Tuesday, December 18, 2018

100 Pages of 100 Books, or Rather... Books with 100 in the Title

As the days wind down toward year end, two things almost always seem to occur. We look back over the year that just passed, and we look ahead to the year to come.  Time Magazine selects a person of the year, and the rest of us make New Year's Resolutions.

Generally I dislike making resolutions for the new year, since if it's important, then why wait till January 1 to start. People say they are going to start exercising more, eating less, quit smoking or drinking, etc. but if it is worth doing, why wait? When I was a pimply-faced teen I quit chocolate for the first ten months of one year, believing the acne was due to the sweets. Yes, in that instance it was a new years resolution.

On the other hand, I frequently begin a new year with goals. Goals help us make decisions with regard to how we use our time. Time, as a resource, is frequently scarce and seldom free. To use it for this activity we must sacrifice that other activity. For this reason how we choose to use our time reveals what we value and shapes who we will become.

I'm a writer who writes every day, so I do not need a resolution to follow through on this. But I have resolved to write another book, and have made it a goal to decide which book project to tackle in 2019.

Yesterday I had coffee with a friend who asked if I had seen these "100" books, in which the writer uses 100 objects to tell a story. I'd not seen this as a series yet, though 100 is a nice round number that makes a good handle for a suitcaseful of content. Last night I slipped out to Barnes & Noble to see what they had along these lines. Then I visited Amazon. Here's some of what I found.

A History of America in 100 Maps
This University of Chicago Press volume was published in September this year, and I deduced it to be indicative of the trend he spoke of.

Indescribable: 100 Devotions for Kids About God and Science
There were a number of devotionals on the list, including this one by Thomas Nelson. I mention it here only as an excuse to say I once pitched a book on Ethical Issues in Terminal Health Care to Thomas Nelson, and the VP called to tell me Joni Eareckson Tada was working on a book on this topic. I was asked to consider writing a devotional targeting secular readers as part of a series they were doing. I got paid, but my contribution never appeared in print. How many books have I published? Well, that number is fewer than how many I have written.

Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons
This Touchstone book by Simon & Schuster has been around for decades but its aim remains relevant. Reading well is a foundational life skill. Writing well, in my opinion, is also an essential life skill, for is why I wrote Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else. We homeschooled our kids for several years with Susie being the primary schoolmarm and admin staff. I wrote most of the tests, which kep me involved in all they were learning, and I taught writing. A powerful insight that I'd gained while coaching soccer became the impetus for re-thinking how writing is taught. I personally believe this is my most important book thus far, due to the new approach to how we grade and keep students motivated. EdNote: I wid not write 100 writing exercises here, though there is an appendix with 100 Writing Prompts. 

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation
This was another Touchstone book of recent vintage, with several others similar in concept.

The Story of Baseball: In 100 Photographs
I held this hefty volume in my hand last night at Barnes & Noble. Published last month they apparently wanted to catch the wave on the 100 Series. Beautiful photography combined with good storytelling, a nice coffee table book for the baseball fan.

100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying
My first thought upon seeing this book was, "So, it's come to this? Don't do your homework, don't actually be smart, just figure out how to appear smart." Symbolizes everything that is wrong with America to me.

100 Days of Real Food: On a Budget: Simple Tips and Tasty Recipes to Help You Cut Out Processed Food Without Breaking the Bank
Published by William Morrow Cookbooks, this one also came out in 2018. "Catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world." --Beach Boys

100 Knits
Interweave published this one in October. When it rains it pours.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
Penguin Books, 2013. Seems pretty cool.

Vegan 100: Over 100 Incredible Recipes from Avant-Garde Vegan
Quadrille Publishing, also a new release this year.

Here are a few more titles from the 100 pages of books listed on Amazon when you search for 100s.

100 of the Most Beautiful Piano Solos Ever

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time

The 100 (The 100 Series Book 1)

Leonard Bernstein 100: The Masters Photograph the Maestro

100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know: How to Save Money, Solve Problems and Improve Your Home

Big Board First 100 Words

The History of Landscape Design in 100 Gardens

100 Snowmen

100 Books You Must Read Before You Die

100 Countries, 5,000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do

I once sketched out a book called 100 Things You Can Do with a Television Set, which was 100 cartoons or illustrations of ways to smash or destroy them. Alas...

Related Links
Still looking for something to read? Or give for Christmas? Here is a page with links to my other books. Hope your year end holidays are special for you this year. And may 2019 bring you 100 very special kinds of blessings. Thanks for checking in.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Can a Commitment to Lifelong Learning Be Legislated?

While net surfing last night I found myself on a page called QMAP: Executive Orders. What I found interesting, or intriguing, is how many of these initiatives get generated, but no one hears about them. Have you ever read an executive order by any president?  This page has 88 Executive Orders signed by President Trump.

This one here is about the need for more skilled workers to fill unfilled positions. A few weeks ago I read a Medium story about how fast things are changing and that to stay current one should spend an hour a day developing and honing their skills in order to stay current with technology. It resonated with me, but somehow it feels like something that must be driven from within. How do we motivate American workers to do what needs to be done to bridge the skills gap? The idea of learning skills to get a job that fills a need flies in the face of another message we repeat to our young people: Follow Your Bliss. What if what you love doing is something nobody needs or wants to pay for? What then?

* * * *

Here is a portion from one of the 88 Executive Orders on this QMAP site. As a writer I found it thoughtful, relevant and well written. Many of the others are also quite interesting. The only ones we seem to hear about in the media are the controversial ones.

