Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nobel Echoes: Bob Dylan Is Second Writer From Duluth to Receive Nobel Prize in Literature

Gabe Rubin in front of Dylan's boyhood home in Duluth.
This week a journalist from the Wall Street Journal flew into town to gather material for a story on Bob Dylan's home town's, to appear next week on the day the Prize is to be officially awarded, December 10. Dylan fans come from all walks of life, from knighted university professors to Pulitzer Prize winning authors so it should not have been a surprise to find WSJ's Gabriel Rubin to be so thoroughly enthused by the assignment he acquired, to do a first-hand research on Dylan's roots here in the Northland.

Before heading to Hibbing, Mr. Rubin met with several members of the Duluth Dylan Fest committee and long-time Duluthians Steve Goldfine and Craig Grau. The latter two shared several stories and insights I'd not heard before, so I took notes and did a lot of listening. Afterward, we gave Mr. Rubin a tour of the various points of interest related to our theme.

One of the items that came from the encounter was a new realization about a Sinclair Lewis-Bob Dylan connection I'd never recognized before. It's only natural that I'd not previously had this thought because up until this fall Bob Dylan had not yet been honored with a Nobel Prize.

What Mr. Grau highlighted for our guest was that Duluth was not only the home town for Bob Dylan for a season, but was also home town for another Nobel Prize winner, Sinclair Lewis, who lived here in the mid-1940s. Once you recall that Dylan was born in Duluth in 1941, it doesn't take much figgerin' to notice that Lewis -- the first American to win a Nobel Prize for Literature -- was here in the Zenith City at the very same time.

When Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, he was the first American ever to do so, the award mainly a result of his novel "Babbitt" (1922) set in the fictional city of Zenith, which happens to be a popular nickname of our Northland home town.*

Lewis was born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota in 1885. He received his accolades from the Nobel Prize committee in 1930 at the age of 45. Many people are unaware that in his fifties Lewis moved to Duluth and lived here at 26th Avenue East and 2nd Street for a few years in the 1940s. The book he wrote while living here, Kingsblood Royal, happened to be a book about race.

A book about race while living in Duluth in the 1940s? Only 25 years earlier Duluthians broke into the jail and lynched three black workers from a travelling circus that was in town that summer. This incident, is re-painted in Dylan's haunting Desolation Row's opening lines, "They're selling post cards of the hanging.... the circus is in town." Anyone else hearing an echo?

* * * *
The Wikipedia entry on Sinclair Lewis begins...

Harry Sinclair Lewis (/ˈluːɪs/; February 7, 1885 – January 10, 1951) was an American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. In 1930, he became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humor, new types of characters." His works are known for their insightful and critical views of American capitalism and materialism between the wars. He is also respected for his strong characterizations of modern working women. H. L. Mencken wrote of him,"[If] there was ever a novelist among us with an authentic call to the trade ... it is this red-haired tornado from the Minnesota wilds."

A little further down Wikipedia describes the nature of Lewis' writings.

In 1930, Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first writer from the United States to receive the award, after he had been nominated by Henrik Schück, member of the Swedish Academy. In the Academy's presentation speech, special attention was paid to Babbitt. In his Nobel Lecture, Lewis praised Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, and other contemporaries, but also lamented that "in America most of us—not readers alone, but even writers—are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American, a glorification of our faults as well as our virtues," and that America is "the most contradictory, the most depressing, the most stirring, of any land in the world today."

And in this description of the novelist I hear echoes of Dylan's "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and other songs, which is why so many disenfranchised young people of the Sixties so resonated with Dylan's music.

* * * *
Dylan tribute on the elevator doors in the lobby of the downtown Holiday Inn.
History is about people, times and places. The people in this instance are Nobel Prize winners from Duluth who shared this town for a brief space of time. The houses where they lived remain, even if the now famous residents have moved on.

If you're taking notes, be sure to review them next May before Duluth Dylan Fest. At least one detail here will be the answer to a question in our Trivia Contest on the first evening of the week.

EdNote: The Hibbing Dylan Project wants everyone to know that Will Call tickets are still available for the December 10 Nobel Laureate Reception at the Androy Hotel. Details here.

EdNote 2: Be sure to pick up a Wall Street Journal, December 10. It might make for a good collectible if you're a Dylan fan.

EdNote 3: Breaking News. The info in EdNote 2 is incorrect. Due to a schedule change, the article will go online tonight and appear in print in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal.

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

*A silly aside: Whether you look at history backward or forward, these two American Nobel Prize for Literature winners are first and last to receive it, and both from Duluth. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Richard Bolles' Three Boxes of Life

You only live once. How much of what you do each day is determined by the paradigm you are living in? How many of your life decisions were made by uncritically accepting certain premises that you adopted uncritically?

I am not suggesting that we start every day from scratch, questioning everything and trying to make all our decisions "in the now" as we go along. Your thoughts would run haywire. Do I get up or stay in bed? Do I get dressed? What should I wear? Should I eat or not eat? Where should I eat? Should I eat with my fingers this morning instead of the usual way? Should I eat on the floor or on a seat by the door? Should I eat standing up at the counter?

When the alarm interrupts my sleep I turn it off and begin my day. Habits like that are O.K. That's how we keep going. These are not the life decisions I'm referring to anyways.

Rather, I'm thinking about the internal picture we carry around in or heads, consciously or unconsciously, of what a normal life map looks like.

You may know Richard Nelson Bolles as the author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the job-hunting manual that has helped gazillions of job seekers get re-connected to the employment force over the past four decades. In 1996 the Library of Congress names his book one of the 25 top books that has changed peoples' lives. (You can read more about him here.) His sequel to this annually updated job hunt manual was The Three Boxes of Life.

