
best Broke Horses
Mr. HENDERSON will undertake the arduous Task of
Mr. KITE will appear, for the first time this season,
On the Tight Rope,
When Two Gentlemen Amateurs of this Town will
perform with him.
Mr. HENDERSON will, for the first time in Rochdale,
introduce his extraordinary
Over Men & Horses, through Hoops, over Garters,
and lastly through a
Hogshead of REAL FIRE!
In this branch of the profession Mr. H challenges

The transformation of poster to song is inventive enough, but the interpretation of the sound effects of a circus put it over the top. In addition to the usual instruments --organ, guitars, harmonica, drums -- George Martin's harmonium, Lowrey organ, glockenspiel and Hammond organ create the fanciful air of a circus fair. The sound track, the musical orchestration, perfectly illustrates the freedom with which the Beatles could go on a rampage with imagination flowing unimpeded.

And yet, the second aspect of all this creative expression is that it's flowing within a form. It's not abstract. There's a structure. It's the length of a song. There's rhythm and meter. It's freedom within form.

It hardly matters who the Henderson's are, the avid Sgt. Pepper fan is swept away in the fanciful whirl of it, especially knowing that "tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill." But there's something dark in it all, which adds to it's strangeness. Or is this only my imagination?

*How Creativity Works: NPR Interview
**Research Management, Sept.-Oct. 1987, Vol. XXX No. 5

Meantime life goes on all around you. Celebrate it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Esther Piszczek's Patterned Peace

I first discovered Esther Piszczek in September 2013 at an opening reception in Canal Park's Amazing Grace. As I reflect on this it somewhat startles me because she has been so remarkably busy and productive in what turns out to be fewer than three years. In addition to producing her countless Zentangle-inspired designs*, she's conducted workshops and held classes, devoted considerable time to decorating an upright piano with her designs and following through with the production of a documentary film on the same, which was shared at the DuSu Film Festival this spring. Her designs have made mirrors come alive in new ways and can be found on playing cards, greetings cards and T-shirts.

As a logical extension, she has now produced a coloring book titled Patterned Peace. When I was young I once did a series of line drawings that I'd hoped to see produced as a coloring book. The drawings are gone, but I still like my working title: I Really Dig A Ten-Pound Smile. Esther did more than come up with an idea.

EN: How did your book come about?

Esther Piszczek: The best answer would be to send you to my Eternal Possibility blog post where I explain exactly that.

EN: Where did the title come from?

EP: I brainstormed several different names with the publishers, Whole Person Associates. It was challenging to find a name that wasn’t already taken, considering the coloring book craze that has taken hold over the last few years. The artwork is comprised wholly of patterns, as opposed to outlines of real things like birds, or landscapes or flowers filled in with patterns, so it made sense to include the word pattern in the title. We also wanted to convey the meditative/contemplative energy that coloring sometimes imbues. Considering that Whole Person Associates is a health and wellness publisher, it made sense to use the word peace, as well.

EN: What was the process for selecting the images in your book?

EP: I signed a contract to provide 40 images for the book and drew each image free hand using pen and ink. Some of the images were drawn in full, while some of them were drawn in part, then scanned, uploaded and rotated to create new patterns using simple graphic design. Aligning the duplicate, rotated images with each other to create larger patterns is the only way in which the artwork was manipulated graphically.

This book is unique in that it also includes a pattern index, which is an index of each individual pattern I used in creating the larger images. I drew each pattern individually to create the index. The publisher gave me sole creative control over the artwork and which patterns I chose to use, so the selection process really originated and ended with my own creativity. Fortunately, they loved the outcome.

EN: What was the most rewarding aspect of this project for you personally?

EP: As a Certified Zentangle (R) Teacher, it is rewarding to me that this coloring book, unlike others I’ve seen, provides guidance, through text and the Tangle Index, which encourages those who color to also learn to draw patterns and, thereafter, color their own artwork. I love that the publisher and I created a book that is really different from everything else I’ve seen out there in the coloring book world.