Executive Order 13845 of July 19, 2018
Establishing the President's National Council for the American Worker

Section 1. Purpose. Our Nation is facing a skills crisis. There are currently more than 6.7 million unfilled jobs in the United States, and American workers, who are our country's most valuable resource, need the skills training to fill them. At the same time, the economy is changing at a rapid pace because of the technology, automation, and artificial intelligence that is shaping many industries, from manufacturing to healthcare to retail. For too long, our country's education and job training programs have prepared Americans for the economy of the past. The rapidly changing digital economy requires the United States to view education and training as encompassing more than a single period of time in a traditional classroom. We need to prepare Americans for the 21st century economy and the emerging industries of the future. We must foster an environment of lifelong learning and skills-based training, and cultivate a demand-driven approach to workforce development. My Administration will champion effective, results-driven education and training so that American students and workers can obtain the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of today and of the future.

* * * *
Sec. 7. Initial Tasks of Council. Within 180 days of the date of this order, the Council shall:
(a) develop a national campaign to raise awareness of matters considered by the Council, such as the urgency of the skills crisis; the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education; the creation of new industries and job opportunities spurred by emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence; the nature of many careers in the trades and manufacturing; and the need for companies to invest in the training and re-training of their workers and more clearly define the skills and competencies that jobs require;


* * * *

For those interested, here's the link where you can see other kinds of things being set in motion (or intended to be) since President Trump's inauguration: QMAP: Executive Orders
If the hotlink fails, then here is the URL:  https://qmap.pub/docs

Sunday, December 16, 2018

LikeWar, Sock Puppets and Fake News: Social Media as a Weapon of Disruption

This past week I started listening to another powerful, and frightening, audiobook called LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking.

I'm going to be writing about some of the particulars of this well-researched and well-documented volume, so this blog post is just a warm up. Here's from an Amazon review by Jon Foro:

Were you looking for more reasons to worry about the future, or the present? LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media will fuel your nightmares. P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking’s treatise travels well beyond the disinformation and fake news we’re all now familiar with (right?), addressing the ways the internet and our social networks will be deployed in actual war: recruiting terrorists, inflicting sabotage remotely on a vast scale, and even Matrix-grade reality manipulation.

Bottom line: Disruption is coming and we are not ready. Have you been following the Yellow Jackets situation in France? I find it pretty disconcerting, even scary. Have you ever been caught up in a mob where there is total chaos and violence? Who decides what is best for everyone?

In France, for example, the purpose of the fuel tax is to address Global Warming by penalizing driving. We see it all the time where taxes are used to help modify behavior. If government can't stop smokers, they can tax it heavily.

But the mob, I mean the People, do not want to deal with global warming in this fashion and are rioting, smashing things, flexing their muscles. Like children who get their way by throwing tantrums, what else will they demand that is not in their best interest?

That is an oversimplification, and the current situation is taking place in the now, so this book does not talk about it. Rather, it talks about the power of social media to destabilize, to breed hate, distrust, and stupidity.

The authors take readers on a deep dive into what was really happening during the last presidential election. The Soviet Union was indeed meddling here, but for different reasons than you might expect. The gullibility of extremists on all sides leads to re-Tweets so that incredible (Fake) stories gain traction by being passed along by legitimate "friends." For example, one story that got millions of shares was about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump. This originated in a Macedonian fake news farm where people were being paid to come up with as many outrageous stories per day as possible. Some catch a wave and others don't.

The amount of money devoted to Fake News (or Social Media warfare) in the Soviet Union was 40 million one year and 400 million the next. How much does the U.S. spend on propagation of its own news, fake news, spin doctoring?

Amazon reader/reviewer vickip007 writes:
LikeWar is the manual for warfare in the 21st century, a worthy successor to Singer's Ghost Fleet, and excellent debut work for Brooking. It belongs on the shelf of anyone who wants to seriously understand how war will be fought and social policy developed in the era of Facebook and Twitter.

There is a particularly urgent need for this book at a time when most tacticians have their eyes firmly fixed on enhancing cybersecurity through the protection of systems and hardware. While this is undeniably important, LikeWar reminds us that the information that is transmitted over that infrastructure is no less, and possibly quite a bit more important than the infrastructure itself. This message has never been more urgent than today when democratic nations struggle with balancing the need for an open civil society against the risks of foreign subversion and influence. This is the next great battle. It will be fought in the trenches of Facebook and the swamps of Twitter - wise commanders will bring LikeWar with them as field guide.

Amazon reader/review Michael Burnam-fink wrote:
Computer networks and smart phones connect billions of people, allowing ideas to flow faster than ever before in history. Sometimes, the results can be impressive. The Chiapas Zapatista movement in 1994 was a dial-up and fax version of a network insurgency that managed to bring enough international opprobrium on Mexico that the government blinked, and reached some kind of political accord (Chiapas is complicated). More recently, Eliot Higgins and a team of open source analysts at Bellingcat managed to track down the exact BUK missile system and Russian soldiers responsible for shooting down MH 17 in 2014.

But there are a lot of dark sides. When people connect, the emotion that spreads most rapidly is anger. Lies spread five times faster than truth. Musicians can use social networks to directly connect with their fans, and ISIS uses it to connect with alienated Muslim youths worldwide. Social networks sort diverse citizens into filter bubbles of people who think alike. Eliot Higgin's careful open source intelligence has a paranoid fun-house mirror version in the QAnon conspiracy, where Qultist decoders find hidden messages from an alleged 'senior white house source'...

The future is if anything, darker. Advances in machine learning and AI allow ever more realistic bots, computer generated DeepFakes where a politician can be programmed to say anything, and personalized targeting of people with exactly the propaganda they'll believe.

* * * *
One chapter goes into detail about Sock Puppet Accounts. Sock puppet accounts are nicknamed as such because they conceal the hand that moves the mouth. This Ed Gent article about sock puppets in New Scientist begins like this:
“Sock puppets” are the scourge of online discussion . Multiple accounts controlled by the same user can dominate comment forums and spread fake news. But now there’s a way to unmask the puppeteers.