Here's what one of the reviewers at wrote:

I first read this book when it had been out only a few years, and it turned my head around. I had been brought up, like most children of the 'fifties, to think of life as a series of rigidly defined serial roles: first you were a student, then you were a worker, and finally you retired and got to do all the fun things you'd been putting off for the past 40-odd years. Having worked my way through graduate school, and done a bit of traveling in the process, I of course knew how artificial these distinctions were -- but I still tended to feel vaguely guilty about my "immature" lifestyle and rebuke myself for not "settling down" like a Real Grownup was "supposed to." Bolles set me straight -- in fact I was doing a pretty good job of balancing growth, work, and leisure in my life, and had nothing to be ashamed of. My subsequent work history has borne out the wisdom of his advice: I've been happiest and most productive when my life achieves that same balance; the most miserable time of my life was the nine-year period when I succumbed to the siren song of Silicon Valley and became a money-obsessed workaholic. This is a terrific book, and one that bears rereading every few years, especially when you feel your life slipping out of balance.

Here's another:

Bolles' What Colour is Your Parachute? has, in the short time since its release, become a classic in how to find a job. The Three Boxes is a related but rather different work. The author takes on the broader issues of life planning, which includes not only career, but also educational and personal planning. In some ways, this book is a rebuttal to the traditional college/career/retirement paradigm by showing that people don't have to (and, for that matter, won't even if they wished to) live their lives in the traditional career path straitjacket. The tone of the work is thoughtful but practical. A lot of self-help oriented material nowadays seems to focus on mustering your potential to achieve your dreams. These works have their place, but they fail to answer a preliminary question--how does one know what one wants from life?

The Three Boxes is about the task of actually figuring out what you want, and then implementing what you want. It's remarkably free of needless fluff about the inner person, while filled with practical ideas on "breaking out" of the "traps" of modern career life. This is a book to own. It's an easy and thought-provoking read, presented in light style with interesting graphics.

We all have a picture in our heads of what a "normal" life should look like. Bolles' book aims to provide a more balanced view, and one that is psychologically more fulfilling and healthier.

Bolles's books are an extension of his life mission, which was devoted to helping others in one of the most important areas of life: understanding who we are and being all we're meant to be.

Here's a page of R. N. Bolles quotes from the Brandon Gaille blog. I myself encountered him through an interview in Radix magazine back in the '70s. The interview impressed me at the time because it was clear his religious beliefs formed a foundation for his worldview, but he was engaged in work that focused on an extremely important area of life success: finding employment stability and meaningful work. 40 years later and it's apparent that he has never deviated from that mission.

May your day be immersed with good energy as you move through your paces and do all you set about to achieve. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Rewarding Visit with Influential Writer/Entrepreneur Charles Chu, Including 4 Tips for Bloggers

I discovered the blog of Charles Chu by coming across an article he wrote about mental resilience and the techniques Navy SEALs use to develop it. The article struck me as not only useful, but engaging enough to make me want to explore more about the author. Its home was a blog with the intriguing title Market Meditations.  

EN: Where did you grow up and how has your family influenced who you are?

Charles Chu: I was born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents. My parents were extremely poor and came to the US in search of a better life. It's the classic immigrant story. I grew up with a Chinese cultural environment at home but a very American one everywhere else. There was always a sense of not belonging and not fitting in. That made me ask a lot of questions about human nature, how the world works, etc.

EN: How long have you been writing your Market Meditations blog? What was its original purpose and how has it evolved?

CC: Funny story. The original blog was meant to be about finance, particularly global macro trading. That's why the word "Market" is in the title. That was one of the dozens of failed experiments I've had.

The real blog (as you know it) has only been around for two months. I was answering questions on Quora, and I was surprised to find that over one million people read my answers in a single month! That was the proof I needed that people like the way I think. I take a different approach to challenges (both philosophically and technically), and that reflects in the success the blog is seeing.

EN: Where did your belief that "success can be engineered" originate?

CC: Few people know this, but I come from a mathematical background. I used to do math competitions in grade school. I've also dabbled in poker and equity trading. If you look at successful performers in this field (or any field), they share common philosophies and attributes. And when you study the failures, they tend to lack these same qualities.

Success in investing or gambling is typically attributed to "luck", but the best know that it is engineered. You can create conditions to maximize the probability of profit (or success, in our case). Afterwards, all that is left is to survive long enough for results to start coming in.

EN: Who are some of the great thinkers whose ideas you deconstruct and share?

CC: Anyone who inspires me. The blog hasn't been around that long, but I've looked at statesmen (like Ben Franklin), writers (like Isaac Asimov), marketers (like Seth Godin), and even Hedge Fund managers (like Stanley Druckenmiller).

EN: What was your method for generating blog traffic?

CC: I can't cover this in detail without several dozen pages, but let me outline the general concepts.

• I borrow traffic. I write 90%+ of my stuff off the blog. Why? Because posting things on a blog shows it to nobody (except for your existing readership). You have to find places where people gather, show your work to them and give them a way to come to your site.

• I don't use SEO. For new bloggers, SEO is like picking pennies in front of a steamroller. You can do hours and hours of research to target keywords that bring 100-200 readers a month. I could spend that time engineering a hit on Reddit, Quora or another social sharing site and bring in 10-20 thousand readers instead.

• I find the right audience for my work. If I write something about minimalism or frugality, I'm not going to promote it to an advertising channel. It's not my right audience. I write about what interests me. This tends to fall into several core categories. The rest is just about finding where those people gather and showing them your work.

• I don't network. One of my posts was recently featured on the NY Observer. The editor emailed ME to ask to republish it. All I have to do is focus on putting my work out in public and making it top 1% in quality. Why spend hours pitching editors and other bloggers with mediocre writing when I can put that time into making amazing writing that other people beg me to share?

EN: Excellent advice. What are your favorite topics to write about?

CC: I scratch my own itch. I have a long laundry list of exciting ideas, but here are some—entrepreneurship, human nature, cognitive science, philosophy, biohacking, movement, productivity, world travel, risk-taking, guerrilla marketing, learning languages... I could go on forever.