EN: What was the biggest challenge?

EP: The biggest challenge was creating 40 original pieces of artwork while balancing a number of variables. To prepare, I read numerous coloring book reviews on Amazon to see what people liked and didn’t like about different books. A common complaint was that the pieces were too detailed. So I took into consideration the size and difficulty of each piece of artwork I created. I incorporated some simple patterns and smaller patterns along with the more detailed and larger images to give people a range of size and difficulty to choose from depending on their mood. I found juggling the larger vision for the book’s look and feel while creating so many pieces on a deadline was both challenging and rewarding.

EN: What have you learned so far from this experience?

EP: I’ve learned that it takes a lot of hard work to create a high quality book. I am grateful that the publisher hired a talented and flexible graphic designer to do the layout and import the images. I learned that I do not want to be a graphic designer when I grow up. This project stretched me artistically and professionally in so many meaningful ways. I’m grateful that the hard work of the entire publishing team is evident in Patterned Peace and hope that all those who buy it enjoy it.

EN: Where can people find a copy for themselves?

EP: Patterned Peace is available locally at The Bookstore at Fitger’s and Explorations Toy Store in the Village Mall, 2322 Mountain Shadow Drive. It is also available at under “New Releases” and on

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* Certified Zentangle® teacher Esther Piszczek left the practice of law in 2008 to live more creatively.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Themes

When I began this blog in 2007 I decided that one way to set it apart would be to combine my writing with art that I created. As time when on the illustrations and paintings I'd been creating led one of my readers to suggest having an art show featuring the art. I'd not had an art show since college and since a space was offered I took him up on it. I titled the show First Hand Experiences. As it turns out I hung more that 120 pieces in that show, and even sold a few. Here is the blog post I wrote in July 2009 regarding the artwork displayed that month in Duluth's West End.

"A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing." ~William Dobell

A lot of people have asked me if my show has a theme, or what kind of art I do. It was always hard to answer that since my work goes in a lot of directions. Eventually, I came to answer that my paintings and drawings were "in the modernist style." It is not classical, baroque or art nouveau, nor is it realism, landscape or still life. I can't call it abstract because much of it is representational to some extent. Certainly the portraits of Lincoln and Sitting Bull are straight up portraits.

As for themes, we have a friend who does gnomes. And some people do flowers. In American art, the major themes might include scenes from everyday life, historical subjects, abstract art, landscapes. Jackson Pollock did the large splatter paintings which brought him fame and fortune in the modern art world. Warhol did screen printing with images from pop culture, creating iconic reproductions of Marilyn Monroe, electric chairs and soup cans.

Although the styles in this show vary, one can't help but notice upon deeper reflection that certain themes emerge. One of these is the theme of suffering. We live in a broken world. Pieces like Scars Remain and Chase Ends In Suicide show the chaos of our culture, and paintings like Grief and Sad Clown likewise show the personal impact this brokenness has.

Another theme, which may or may not be immediately recognized, is the underlying sense of the comic. I like making funny pictures, and also enjoy toying with people a little. My found art piece Tribute to DuChamp was intended to bring a wry smile to art connoisseurs, though I have now learned that the average person no longer knows who DuChamp was. Nearly everyone gets a kick out of The Great Escape, a small brush and ink drawing of a man crawling on hands and knees, a guilty expression on his face.

The most important thing to me is that people who visit the show take time to engage each piece, which might be an impossibility in light of the quantity. Someone once said that "the holy grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes people to look at it." I can relate to that. I'm honored when people get drawn in, engage, interact. Too much of life is lived on the surface, and so it is that once in a while we need to get jarred, to be made to pause, to reflect... not only on the piece, but on that which is occurring within our selves.

Maybe I'm just trying to share a little about what I like to do when I get away from it all while others go fishing. Some people might just call it glorified doodling. For me, making art satisfies a need. Sharing what I've created, and seeing other people enjoy it, satisfies a second.

Have a great day! Hopefully the rain will have stopped when you walk from your cars to the show tonight.

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