The title of this naked security by Sophos article says it all: Twitter struggles to deal with the sock puppet and bot armies.

I agree with M Wilper's comments:
A rare book that offers key insights into the history unfolding in front of us. The authors synthesize the widespread manipulation of social media by various powers seeking to skew popular opinion in their favor. The story is very troubling, but I hope that this book and more like it will help us produce the antibodies we need to neutralize the danger.

* * * *
My only concern about the book is regarding how relevant it will be in five years.  I find it to be exceedingly important, however, especially at this current moment in time, for which reason I have asked for it as a Christmas present. I'm currently 2/3s of the way through and find the information exceedingly informative and accessible.

Related Links
The online threat that cybersecurity teams don’t cover
A military expert explains why social media is the new battlefield
The Machines That Will Fight the Social Media Wars of Tomorrow

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Down Home Creators Sale Is Today (This Is Real News, Not Fake)

Esther's Superior Public Library Project
Daggnabbit. There are just so many things to do, and so little time. Alas, it's nice to know that we have no excuses for being bored.

Today is Saturday, December 15 
You Are Invited 
to our 
Down Home Creators 
Holiday Sale 
from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

4042 Sandberg Road 
Solway MN

Arts and Crafts by Susie Newman, Esther Piszczek, Theresa Hornstein and Christina Iverson. Plus a warm fire and good cheer.

So is everything here below.

These have been a big hit. Today is you last chance before Christmas.
Read This Interview with Susie Newman on her Lego shaped crayons, 100% proceeds of which go to the Damiano Center, 100%!

December 5-January 2
Esther Piszczek: Patterns, Superior Public Library, 1530 Tower Avenue
Certified Zentangle (R) Teacher and pattern Artist Esther Piszczek is the Superior Public Library's Artist of the Month. View her work in the entryway art display case and both display cases in the library's old entrance, by the meeting spaces and bathrooms. Her exhibit features framed work, pottery, fabric, and a hand-drawn mural on glass. (See photo above.)

Friday, December 21, 5-8 p.m.
Jazz@DFP featuring pianist Sam Chandler, Duluth Fine Pianos, 331 W. Superior Street (next to Starbucks!)

Pianist Sam Chandler will be playing Christmas/Holiday solo jazz piano from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Duluth Fine Pianos is participating in the Downtown Duluth Arts Collective's night of art and entertainment, featuring Downtown Duluth art galleries, eateries, bars and performance venues. Email manager@josephneasegallery.com or call 218-461-8380 for more information. Esther's framed work on paper, glass, mirrors, and clay decorates the walls of Duluth Fine Pianos. Come out to hear the music, see the art, or just say hi! Downtown Duluth Arts Walk Google Map

There are still plenty of things to do in December.
Check out Twin Ports Art for more.

REMINDER: Address is 4042 Sandberg Road
If you're doing shopping near the Mall, we're just ten minutes from Target, straight on Maple Grove Road. Turn left at the Balloons, 1.5 miles past Midway Road. If you're coming from Proctor out Highway 2, turn Right 1.8 miles past Midway Road.


Friday, December 14, 2018

Fathers and Sons in the Movies

About three weeks ago I watched the film Five Easy Pieces for the first time in maybe twenty years. If you've seen it, you probably recall the scene in the diner in which Jack Nicholson tries to order toast, one of the most memorable restaurant scenes in film history.

While watching the film it became apparent that I had not remembered hardly anything about it, except the beautiful Chopin piece that Nicholson plays at one point in the film.

It's a film with a lot of tension, and not easy to watch. One of the areas of tension, and one of the central hubs of the film, was the fractured relationship between Nicholson and his father. As I reflected on this, I thought about other films involving fathers and sons, and the various ways father-son relationships can be a blessing or a hardship.

* * * *

My freshman year at college was a year of new experiences for sure. One of these experiences was an album by Cat Stevens called Tea for the Tillerman. Jon Brite, an artist in Scott Quad where I roomed at Ohio U freshman year, made the introduction. While listening to a portion of it recently, as I do from time to time, I noted that the music and lyrics still hold up as the classic it was.

The thought I had, however, was how targeted this album was at the time it was written. It was an album from the point of view of youth, directed toward youthful seekers whose life quest was just unfolding. No wonder Stevens went on to sell 25 million albums. The generational dissonance is most pronounced in the song "Father and Son."

* * * *

After watching Five Easy Pieces I reflected on some other films I've watched in which the relationship of father and son is either prominent or a feature close to the center of the film. Here are a few that quickly came to mind. (Those in bold have reviews.)

The Music Never Stopped 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Godfather
Great story about a mob boss and his sons. Brando is most memorable as he kicks off the first of a trilogy.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor and Burl Ives in a Tennessee Williams scorcher.

A River Runs Through It (A Roger Ebert review)
I have read the story at least five times and four times watched the film. Try it. Great either way.
Here's a reflection on rivers.

Legends of the Fall (Another Roger Ebert's review)

Once I started down this path some other interesting films with father-son relationships came to mind including Rain Man, The Lion King ("Remember who you are."), Back to the Future, Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, and Field of Dreams, each special in its own way.

I woke thinking about my own father yesterday and considered assembling a few memories here. Instead, I may just start by sharing my thoughts with my brothers.

Enjoy your weekend. If your father is still alive, let him know you love him.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Inspecta Card Scanner Helps Casinos Catch Cheats

Terry Roses
Terry Roses, a training consultant who teaches casino surveillance staff how to detect when they are being cheated, has introduced a new product designed to detect marked cards. The Inspecta Card Scanner is an easy-to-use piece of equipment that enables security professionals to literally see invisible ink and other characteristics that cheats use to beat the house.