My advice to other writers: if you want interest, you need to be interesting. And if you want to be interesting, be interested first. There are millions of other wannabe writers out there. What makes you the best in the world at what you do?

* * * *
Want more? Join 5000+ readers of The Open Circle, a free weekly newsletter where Charles deconstructs great minds and shares actionable insights from his own crazy experiments. 

* * * *

A lot of good suggestions here. Don't just read it. Ingest it and make it your own.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Boomchucks Drummer Brad Nelson Talks About Life, Music and Duluth Dylan Fest

I met Brad Nelson through our mutual involvement with Duluth Dylan Fest. It's interesting how much we interact with people without really knowing them. I'd known of his former involvement with the Brewhouse, of course, and that he was the younger brother of Tim Nelson, former co-owner of the same (and several other local eating establishments) with Rod Raymond. I knew he was also a drummer with the Boomchucks, who annually changed their name to The Freewheelers to entertain during Duluth Dylan Fest. But when I learned recently about his involvement with the U.S. Olympic Skiing Team, I suddenly felt a desire to share his story, in part that I would myself learn more about this Director of Information & Propaganda and all things publicity for Duluth Does Dylan.

EN: Where did you and Tim grow up and how did you end up in Duluth?
Brad Nelson: We were born in Duluth. My dad is from here and my mom moved here to take a social work position. But we moved to Brainerd when I was six and we grew up there. My dad took a job teaching auto mechanics at the Brainerd Technical College. My parents bought a little farm where we kept a horse, rabbits, chickens, a dog and cat, and several veggie gardens.

EN: Were you both skiers?
BN: Yes, we are both skiers. I decided to join the ski team when I was in 7th grade and talked my brother into doing it with me. The sport ended up changing both of our lives. I still think of it as the most "punk rock" of sports because it's hard as can be, arguably the most physically demanding sport there is, but kids at school used to make fun of us, calling us "forest fairies" and stuff like that. Taking on that challenge made us the opposite of cool. I guess that fit me. 

EN: How did you come to be involved with the Duluth Dylan Fest committee? 
BN: Jamie (Ness), Jim Hall and I played a couple of the early Bob Dylan birthday parties, which were simple gatherings at a brewpub with birthday cake and us playing Dylan covers in the corner. I don't know why, but I approached the organizing committee and asked them for their thoughts about growing the event into a weeklong festival. It was just one of those things where I thought something should happen and seeing the idea come to life was the drive. Everyone on the committee was on board and the rest is history.

EN: You're also a drummer in the Boomchucks, with Jamie Ness. When did you take up drums and how did the Boomchucks get started?
BN: When Tim was in 7th grade and I was in 4th he asked for a drum kit for his birthday. He was gifted a beat up two-piece drum kit that changed our lives. We spent hours in our shared bedroom learning the beats to songs, just playing along. But we also started writing our own songs from the start and called ourselves The Apollo Rockers. We would write songs and put on concerts for our parents, sister, aunts, uncles, pets... anyone that would listen. I still remember some of the songs we wrote. At first Tim usually played the drums and I was the singer. But after a while we started taking turns.

I played the trumpet in the school band. Drums were something I enjoyed because they belonged completely to me. I didn't have to worry about being correct, I could just play. I still think of myself as more of a "musician" than a "drummer," if that makes any sense. I really care more about the song and how to breathe life into it than I do about being a technically great drummer. Of course those things overlap all over the place, but that's how I approach it.

I've known Jamie a long time, I think we met in 1999. We crossed paths musically a couple times early on, even though he was living in Minneapolis and starting to stand out in that scene as a City Pages "Picked to Click" artist. We recorded together for the first time on the first Duluth Does Dylan CD 15 years ago. In 2006, after Jamie had moved back to his hometown (Duluth). We somehow started talking about musical influences and decided we should play together. We sort of had in mind Johnny Cash "Live at Folsom Prison," lots of train beats, almost a punk-rock country sound. The collaboration has been important to me on a lot of levels. Jamie remains one of my most important friends and playing music with him has been a huge part of my life for the past decade.

Who have been the prime movers behind the Duluth Does Dylan CDs?
BN: Tim somehow came up with that idea as a way to document and market the Duluth music scene. Tom Fabjance jumped on board right away and the two worked together on it. That was 2001. They have consistently created a CD every five years since, for a total of four. I wrote the liner notes for the first CD as the publisher of the Ripsaw, Duluth's alt weekly at the time. I helped Tim and Tom more on the latest effort, "Bringing It All Back To Duluth Does Dylan."

Tom has been a huge but quiet influence on Duluth's music community. Few people realize he has a gold record as the engineer for the Smashing Pumpkins "Gish" record. He moved to Ashland to start his family and has since worked for Big Top Chautauqua, Trampled By Turtles, and many more. He's going out on the road with the Manhattan Transfer this winter. We're lucky to have him involved.

Midpoint, BOTT Express, "home" of the Freewheelers.*
Where did the idea for the Blood On The Tracks Express come from?
BN: When the Duluth Dylan Fest was coming up with ideas to extend the festival I stole the idea from previous chartered trains, like the Halloween "Terror Train." Creating a Dylan-themed train seemed like an ideal fit as trains loom large in Americana music—and Dylan's songs are no exception.

EN: Why is Dylan important to you personally?
I was weened on Americana music, it's just incredibly sentimental to me. My dad had an awesome record collection of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and stuff like that. Dylan wasn't played as much but it was around. As I started to grow beyond 80s punk rock and then 90s indie rock and was able to understand Dylan's music better, it occurred to me that he was as punk rock as they come only with less distortion. "Masters of War," for example, is a punch in the face. It just blew me away by how hard it was. But a lot of my Dylan discovery has been through playing his music with Jamie, listening to John Bushey's radio show "Highway 61 Revisited," and being a part of the Duluth Dylan Fest. Of course the more I've delved in the more important his music has become for different reasons at different times, like "Threw It All Away" a couple years back.