The pocket-sized Inspecta Card Scanner is designed to snap onto a smart phone so that surveillance personnel can covertly capture photos of the marked cards so they can be used as evidence. The scanner can instantly detect high-tech invisible marks within the range of the human eye. Developed in his personal “laboratory,” Roses’ device is the most innovative and affordable solution to the problem of cheating in the casinos.

“In my seminars I show surveillance professionals how cheaters are using special eyeglasses, contact lenses, modified cameras, microchips, x-rays and lasers to view invisible marks on playing cards,” said Terry Roses. “The Inspecta Card Scanner puts the power back in the hands of the casinos, taking away the scammers’ advantage.” The device can also be put to additional uses besides solving the problem of marked cards.

About Terry Roses
The world’s leading casinos have worked with Terry Roses for defense training against high-tech card marking systems. His seminars include "An Introduction to Optical Warfare at the Gaming Table," as well as an advanced course training casino personnel on how to protect, detect and defend against cheats. His seminars have been generating amazement wherever they have been presented.

For more information about the Inspecta Card Scanner or to learn more about Terry Roses’ Marked Card Protection Seminars, visit detectmarkedcards.com.

 * * * *
Tell-Tale Signs
Click image to enlage

Terry Roses in a former life: The Honest Cheat

Disclaimer: This blog occasionally accepts forms of compensation for writing about certain topics.

The Opioid Crisis: National and Local--Something to Be Concerned About

The opioid crisis. How serious is it? What's really going on?

Opioids--we hear a lot of buzz but don't always know how to process it all. For example, when we learned that Prince died from a high dosage of Fentanyl, most of us had no idea what it was. When Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed on heroin, we assumed it was the same old heroin of the 70s. Little did we know that there are new opioids on the market that are 50 to 100 times more powerful than the old fashioned kind.

For this reason the book Dopesick by Beth Macy caught my eye when I was at the library a couple weeks back. I wanted to learn more, and Macy does provide some understanding of how the new pain meds work and the destructive effects of the new synthetic opioids. I will comment further on Macy's book in a moment. First, for local Twin Ports readers...

WDSE WRPT has produced a six-episode miniseries that is airing on Channel 8 called Opioids: Crisis in the Northland.

The first episode was last week, and it was informative. The first thing I learned was that the problem is much worse than we realize because the newspapers do not report opioid deaths of children under 18. A couple people on the show said there have been way more than people are aware of. According to the stats, St. Louis County leads the state in opioid overdoses. You can watch the first episode here:  https://www.wdse.org/highlights/opioids-crisis-northland

This six-episode miniseries, co-produced by Ramona Marosas, explores different aspects of the epidemic:
1 - Tracing an Epidemic – The Roots of Opioid Use and Abuse
2 - Stories of Addiction
3 - Treatment – How Do We Judge what Works?
4 - Law and Addiction – Enforcement and the Drug Courts
5 - The Case – Accountability
6 - Solutions – What’s Next?

This is a locally produced show with an eye-opening local focus. Part 2 airs tonight at 7:30 on channel 8.

* * * *

The opioid crisis is but one branch of a much larger and more complicated issue. That issue has to do with alleviating pain. I'm fairly certain that one of the reasons many people fear death is due to the suffering that accompanies that transition from health to deterioration, the pain that follows surgeries and other procedures intended to "help" us. And then there's cancer.

And so we have companies striving to solve the problem of pain while having to deal with the misuse of these self-same products that actually do bring relief. It's a very complicated matter.

The author of Dopesick seems to have a vendetta against Big Pharma for making a product that effectively deals with pain and profiting from it while countless thousands become addicted to it. This seems like an oversimplification.

Some people call addiction a disease, which may comfort the consciences of addicted people, as if to say, "It's not your fault," but this also seems an oversimplification. Are addicts thereby absolved from responsibility? Are doctors too quick to prescribe pain meds? Are the pharmaceutical companies intentionally creating addicts in order to increase profits as author Beth Macy alleges?

The book does have insights that are helpful. The author shows how different this "epidemic" is from previous crises. And yet, there are critics who say it's only an epidemic when it touches the white community. Crack cocaine has been an inner city problem in the black community for decades.

After watching the first segment, I'm confident that our local program on the opioid crisis will also offer some insights, synthesizing insights from a variety of angles. Whether you agree or disagree I promise that you will be more informed than beforehand.

* * * *
I remember a news story some ten years ago or so regarding the robbery of a truckload of meds from a warehouse in Connecticut (or somewhere out East between New York and Boston.) The scale of the heist is what struck me. By truckload, I'm referring here to a semi, a big over-the-road truck, not a Ford F-150. This was no small operation. I'd be curious to know how far the products went before the source dried up.

The problem is complicated. Solutions begin with awareness. 

Related Links
National Institute on Drug Abuse Opioid Statistics
7 Staggering Stats About the Opioid Crisis
CNN on the Opioid Epidemic

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Beacon in New York Typifies Dylan's Love of Theaters

Yes, it's the Beacon. Photo courtesy Nelson French.
Nelson French, Duluth Armory board member whose brother lives in the Hibbing home Robert Zimmerman grew up in, sent me a number of photos last week of the Beacon Theater where Bob Dylan performed in November.

For those unfamiliar with the layout of the city that never sleeps, The Beacon is a historic theater on Manhattan's Upper West Side at West 74th and Broadway. It's a handful of blocks from the Museum of Natural History to the Northeast and the Dakota, where John & Yoko lived, to the Southeast.

Entering the Beacon. Courtesy Nelson French.
The Beacon has nearly 3,000 seats, opening as a movie house in 1929, the earliest days of the Talkies. The Marx Brothers's Cocoanutes and Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail, his first film with sound, were released that year. Today the theater is a live entertainment venue owned by the Madison Square Garden Company.

Not the grandeur of The Beacon or The Roxy.
For Ritz in Hibbing you head over to the high school.
Reading about the Beacon brought to mind how Bob Dylan's early life was undoubtedly touched by the movies. When the Zimmerman's moved from Hibbing to Duluth in 1947 his uncles--Max, Julius and Sam Edelstein-- built the Lybba theater at 2135 1st Avenue. The theater, incidentally, was named after Bob's grandmother Lybba Edelstein. The theater closed in 1982 and has since become the Sunrise Deli.*

Growing up going to the Lybba may have in part been behind Dylan's surprise move to purchase the Orpheum in Minneapolis in 1979. Dylan would have been nine when The Gunfighter came out starring Gregory Peck, one of my own favorite old-time Westerns. Gregory Peck appears years later in the Dylan song "Brownsville Girl" on his album Knocked Out Loaded.

Well, there was this movie I seen one time 
About a man riding 'cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck 
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself...

Peck played the role of Johnny Ringo, a gunfighter who was tired of being on the run, never able to settle down because every kid show-off wanted to make a name for himself... Alas. Dylan was more likely to have seen this at the Lybba than years later on Saturday Night at the Movies on television. He very likely saw Moby Dick there as well, another Gregory Peck feature film, when he was 15, a novel itself would later be cited in his controversial Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

* * * *

Inside the Beacon. Courtesy Nelson French.
Inside the Beacon. Courtesy Bev Martin.
* * * *
The 1977 termination of Dylan's marriage to Sara may have contributed to his returning to Minnesota for a season. His interest in the power of theater birthed in him a desire to purchase the Orpheum which was itself birthed in 1921 on Hennepin Avenue, the main drag in Minneapolis.

I can't say how much time Dylan spent in Minnesota at that time, but I know he had a place on the Crow River west of Minneapolis next door to his brother David. On one occasion a friend of mine at that time had a dentist appointment and was in the waiting area a while. When he went in, he saw Dylan getting his teeth worked on in one of the other rooms there. Proof once again that all these stars we admire are just as human as we are.

* * * *

A Brief History of the Edelstein Family and Hibbing Theaters 
By David Edelstein* 

The story begins around 1922. My grandfather Julius was a poster hanger at the Victory Theater that was on First Avenue about three blocks from the Homer Theater. The Homer Theater was next to the Homer bar. Today the Homer Bar is still open and there is a building next door with an awning — it may have been the theater but my Dad isn’t sure — it may have been in the empty lot to the left. My grandfather Julius and his first cousin Louis Deutsch worked at the Garden Theater until about 1929. 

At that point talking movies came out and the Garden closed due to the cost of sound conversion. They had amateur night at the Garden and Frances Gumm (Judy Garland from Grand Rapids) and her sister came over and performed in 1927. 

Louis Deutsch moved to Virginia and owned the Granada. The Homer and State Theaters were owned by MACO (Minnesota Amusement Company — part of Paramount Publix, I believe, until the divestiture mandated by a Supreme Court case). In about 1936 Julius and his brother Max decided to reopen the Victory. 

Around 1939 MACO offered Max and Julius the job of running the Homer and they closed the Victory. The Garden was converted to the Gopher around that time and they also ran the Homer. There were other people running the State Theater at that time. Ticket prices at the Homer were 15 cents, Gopher 30 cents and State 40 cents. 

Max Edelstein also ran one of the Chisholm theaters with Bob Berquist and may have been a part owner. In 1948 the famous Paramount case was decided by the Supreme Court and the studios had to divest themselves of the theaters they owned. Around this time the Lybba opened, it was originally built in cooperation with MACO, but they weren’t playing fair, so the family split the Lybba off from them. The State and MACO were bought by our families in 1964. 

Things are looking up. Inside the Beacon. Photo courtesy Nelson French.

As for other places to watch movies, Nelson French sent these additional remarks: "I don’t know who originally built the Hibbing Drive-in, but the family bought it from Stan McCullough about 1967. Mann Theater Corp. from Minneapolis bought the State, Lybba, MACO and Granada theaters around 1978. We held onto the Hibbing Drive-in until 1980 and I think it was torn down in 1985."

Ah, but those were the days.

* * * *
* David Edelstein was son of Mel Edelstein, who owned and managed the State and Lybba Theaters, and later went on to manage the Orpheum in Minneapolis for Dylan and his brother David.

Here's one more  beautiful theater where Dylan has played, the Cadillac Palace in Chicago. This one was built in the Roaring Twenties, and it looks like a jewel.

Related Links
The Beacon
The Lybba 
The State
The Orpheum
Hibbing MN Bob Dylan Walking Tour
Dylan Still at the Top of His Game

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Listen to the music.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Author Scott Stavrou Discusses His Life as a Writer

One of the features of social media is one's ability to obtain social access to people almost anywhere in the world. On of the features of the social media platform Medium is that you can hardly make a move without bumping into a writer.

My strongest immediate connection to Scott is Hemingway, whose powerful prose served as catalyst to ignite numerous authors over the past many decades, including myself.

Scott Stavrou is from Las Vegas and a graduate of Georgetown University. He's lived and worked as a writer in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Prague, and Venice. He and his wife presently live on a small Greek island. He's written fiction and non-fiction for numerous publications in America and Europe and was awarded a PEN International Hemingway prize for short fiction. (Several readers of this blog would be jealous.) Losing Venice is his second book. His new novel is due out in 2019.

EN: How long had you been writing before taking up the challenge of writing your first novel?

Scott Stavrou: Ah, the better question might be how long had I been writing before I finally completed the challenge of finishing a novel. There were a lot of false starts and missteps along my winding writer’s road before I finally found the time and commitment to finish one to my satisfaction.