Besides being artistically inspiring, Dylan is a legend that was born where I was born, he drank the same water and breathed the same air. It's helpful to remember that everyone comes from somewhere. I hate the term "local musician" because it lowers the bar for the musician and the listener in terms of what's expected, like the audience should prepare to hear mediocrity. I guess Dylan turns the term "local musician" on its head in an inspiring way. I try to bring that mindset to everything I tackle, that it's possible to contribute to what's come before no matter who you are and where you come from.

* * * *
Thanks, Brad. May you stay forever young.

* One evening each year the Boomchucks perform as The Freewheelers during Duluth Dylan Fest.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Local Art Seen: AICHO Galleries Hosts Winter Good Life Art Market

Black Friday is over, finished and done. Turn the page. Today it's Small Business Saturday.

I didn't pay much attention to the ads in Thursday's massive newspaper, yet I did notice that SiiVii's in Canal Park and Art in the Alley were listed in one of the notices for Small Biz Saturday here in Duluth. Another happening today is the two day celebration at the AICHO Galleries at 202 West 2nd Street. The event is called Biiboon Bimaadizimin -- Winter Good Life Art Market!

If you are out and about, the former YWCA downtown is one of the places you'll want to stop into today. If you're buying gifts for friends or family, local artists and artisans are producing all manner of things that you won't find anywhere else. Buy local. I found a few things and will probably covet a few more.

They also had some refreshments yesterday, slightly underpriced, and overly delicious. I was unable to restrain myself and scarfed down some yummy chili and fry bread. Spoiled my appetite, but it felt good anyways.

Here are some images from my visit to the AICHO Galleries yesterday afternoon.

Joyce LaPorte's dolls, Kay Archer's jewelry and textiles, Leah Yellowbird's exquisite paintings (her work goes for thousands, but she has produced a number of bite-sized pieces that are affordable and suitable for any home), Katie Rider's Fiber Arts, Jonathan Thunder, Karen and Wendy Savage, and many others whose work has become familiar to me. Slats Fairbanks, from the Chippewa Tribe in RedLake, had a nice selection of drawings and pictures in the far end of the room. A wide variety of functional art can also be purchased.

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

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Live, Die, Repeat" and Other Writing Prompts

Earlier this week I watched the 2014 film Live Die Repeat with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. I was surprised that I'd never seen a word about this flick until I went to and saw that it was originally called Edge of Tomorrow and has been repackaged with a new name for broader distribution.

After watching this film, I couldn't help but imagine how the screenwriters came up with this story. They grew up playing those video games where you keep dying over and over again until you learn the route to victory. It's a nasty variation of Groundhog Day in which Hollywood excels at what it does best: SFX. In the first ten minutes we see the setup. Cruise as an officer whose specialty is PR, his cocky persona front and center until he's thrust into a new existential reality: the front lines of a suicide mission against the alien invasion of Europe. It's a wickedly wild thrill-ride.

But what if it were left as a title alone, like an empty container that you were asked to fill?  Like a writing prompt: Live. Die. Repeat. What would be the tale you told if you had to come up with something along those lines?

This weekend I've been working on final revisions for my upcoming book of writing exercises to help home schooling parents teach writing. Writing prompts are a central feature of the book. My aim is to make writing fun.  If your student or child enjoys writing, she will do more of it than if she hates writing. The more they write, the more sentences and words you’ll have to edit. You’ll also gain insights into the ways your kids think. You’ll receive glimpses of who your students and children really are.

* * * *
Writing prompts aren't just for kids. They can be a great source of entertainment for fledgling writers and writers who desire to hone their craft. When I was young and first becoming serious about a writing career I used to practice "writing on command" in which I would sit down with a sheet of paper rolled into my typewriter and a daily assignment to stay put until I filled that page with words. My writing prompts came from within, but it would have been fun to use some of the prompts that have been created and compiled online.

While going over a section of my manuscript I decided to check out the sub-Reddit site called Writing Prompts. Reading through these pages of prompts can be entertaining, even if they don't ignite your fire to write. Some are silly, and many show how much our media drives our thinking. Superheroes abound. Plenty of religion and philosophy, too. There's a lot of imagination cataloged here.

Here are just a few, from the hundreds I looked at, that I found especially share-worthy.

[WP] Depressed? Suicidal? Life got you down? Then why not stop by Uncle Jim's Super Fun Happiness Center, today!? Your first visit is absolutely free!

[WP] You relive the same day over and over, until you do what you had to yesterday
(EdNote: Sounds like Groundhog Day or Live. Die. Repeat., doesn't it?)

[WP] You're a modern Superhero, but no-one believes you, as your powers don't work when observed.

[WP] You are an alcoholic that has ruined his life by killing the love of his life while intoxicated.

[WP] "You've reached Trogdor, devourer of galaxies, darkness incarnate and kicker of puppies. How may I direct your call?"  

[WP] The elves present their newest invention to Mr. Claus, their AI called S.A.N.T.A

[WP] A pirate is sailing the seas looking for a legendary treasure, but never finds it, while his crew has lavish parties every night. You're the crew's accountant, and you're starting to get annoyed.

[WP] Take a random object or event and write a conspiracy theory about it, complete with evidence that supports your "theory"

[WP] As you leap from the skyscraper, arms wide, you realize you can't actually fly. But you also learn something else.

[WP] You have lived in this house for 15 years and have never seen that staircase before. Where does it go?

[WP] You're a Slinky and everyone loves you. A drunk wizard decides to turn you into a living human and now you have to come to terms with people being completely indifferent with your existence.

Meantime, have a great weekend. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

If The World Were 100 People.