Since I first started trying to grow up, I’ve always been a writer of one sort or another, though by necessity and interest, its taken many different forms in many different places. I wrote for the college paper and then after university worked as a copywriter, then did some journalism and corporate PR writing before I came to the realization that I didn’t like sitting at a desk and gave in to my wanderlust and did a lot of traveling, which led to travel writing to fund more travels, and then had a travel book published, Wasted Away. For years, I was a columnist and freelance writer and somehow managed to write two screenplays and some sappy TV scripts, and then a satirical stage play before finally committing to my real passion which is novels. So now I sit at a desk again but I get to move it around more and make more things up, which keeps me interested.

So the road to actually completing a novel was rather long and convoluted but one hopes — or likes to think, anyway — that lessons learned along the way lead to fuller and richer writing.

EN: You won the PEN America International Hemingway Writing Award for your Hemingway parody, Across the Suburbs and Into the Express Lane. What degree of Hemingway fan are you and which of his books first grabbed you?

SS: You can color me with the well-worn clichéd cloak of full-blown Hemingway acolyte. Like so many aspirant writers before me, Hemingway was the first classic author from the canon that I fell in love with. His style, his passion, his persona, his larger-than-life approach to living out loud and shaping and honing his image. The whole package. As a young writer with a passion for travel, for writing and wanting to live in Europe, The Sun Also Rises struck an early chord with my in my youth and remains my favorite. And though my writing style is very different from Hemingway’s, I like to think that I gleaned many lessons about writing and life from careful and devoted devouring of everything by and about Hemingway.

And because his style was so unique and different than so many writers before or after him, it rather lends itself to parody (however much Papa would have hated it) and I really loved the annual PEN America International Hemingway contest and finally winning it was a fine and fun accomplishment, not only because of getting the piece published but also because of getting to attend the awards dinner and meet some of the literary luminaries that judged the contest, a full cast of superb writers and Hemingway aficionados that included his old friend Barnaby Conrad, Ray Bradbury, Bernice Kert, Digby Diehl, Joseph Wambaugh and even formerly Jack Hemingway and George Plimpton. A great highlight of the awards ceremony was hanging out at Harry’s Bar and drinking Bellini’s with Charlton Heston, who, after we’d had more than our fair share of drinks, told me to call him “Chuck,” and then regaled me with stories of trying to arrange hunting trips with Hemingway and their mutual pal, Gregory Peck. You can’t help but feel honored to get to hang out over a fine dinner and drinks and hear your own words read out loud at the ceremony and then get to share drinks and laughs with so many living legends. You like to think that maybe some of the luster of the legend might even rub off on you. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

EN: Based on the reviews for Losing Venice you have quite the sense of humor. Is humor a theme in your stage play and screenplays?

SS: I’ve always tried to take a rather irreverent approach to my writing, even when dealing with serious themes. My stage play, Picketing With Prometheus, was all about life, destiny and the perilous future of mankind, but with a satirical and humorous approach. I like the interplay between the dramatic and the comedic, because part of the grand tapestry of life and all its troubles is that you hope you can always find light-hearted moments along the way. And though my screenplays were very different, one about Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution and one about a bar owner mired in debt, I tried to bring a bit of whimsy and irreverence into both of them along with the serious issues. And even though they both disappeared into Hollywood’s deep development wormhole, having some humor in them was probably what made them attract attention in the first place.

With Losing Venice, it’s a novel about the search for belonging and finding love when finding yourself lost and has some pretty serious identity, religious, and even historical aspects and having approached many of these with a light-hand and interjecting some humorous elements seemed at first a little discordant to my agent and editor and we actually discussed the possibility of toning down some of the humor in the novel but I’m really glad that we didn’t because in the end, going by the editorial and reader reviews, the humorous aspects seem to be some of what most readers found most appealing. You like to think you write a novel to make people think about life in a new way, to allow readers to see life from another vantage point or perspective. And it’s pretty gratifying if you hear that maybe you’ve provided some some laughs along the way

EN: You have obviously lived abroad and traveled. How much of yourself is in your lead character in Losing Venice?

SS: Like the protagonist in my novel, I was fortunate enough to have lived in Venice and then in Greece and of course some of those experiences seep into your writing when you set out to write about real life. Unlike the protagonist, I’d been blessed by already having found my life partner and been happily married for a few years when I moved there. But being happily married and content isn’t generally the fodder for riveting fiction and unlike him, I didn’t go around stealing gondolas and paintings from churches. In life you hope you can avoid conflict as much as possible but in writing you hope you can create it. Perhaps Mark Vandermar and I are different sides of the same coin. But maybe both are counterfeit currencies. I think the thing in writing — and in life — is that you hope you can invest some value in the currency of your creation.

EN: What is it about Venice that so inspires writers and film makers? I think of Death In Venice (Mann) and one of the recent Bond films with Daniel Craig.

SS: Firstly I think Venice resonates with artists because it’s so unique. An entire city built on the firm faith that it did not have to be like anyplace else. Secondly because the very nature of Venice is reflective. The city has spent centuries staring at its own watery reflections and writers, film makers, and artists are always seeking new ways to reflect life, to dredge something out of its depths.

Finally, there’s the sense of unreality that permeates the place. There’s a lot of in-between in Venice, floating as it does precariously on the misty borders between land and sea, dream and reality. It’s not quite fully water, not quite fully land, neither fully one thing or the other; a place where stones stride the sea but seeming floating on nothing. And I think writers and artists are always looking to fill the spaces in-between, to turn something unreal into something real.

EN: Finally, what other question would you ask yourself if you were interviewing you?

SS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

My life is finally pretty centered on my real passions: reading, writing, and traveling. In addition to working on my new novel, I still do some freelance writing but one of the other things I love doing most of all which combines all these passions is working as a mentor and facilitator with Write Away Europe’s Creative Writing Retreats, which gives me the opportunity to be surrounded by groups of inspired and inspiring writers several times a year in some of my favorite places in the world, including Venice, Tuscany, Prague, and the Greek islands. The stimulus and inspiration of spending several weeks a year being surrounded by creative people in such captivating places is always invigorating, fun, and fulfilling.

EN: What are you working on now?

SS: I’m pretty deep into my new novel, a tragic-comic satirical novel set in LA and Greece that explores movie-making, the Greek economic crisis, the refugee crisis, the vain and possibly impossible attempts to make art that matters and makes a difference during such turbulent times. The yawning conflicts of commerce and art, humanity and its inhumanity. But because I like to think that life is sometimes shockingly serious and sometimes strange, funny, and imponderable, I’m trying to make it strange, funny and imponderable. But you know, in a funny way.

It’s promised for the first half of 2019 so I just have to finish putting the words in the right order — and learn some more about how shockingly serious, strange, funny and imponderable life is.

I’m excited to see how it ends and hope that’s the feeling readers will have when they have it in their hands.

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Stay current with Scott's writing at ScottStavrou.com
On Medium (@ScottStavrou)
On Twitter (@WriteAwayEurope)

Losing Venice is his second book and is available in paperback and eBook in select bookstores and at all your favorite online booksellers, including: Amazon  and Universal Book Link

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

What's All This Buzz About Yellow Jackets? Here's the Straight Dope from France.

May Day Protests 1971
This past month I made a decision to finally get around to writing about my experience as part of the May Day 1971 anti-war protest. To some extent it was traumatic due to all the violence I witnessed. In another sense it was uniquely my own, inasmuch as I approached it with my own unformed and uninformed personal perspectives, with also contributed to some of my inconclusive conclusions along with a few personal lessons that I've carried with me to this day.

One of these lessons is a total distrust as regards mob violence being something that "just happens." In DC 1971 there were organizers who spent 2 years orchestrating the main event that served to draw people to the Capitol for that weekend.

To this day I am suspicious when I hear that a mob has risen up in concert to protest this thing or that. Or that a "caravan" has organized itself spontaneously to "break in" to America.

Two weeks ago a friend from France who lives here in the States asked if I'd been following the news regarding the "Yellow Jackets." I had not. And if you're like I was two weeks ago, then you may wish to read a few links at the end of this article.

Basically, the past four weekends now tens of thousands of people have been putting on yellow vests and protesting. The gathering masses have become mobs who are burning cars, smashing windows, looting. If you are on Twitter you can do a search for >Yellow Jackets< and follow the story.

Photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash
To gain more insight on the Yellow Jacket uprising, I contacted Pedro H. Albuquerque, Associate Professor of Economics at the KEDGE Business School (Bordeaux and Marseille) and asked if he would provide more insight for American readers.

Pedro Albuquerque: So you saw all this mayhem about the Yellow Jackets, yep, quite impressive news. New phenomenon on that scale in a rich country. We had Tienanmen Square, Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street as precedents, but this scale is totally new.

EN: Is there a "leader" of the Yellow Jackets?

PA: NO and YES. If you are thinking in terms of traditional political leaders, according to the established laws and practices of the French Republic, the answer is NO. Many tried to appropriate this social movement and become their leaders, for example, extreme left, extreme right and conservative political leaders, union leaders, celebrities etc. but none had any success. It's a movement driven by irrational feelings of anger and hate against the "system" and against "globalization," with very little common ground and values otherwise. The carbon tax was just a convenient trigger. So no, they have no leaders. But still, YES, they have a leader, in the sense of new politics driven almost purely by social media, and his name is Mark Zuckerberg. We just do not know to which extent Zuckerberg is a willing or accidental leader. As in the recent case of Brexit, this is yet to be found out.

EN: Is it mob rule?

PA: Again, the answer is NO and YES. NO, because there's an endogenously arising order determined mostly by the usage rules of Facebook, and also by the usage rules of Twitter and YouTube to a lesser extent. And YES because once groups of people in this movement converge on the streets towards the forces of law enforcement, the result is almost inevitably mob rule.

EN: If the government can't cover the cost of necessities, what does the public intend to see as outcome?

PA: I don't think this is really a question of necessities, most of the Yellow Jackets, by the standards of poor and middle income countries, would be considered well-off. Studies show that most did not enjoy reductions or significant reductions in purchasing power, it is mostly about perceived realities than it is about economic realities. But their perceptions are real for two reasons: compared to other regions of Europe, people living in rural or far suburban areas of European metropolitan centers know that their incomes have been progressing much less fast than those of people living in cities, and they also know that their infrastructure of services does not see the same advancements which can be seen in urban centers, and in some cases they have even seen the collapse of public services. They also get the feeling that some global industries, like tech, finance and upscale services like movies, have accumulated most of the wealth creation of the last 30 years. This has created an enormous anger towards government and sometimes also towards rich, highly educated, or foreign people living in advanced countries, meaning, anger towards any group that succeeded or have benefited from the social and technological developments of the last 30 years.

I do not think that the government will have any problem offering the Yellow Jackets financial and political "gifts" as it promised, After all,  some have estimated that active participants in this movement represent only 0.8% of the population. The real problem is that the socially destructive and politically chaotic dynamics created by social media platforms, as seen during the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit referendum in the UK, the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and now the Yellow Jackets in France, are going to become only more disruptive and more pervasive around the world. We should expect then to see the same happening in any other country, at any moment, triggers and timing depending mostly on the decisions made by the top management of social media megacorporations. Only time will tell if, as a result, democracies will fall or will learn and adapt by curbing the power and socially destructive effects of social media megacorporations on society.

EN: Thank you for this perspective on recent events in France. 

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Related Links
BuzzFeed's In Depth Overview
Yellow Jackets on the Twitterfeed
Ramifications of the Riots

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Shady Shenanigans: The Infamous Blue Book of the KC Card Company

"The only sure thing about luck is that it will change." --Bret Harte

I don't now what the numbers are today, but according to Poker Players Research there are a lot of poker players in the world. As of 10 years ago 10% of the adult U.S. population was playing poker. Of these 23 million, 15 million play online for real money and 7 million of these play online at least once a month. 5 million play for real money at least once a month in “Home Games” and 2 million play for real money at least once a month in “Private Clubs.”