Thoughts for Thanksgiving...

and a reminder that most of us have much to be grateful for 
that we too often take for granted.

It's interesting how quickly information can be transmitted
when it is presented visually.

Throwback Thursday: Six Degrees of Separation Revisited

Most of us have heard of the expression six degrees of separation. Wikipedia describes it this way:

Six degrees of separation (also referred to as the "Human Web") refers to the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth. It was popularized in a play written by John Guare.

Funny thing is when I do a quick search on this story, just told me the notion originated with Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called "Chains." Did Guare steal the idea from Karinthy without attribution?

I remember reading an article about Kevin Bacon being the most connected person in Hollywood, with all these charts and lines of connection to other actors and directors of disparate genres of films and maybe Broadway connections and who knows. The article explained how they used computers and Compiled all the Hollywood stars into a database to get a composite picture from which they could deduce conclusions.

As it turns out, this whole thing became a fad the resulted in the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. If you really wanted to get into it, there's even a website now called The Oracle of Bacon where you can type in the name of any actor or actress and learn how many degrees away they are. Not only that, you can download the Oracle of Bacon app and have this invaluable info at your fingertips day or night. 

About seven years ago, with the advent of Web 2.0 and Social Networks, I began to wonder if six degrees of separation may have been reduced to five or four, or even three. Through Twitter, during Thanksgiving 2008, we were two or three degrees of separation from terrorists firing assault weapons in the Mumbai financial district.

I do not know how this (Six Degrees) plays out in the rest of the world, but for sure I would think that in this country we are three or four degrees of separation from anyone, at most. You are reading this, wherever you are. The convenience store clerk is two degrees from me. Her boy friend, that kid with the racy T-shirt and a smudge of chocolate on his chin, is but three steps away. And we all know how connected he is.

Many people have tried to verify this theory to see if it holds up. In August 2008 Microsoft claimed that after studying billions of electronic messages, they verified that any two strangers in the world were 6.6 introductions away from one another. According to their science you are less than seven steps away from Bob Dylan, Richard Branson, John Cleese and the Dalai Lama, though if you Twitter you can actually be one step away from the latter three, if you follow them... and two steps away if you follow me.

If we accept Microsoft's 2008 number of 6.6 as a benchmark, we can do another measurement in 2018 to see if people are getting closer as the world's population expands, or are we actually drifting further away from one another? I suspect that some people are getting burned out on all this connectivity, whereas others get juiced by the social engagement. What about you?

Meantime, life goes on... Dig it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Un-Typing Casta: An interview with the Artist Maria Cristina Tavera

Ms. Tavera addressing guests.
Last Thursday evening UMD's Tweed Museum of Art presented "Un-Typing Casta," an exhibition exploring contemporary Latinx identity by Mexican-American Minneapolis artist, curator, and activist Maria Cristina Tavera. Dr. Jamie Ratliff, assistant professor of Art History at UMD's School of Fine Arts, collaborated as curator on the exhibition.

Tavera's work reflects the influence of her transnational upbringing split between Minnesota and Mexico. Muchof the work is either screenprinting or mixed media depicting Latin American legends and popular culture icons that question the societal constructs that racially categorize people of Latin American descent.

During the reception we paused to hear Ken Bloom thank everyone who came out and then introduced Dr. Ratliff who shared a few insights about Tavera's work, which references Mexican pop art and fine art tied to the Colonial casta style. Her images confront stereotypes about ethnicity and identity. Dr. Ratliff noted that the layered and nuanced installation was especially important in light of our current political climate.

Maria Cristina Tavera then shared a little about her art, but began by saying, "It's a huge honor" to have her work here in the Tweed and she thanked everyone involved in making this show possible.

Ms. Tavera, who grew up in Minnesota, was born to an Irish father and Mexican mother. The oldest of her siblings she speaks Spanish and has spent a lot of her life thinking about how people absorb cultures.

Having lived in Mexico for a year myself, I was very interested in seeing how an artist would address these themes. I asked to follow up and what follows are additional insights about her art and its themes.

EN: Your show is titled Un-Typing Casta. What is Casta?

Maria Cristina Tavera: Casta is a term describing a hierarchical system of race classification created by Spanish elites during the seventeenth and eighteenth century to socially rank people of mixed race. The interest in understanding mixed ancestry developed in Spain after the conquest of Mexico as the Spanish began having relationships with Mexicans of indigenous and African descent. The Casta system determined economics and taxation based on the "purity of blood" (the amount of Spanish blood) measured by place of birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types.

EN: How did this evolve?

MCT: My installation Un-Typing Casta stemmed from an interest in racial identity in contemporary society today. My particular interest is in the Latino community as I am of Mexican-American descent. I also am interested in how people identify as a certain race based on culture such as language, foods, customs, and where they live.

EN: Is this a uniquely Latin American issue?

MCT: I am talking about people "Latinos" who are of Latin American descent and live in the United States. As you can see by the United States census, the government struggles with how to categorize Latinos and has to separate race from ethnicity as Latinos can be black, white, Asian, etc. The government category is "Hispanics" based on language meaning from Spanish speaking countries but many people do not speak Spanish. And this does not include people of Brazilian descent as they speak Portuguese.

EN: What are you attempting to show in the picture that features the lower half of six men's faces? 

MCT: The print is called "En Busca de Pancho Villa" which means "Searching for Pancho Villa," who is a Mexican revolutionary. All the men are Mexican except one. I find it fascinating that many people who are Mexican or familiar with Mexican culture can identify each photo even though you can only see their mustache and chin.

Often a big mustache is a stereotype of a Mexican man. The piece is meant to ask the question, can a mustache be of a particular race? The bottom right is Orlando Bloom, an actor who is not Mexican, but he has a Sharpie-drawn Pancho Villa mustache to raise the question can someone become Mexican through the changing of physical traits.

EN: What are you attempting to show with all your "eyes"?

MCT: Eyes are very symbolic of the gateway into the soul of a person and are commonly associated with consciousness and truth. Also, eye color can reflect recessive and dominant genes demonstrating someone's ethnic background. The main image used for Un-typing Casta includes DNA charts showing how eye color is determined by genetic mixing.

EN: What is the relationship between race and machisimo, if any?

MCT: Machisimo is a common stereotype of Latino men. How these stereotypes develop and often continue for generations is very interesting to me. Sometimes it may be because of cultural customs such as the emphasis on how a man should be masculine and the woman should be feminine. However we need to be very cautious as each relationship is distinct. Also, what are considered acceptable practices changes over the years. The "El Coyote" piece is paired with a series of questions from a teen magazine from the seventies which asks if your "Chico is macho" for young women to identify masculine traits of their man. Questions such as "Does he restrict what you wear when you go out?" When the article was published the questions of how he treats you were viewed as charming and entertaining. In today's society, a man who restricts a woman's behavior may be showing warning signs of domestic abuse.

* * * *
Tavera's work will be on display through early 2017. She will be giving an artist's talk in the gallery on Thursday, January 19. Visit the Tweed website for additional details.

Meantime... El arte continúa a su alrededor. Vas a verlo.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Will A.I. Finally Solve the JFK Assassination?

"From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago." 
--Walter Cronkite, excerpt from his broadcast, Nov. 22, 1963

More than a week before the 2016 presidential election an A.I. supercomputer predicted, despite what all the polls were predicting, that Donald Trump would be our next president. I read the story on TechCrunch or some other tech eNewsletter, but you can read it here in this U.S. News & World Report story. The article stated, 'If Trump loses, it will defy the data trend for the first time in the last 12 years,' the AI's developer says.

Well, with the JFK assassination anniversary today I couldn't help but wonder if one of our A.I. supercomputers could help us out a little bit on this unsolved mystery.

Sunday's NYTimes published a story about Microsoft's latest foray into quantum computing. Artificial Intelligence and quantum computing have been big stories this year, in part as a result of Big Blue's victory in Jeopardy and the DeepMind A.I. that defeated the world champion Go player. The Times article stated, There is a growing optimism in the tech world that quantum computers, superpowerful devices that were once the stuff of science fiction, are possible — and may even be practical. If these machines work, they will have an impact on work in areas such as drug design and artificial intelligence, as well as offer a better understanding of the foundations of modern physics.

And maybe useful in helping solve one of the biggest mysteries of our lives...

The New York Post just published this twist on the JFK assassination, that a Cuban double agent led the plot. The evidence comes from secret diaries and the details are contained in a new book that tells all.

Another book has just come out that tells how a famous journalist who was hot on the trail of the killers was herself "taken out" before she could break her story.

Her name was Dorothy Kilgallen and after 18 months of research she was nearing the completion of a book on the JFK shooting that debunked the "Oswald acted alone" theory. Random House never received the manuscript and her findings remained buried now for more than 50 years.

That's the essence of criminal defense lawyer Mark Shaw's book titled, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much. The title hearkens back to the Hitchcock thriller starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, which was a re-make itself of Hitchcock's earlier version of a story by the same title. The pre-release publicity for this book indicated that Kilgallen's the one reporter who was getting it right while the others pushed theories with "cherry-picked" facts designed to confirm their own notions of what happened at Dealey Plaza shortly after noon 53 years ago today.

For additional reading check out this article published yesterday on the failed investigations of JFK's murder. Public sentiment leans away from blindfolded acceptance of the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. What I'd like one of our contemporary supercomputers to do is sift through all that has been written and draw for us a conclusion that is totally convincing. Big Blue? DeepMind? Are you ready?

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Introduction to Gaming Cheats from the Wild West to the 21st Century: The Magic Kingdom of Terry Roses

Writers need to be careful not to overuse words like astonishing and amazing and awesome. The reason being that one day you will encounter something that really is astonishing, amazing and awesome. This is what I experienced Saturday in the presence of Terry Roses.

Saturday I had the privilege of viewing a portion of Terry Roses' "laboratory of magic" and his various collections of rare books, cool geological items and remarkable (rare) gambling cheats. In addition I became a one-man audience to what are probably a few of his favorite, mind-blowing card tricks. Space and time will not permit me a full discourse on this visit, so I will save a portion for later this week.

Besides being a first-class professional magician, Roses is a collector and an inventor; his inventions are the result of an inquiring mind that never ceases from asking questions and delving deeper into the mysteries of perception.

But let's start with the cheating devices. As everyone knows, magic is all about deception. Magicians fool your eyes and your minds, and audiences love it. They know they are being deceived, but they don't really care.

On the other hand, no one wants to be deceived and cheated, whether playing poker with friends or gambling at a casino. Modern casinos make their fortunes by being above board, by creating honest gaming. True, the odds are always in their favor, but they tell you up front what the odds are and you play at your own risk. Nevertheless not everyone is so transparent, and it's not surprising to discover how many and varied are the ways people have cheated to win. A portion of Roses' collection is devoted to a variety of such items. In fact, Roses has a whole display case of such items.

For example, here is a roulette wheel that at one time was in operation at a private establishment. And here are a variety of dice cheats, including cheats for some of the popular Chinese games. In addition to his array of rigged dice, Roses owns some of the equipment for rigging dice.

There were contraptions from the Old West that show you how wild the Wild West really was. Check out this device for delivering a card you need from under your sleeve. It's one of the "holy grails" of cheating devices, produced by the Will & Finck Co.

Many of the cheats Roses discussed pertain to card games. Here, for example, is a pipe into which a mirror has been affixed to what appears to be a plug of tobacco. When the card sharp deals, the mirror enables him to see the cards everyone is receiving. This is but one of many clever devices designed to discover what your opponents have in their hands before you put money on the table.