When I read these statistics I can't help but wonder how many of these poker players are being fleeced by cheats.

I recently acquired a rare copy of the famous Blue Book, a gamers catalog published by the K.C. Card Co. of Chicago. The K. C. Card Co. was a legendary business that sold both crooked and straight gambling equipment. The catalog features marked and unmarked playing cards, engraved dice with varied spots and monograms types, craps lay-outs, counter magnets, casino furniture, and more.

One page shows a set of coins you can buy with one pair that always comes up heads, one pair always tails and one straight pair. "I'll bet you $100 I can spin this coin and make it come up heads three times in a row." The only skill needed is the ability to do a sleight of hand switcheroo using a bit of misdirection.

As I page through the catalog I half wonder how many poker players who are aware of the variety of ways the crooks can empty your wallet.

The K.C. Card Co. was probably the most famous company that sold marked cards and crooked die. They also sold belly stripper decks (slightly shaved cards), bugs, Kepplinger Holdout devices, and many other things that could be used for magic but were mostly for cheating. Long before I was aware of this company I had a couple decks that were both shaved and marked.

So the Blue Book is kind of a Sears Catalog for magicians and crooks. You would select the products you wanted, fill in the order form and send it by mail. A couple weeks later you're in business. The catalog also had an extra supplement that offered more expensive things like card trimmers and other things that allowed you to make your own gaffs.

This particular catalog, the 1961 edition, is special because it was the last one the company printed before the FBI raided in Chicago. Most of the catalogs of 1961 didn't get mailed that year.

Now I'm not much of a gambler, and though I've played a few hands of blackjack--once in Deadwood and once in Vegas--I have to believe that people playing private games outside of the major casinos are playing a very risky game with all the high tech cheating technology available today.

Here are a few more photos of some items in the catalog, and at the end a link to all the pages.

Terry Roses showed me the ropes on lenses and reading cards w/out 'em.

I don't know about you, but something tells me there are people somewhere being hustled tonight and they don't even know it. Alas. If you're in it for fun, don't bet more than you can afford to lose. 

Related Links
The K.C. Card Co. Blue Book on Flickr
An Interview with the Unexpected Gambler 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Matt Kania's Labor of Love: DOing Exhibition Honors Makers

"Doing A Painting"
"If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."
–Edward Hopper, American Artist

This past Monday the Zeitgeist had an opening reception for a new series of oil paintings by Matt Kania. The exhibition is titled DOing: A Labor of Love.

Over the years I've many times observed the care with which people express their passions through their craftsmanship and attention to detail. Kania's title cuts straight to the heart of why we see exquisite designs, finely crafted boats, carefully carved utensils, musical instruments and picture frames. The paintings here show people baking bread, turning bowls, weaving and making things out of sheer love for that process of creation.

"Forming Loaves"
In Matt Kania's case he loves to paint, but he has been very much taken with the careful approach others take when "doing" what they love.

Born in the heart of Chicago and later raised in the farm country of Illinois, early on Matt Kania developed a deep appreciation for both urban environments and wide open spaces. To this day, Matt tends to thrive and feel equally at home in a fast paced city and in the quiet of a far removed wilderness. As a result, his imagery tends to be eclectic – sometimes focusing on themes based in culture and at other times looking at themes that revolve around the natural world.

Kania says, "The commonality in my work is a reflection of the view that 'all experiences are equal'." A deeply rooted love for Lake Superior and northern landscapes eventually landed Matt in Duluth, where today he can be seen carrying his paint box to environs around the lake to paint 'en plein air' or mixing paints in his studio to work on his next composition.

"Nels J Incarnate"

EN: When did you start painting seriously? Who were your influences?

"Hanging Art in the Met"
MK: I started painting with seriousness at age 45. Although, growing up I knew that I would be a painter in my adult life. Historically influential painters include John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper, George Bellows, Edouard Manet -- and numerous Russian painters from the Twentieth Century, such as ... Fedor Vasilievich Shapaev, Vladimir Feodorovich Stozharov, Aleksei Belykh, Aleksei and Sergei Tkachev (brothers). Contemporary influences include Mary Pettis, Neil Sherman, and Sarah Brokke.

EN: Your portfolio includes a lot of plein air work. What do you enjoy most about painting outside?

MK: The aspect of plein air painting that I love and appreciate most is the 'direct' nature of painting on location. It is the combination of my interaction with the setting and subject and my reaction to the changing conditions (changing light, changing weather, the transient aspect of a scene).

EN: How did the DOing series get birthed in you?

"Turning Bowls" 
MK: In recent years I found myself increasingly interested in 'cultural landscapes' -- that is, settings and subjects that say something about people and their influence on a place. At times I have found this more satisfying than painting a natural landscape. But, of course, nature has something to tell us as well! As an extension of my interest in cultural settings I decided to force myself to paint people engaged in their own forms of creating. This all began with watching a woodturner crafting beautiful, functional wooden bowls from simple blocks of wood.

EN: Where did you get your schooling? What did you learn from school that has helped you?

"Making Dumplings"
MK: I'm a person who is driven by both left-brain and right-brain ways of thinking. So, as a young adult I cultivated an education in the scientific world -- earning degrees in geography and cartography. As a maturing adult I have actively pursued art education through the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Highpoint Center for Printmaking. My extensive training (classes, workshops, mentorship) as a painter has come under the direction of Mary Pettis, Neil Sherman, and Sarah Brokke.

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To see more of Matt Kania's work, visit: http://mattkania.com/

"Parisian Portraitist"
"Throwing A Tumbler"

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