Of course the most efficient way to know what your opponents have in their hands is to have marked cards that enable you to "read" what you're not supposed to see. This is one of Roses' specialties. 
Methods for marking cards fall into various categories and I get the impression this master has seen them all. I myself own a couple decks with markings coded into the artwork designs on the back, but Roses has seen batches of other systems. Some involve invisible printing that you can only see with special lenses or under UV light or polarized glasses. According to Rosen there's been a huge influx of marked cards like these from China over the past six years. I was shown examples in Roses' Invention Lab.
Various tools of the trade. Even the pretzel is a fake.
In addition to cards marked on their backs, I also saw cards marked on their edges with invisible infra red ink. Intriguing. And then I was shown a deck of cards with RFID sensors inside the individual cards. When dealt, an analyzing device voice would dictate into a miniature hearing device in the dealer's ear the value of each card being dealt. An insurmountable advantage for the cheater. 

No kidding. New technologies have raised the bar on what cheaters are capable of. When high stakes power games take place, and real money is on the line, you can bet that somebody is going to try to find a new way to shift the odds in their favor. 

Throughout the afternoon Roses kept asking, "Are you ready for the good stuff?" From the start it was all good stuff.

I never knew there were so many ways to rig dice. 
His stage name at one time had been The Honest Cheat, and he was good. He demonstrated numerous tricks that showed his abilities to be nearly supernatural. For example, he said pick a number. I said 12. He then cut the cards and handed me the smaller portion of the deck. I counted out the cards one at a time. There were twelve. He then said to pick a number between 1 and 52. I said 21. He cut the deck, handed a group of cards to me and I dealt them out, counting 1-2-3-4 etc. There were 21.

He showed me various ways to force the four aces to the top or bottom of the deck, and other ways to cause an audience to marvel. One trick went like this. He had me look at the deck and mentally select a card, which neither of us touched. He then spread the cards on the table and had me point while he was holding my wrist. He said that the muscles on my wrist would telegraph to him what card it was and, sure enough, when he stopped my hand my finger was pointing at my card. It had the feeling of something akin to a ouija board.

Terry Roses challenged the leading card sharks around the world to defeat him in a duel at the gaming table. You can see that his mind is perpetually inquisitive and his skills fine-tuned, so it's not surprising to learn that. One thing that he has going for him that is especially valuable. He has a conscience. Cheating is not his game. Rather, as a public speaker and consultant, he's the guy helping the good buys bust the cheats.

It's fun to be entertained by magic and and fun to guess how the tricks are done. But it's also fun to see how the cheating is done, too, and in this area Terry Roses clearly enjoys sharing his knowledge.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Local Art Seen: Gordon Manary's Rohrschach Totems at Beaner's Central

Beaner's Central, located at 324 No. Central Avenue in Spirit Valley, has gained a reputation as a place to relax, enjoy live music, poetry and art, as well as friends. In the front section of the coffee house there is always an exhibit of artwork by local artists. This month features Rohrschach Totems by printmaker Gordon Manary.

Manary is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, with a B.A. in Art. He's studied at the university of Massachusetts, Amherst, as well as the University of Minnesota here in Duluth. As a freelance artist/printmaker he specializes in the design and construction of sculptures for museums, trade shows, and commercial ventures as well a being a member of the Northern Printmaking Alliance.

Like many kids growing up I made inkblots similar to the Rohrschach designs invented by Swiss psychologist/analyst Hermann Rohrschach. In point of fact, we used to have a game in based on these tests which were designed to reveal the subconscious workings of our minds. Whatever the process Manary used to make his art, the similarity to these inkblot tests is unmistakable, and fun.

Rohrschach Totems will be on display through the end of September. Grab a bit of coffee on the way to work sometime, or a bite to eat. Home made and tasty soups, wraps, sandwiches, pastries and more. (I do not get paid to say any of these things!)

EdNote: The photos here were taken in low light and do not capture the sharpness of the images or the vividness of their details. You will need to check them out in person to fully appreciate the work.

EdNote: Art on the Plaza has now completed its move to Tower Avenue in Superior. Check out their new digs in the former Dunbar Building at 1413 Tower Avenue, next to Wine Beginnings. Parking available in the back.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Keep it real. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Pick A Card. Any Card." Misdirection in the Magic Arts

“Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you and he does.”
~Karl Germain

Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.*

* * * *

What is it we love so much about being fooled? It's fascinating to see a talented magician in action. He makes a coin disappear right before your eyes. "How did he do it?" The coin re-appears under your dinner plate. How did that happen? You write your name on a dollar bill and he makes it disappear. Later you find it in your pocket. Or inside an uncracked hard boiled egg. Or some other impossible place.

I can't tell you how it was done, or I'd have to kill you. What I do know is that misdirection is a central ingredient in all magic performances. The past few years I have enjoyed being in the Duluth Dylan Fest circle not only because of our shared appreciation for the music of Bob Dylan, but also because of our shared fascination with the magic of John Bushey, host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited. Whether at a private party, or riding the rails on the annual Blood On The Tracks Express, it is not uncommon to find that John has armed himself with his "bag of tricks" and there will be a little entertainment offered at some point during the evening.

That entertainment break is a form of theater. It's especially thrilling because of the intimacy of the occasion. There's nothing quite like being three feet away when a master magician is at work.

Before going any further, I am going to ask you to select a card. Think of that card. Write it down if you need to. Remember it well.

Misdirection uses psychology and neuroscience to control peoples' perceptions. Here's a short TED Talk showing misdirection in action. You will see the four principles of misdirection outlined: eye contact, confidence, a big action, and good story telling. (The TED Talk is actually here.)

* * * *

One good thing about this trick is that I'm not going to pick your pocket. When we're done here today you will still have your wallet, your watch and your jewelry.

* * * *

Are you still thinking about that card? Was this your card?

Here's an example of Penn & Teller doing a trick using misdirection. (Do not try this at home.)

A lot of people don't know that Steve Martin began his entertainment career as a teen doing magic at Disneyland. He quickly learned that you have to be entertaining in order to stop people in their tracks long enough to watch the show. You can't do misdirection if you can't first get their attention. Here's Steve Martin in his role as The Great Flydini on the Tonight Show.

In his autobiography Born Standing Up, Steve Martin wrote that he had been on the Tonight Show 17 times before a single stranger said, "Aren't you that guy who was on the Tonight Show?" Fame is not something that happens overnight. 

Watching The Great Flydini brought to mind for me the old Banana Man routine that Captain Kangaroo used to do way back when. Note how both these entertainers rely on the unexpected to keep our attention. For many of you this is way before your time. Amazing how much history has
been preserved for us now on YouTube.

Do you still remember that card? If not, don't worry about. I've forgotten what it was, two. How much do you want to bet that it's right here in front of your face?

There's a reason I went down this path today. I hope to share that secret with you soon. And may all your days be magical.

* Wikipedia

Friday, November 18, 2016

Seven Curses an Example of Dylan Inhaling Folk Tradition and Exhaling It As His Own

The mistrust of authority is a central theme in the tradition of folk music across most of Europe much of the time, and this song comes directly from that tradition, and versions of it have been collected time and time from England to Hungary. They have also undoubtedly existed in many other countries..." ~Tony Atwood

Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize in Literature surprised some, but seemed almost unsurprising (though gratifying) to others. It would be like a Minnesotan being surprised to find snow on the ground in January. What most interested me was the little explanation that the Nobel committee has affixed to the title: "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

For those who have been listening to Dylan most of a lifetime this really is one of the recurring features of his work, taking what exists, ingesting it and making it his own.

In my article Was Bob Dylan the Gutenberg of Rock and Roll? John Bushey, host of KUMD's Highway 61 Revisited stated “I think you have to look to the early 60's and the time that Dylan happened to come along. He began writing these incredible lyrics and songs pertaining to the changing times; civil rights, social issues, and songs with a political slant. His unique lyrical style influenced many musicians and attracted a much larger following to many of these causes... This can never be taken from Bob Dylan. His poetic, multi-dimensional ability with words helped bring about a new form of music.”

Note the harmony between this last statement and the Nobel Prize declaration: "for having created new poetic expressions..."

What was significant is how deeply Dylan's roots penetrated that American song tradition.  As Tony Atwood points out in his essay Seven Curses: Dylan's feelings of legal betrayal, "He (Dylan) took elements from the old songs, and devised his own new words and variations on the old. It is the natural ability of the artist that tells him which words work in which context, and here Dylan gets it right throughout."

Newspaper stories are here today and gone tomorrow. But think of how many stories have lived beyond their time because of the songs, e.g., The Star Spangled Banner. The story of Hattie Carroll, the shameful shooting of Medger Evers ("Only A Pawn In Their Game"), the tragic and brutal murder of Emmett Till all continue to live on as a new generation of fans discovers Bob Dylan's own roots.

The American folk tradition is actually a multinational folk tradition, though. Irish immigrants, German immigrants, Scottish immigrants (my kin), Scandinavian immigrants, Eastern European immigrants -- they all came with stories, with music, with traditions. It's only in the 20th century that we began recording these.

"Seven Curses" is Dylan's variation on the traditional ballad in which someone (often a fair maiden) is going to hang and the efforts of a loved one to save them. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded a version of the story in which the singer asks the hangman to hold off a minute because someone is coming to save him. It turns out that sister, brother, mother and father all coming forth not to rescue but rather to watch the hanging. In the last verse the lover shows up in the nick of time.

Lead Belly was one of the first to record the traditional story with many iterations following until Led Zeppelin did their powerful version, "Gallows Pole," on Led Zeppelin III. What Dylan does here is give the song a twist, in keeping with the viewpoint that "justice is a game."

There are some who might take issue with Dylan's treatment of justice issues. In songs like "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Hurricane," good and bad are blurred. Because those who have the power are corrupt, folk singers must take sides with the disenfranchised, violated and downtrodden.

In "Seven Curses" the characters are three in number: the father, the judge and the daughter who seeks to save him. The father, who has seen too much of life, admonishes his daughter to get out of that place and leave him to his fate. She, being young and naive, believes no price is too much to pay if there's any way at all to save her father. It's blistering and painful to imagine, and packs a disabling punch.

The deed was done in the night, concealed by the darkness. The reason our Founding Fathers insisted on a free press was so light could be shed on these kinds of horrors and injustice punished.

Seven Curses

Old Reilly stole a stallion
But they caught him and they brought him back
And they laid him down on the jailhouse ground
With an iron chain around his neck

Old Reilly’s daughter got a message
That her father was goin’ to hang
She rode by night and came by morning
With gold and silver in her hand

When the judge he saw Reilly’s daughter
His old eyes deepened in his head
Sayin’, “Gold will never free your father
The price, my dear, is you instead”

“Oh I’m as good as dead,” cried Reilly
“It’s only you that he does crave
And my skin will surely crawl if he touches you at all
Get on your horse and ride away”

“Oh father you will surely die
If I don’t take the chance to try
And pay the price and not take your advice
For that reason I will have to stay”

The gallows shadows shook the evening
In the night a hound dog bayed
In the night the grounds were groanin’
In the night the price was paid

The next mornin’ she had awoken
To know that the judge had never spoken
She saw that hangin’ branch a-bendin’
She saw her father’s body broken

These be seven curses on a judge so cruel:
That one doctor will not save him
That two healers will not heal him
That three eyes will not see him

That four ears will not hear him
That five walls will not hide him
That six diggers will not bury him
And that seven deaths shall never kill him

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

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