Tuesday, November 13, 2018

When Holiday Stress Is Amplified By Grief

"The death of a beloved is an amputation."--C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Illustration by the author.
Stress during the holidays comes in many forms. Expectations, activities and last minute shopping all contribute. There are additional stresses for divorced couples with children who must deal with conflicting schedules and efforts to max out quality time with grandparents. This even gets more complicated when divorced couples re-marry and there are four sets of grandparents involved.

This morning I wanted to write about another kind of stressor. It has to do with the challenge of the holidays when we are experiencing the loss of a loved one. Whether a parent, spouse or child (and we should never have to bury our children) if the loss has been within the current year then this is the first Thanksgiving and the first Christmas without that important person in our lives. There's an empty chair at the table, a tangible reminder of your loss.

Over the course of a lifetime I've heard many painful stories. A father's suicide, a husband's suicide, a wife's life cut short by cancer, a son killed in a skiing accident. Even when you are emotionally healthy and strong, the holidays can open wounds and show that our internal healing is not yet complete.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is always hard but especially so during the holidays when you experience that first Thanksgiving without Joe or that first Christmas without Janet.

One reason the pain is exacerbated is that in your heart you know the holidays are supposed to be a time of cheer, of celebration, a time to make memories for your children or share them with that other significant person in your life. As a result, when you try to hide your pain it only leaves you more alienated, walled off and hollowed out. When everyone us is celebrating and we're inwardly struggling to maintain it can be hard.

Grief is one of those inexplicable phenomena that is different for everyone. It is a mistake to think something is wrong with you for still carrying this burden. We all process grief differently. Some things just take more time.

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On numerous occasions over the years I've shared my brother's insights on handling stress during the holidays. My brother is a psychologist who writes about finding balance when dealing with anxiety, stress, anger, etc. In 2017 he produced a guest post on seeking balance when experiencing grief which I believe can be useful.

Sometimes we need to go further than write in a journal or unburden ourselves with a confidant. Sometimes we may need a professional counsellor whom we can talk with. Earlier this fall I learned about an online consortium of of therapists called TalkSpace. who provide assistance in this area, whether for you or a loved one you care about.

I never grew up Catholic, but upon reflection I can imagine the possibility that there could be something therapeutic in having a space where one can go to unburden oneself in an atmosphere of trust, where one's confidences will not be violated. This is what a doctor-patient relationship is about, enabling us to get help probing things that maybe we have a hard time facing alone.

I have no experience with TalkSpace myself. Here is a link to a testimony that was shared at Business Insider.

One way we can all reduce stress a little is to plan ahead and get our holiday shopping finished early this year.

Related Links
Healing the Hurting Through Music
10 Classical Favorites That Can Lift You Higher

Disclaimer: This blog occasionally accepts forms of compensation for writing about certain topics. In all cases it is my intention to provide honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics, events, or products. The views and opinions expressed here are my own. The references to TalkSpace are "sponsored content" but I would not write about them if I were aware of any red flags.

Monday, November 12, 2018

An Oil Insider Talks About the Future of Oil

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash
Industry consultant Steve Swedberg has over 50 years experience in the lubricant industry. In addition to being a featured columnist for Lubes 'N' Greases magazine, he is a longtime member of the American Chemical Society, ASTM International and SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers), where he was chairman of Technical Committee 1 on automotive engine oils. I reached out to Mr. Swedberg in order to gain insights with regard to the future of oil.

EN: Some people believe the internal combustion engine defeated electric cars 110 years ago by means of a power play. It’s my understanding that gasoline powered engines are the most efficient way to produce energy. What really happened in the early days of automobiles as regards electric vehicles?

Steve Swedberg: While electric-powered cars were very popular in the early 20th century, internal combustion engines finally won out because they were reliable, had a much longer range, and were easy to mass produce. Once the electric starter was introduced and the number of vehicles grew, gasoline became so much cheaper that electric couldn’t compete. That’s still the case but other factors are driving the move to electric powered cars.

EN: For most of our lives two of the major driving forces in the auto industry have been reducing emissions and reducing fuel usage. It’s only been more recently that electric cars have become potentially viable. What are the biggest drawback to electric cars replacing gasoline powered vehicles?

SS: The biggest drawbacks are the infrastructure to supply electricity, and the cost of batteries that will supply enough charge density to give driving ranges equal to internal combustion engines.

EN: To power electric cars requires energy. What is the current breakdown in the U.S. as regards how energy is produced?

SS: The total electricity produced in the U.S. is about 4000 Billion kWh. That’s 4X1015 kWh! The breakdown by source is as follows: Natural Gas 32%, Coal 30%, Nuclear 20%, Hydroelectric 7.4%, Wind 6.3%, Solar 1.3%, Wood 1.0%, plus several other minor sources including landfill gases all are at about 2%.

EN: Ever since the late 60’s prognosticators have babbled on about how we only have ten years of oil left in the world. The same is still being piped to us today. What is the truth regarding the world’s oil supply?

SS: In 2014 BP said we have 53 years of reserves. However, it seems like the more we find the more we are able to capture. There are fields that still have lots of oil. The old Pennsylvania fields in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia still hold upwards of 70% of the estimated reserves. It will take a unified field (one run by only one operator) to develop it more thoroughly but it could happen in the future. Hydraulic Fracturing or “fracking” can get to and extract a lot of this old, heavy crude.

EN: As for emissions, are there any statistical breakdowns with regards to the ratio of emissions generated by air transportation, shipping and automotive? I suppose you could add factories to that.

SS: That’s a good question. What I’ve come to find out is that industrial emissions are about 20%, electrical generation is about 25% and transportation is 15%. The remaining 40% is from natural sources such as agriculture (cows and methane), volcanos, forest fires, etc.

Thank you, Steve, for the data and insights.

* * * *

Related Links
A New Player in the Oil Market?
The Development of Synthetic Motor Oils: A Historical Review

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hear the Heartbreak in Dylan's Walls of Red Wing

Keith Olson, 1940-2018
The other day someone sent me a note about an obituary for Keith Olson, who was born here in Duluth in 1940. During his childhood he began shining shoes at the Spalding Hotel and moved up to bellhop. Family difficulties resulted in his being sent to the Duluth Children's Home on East 5th Street, with events that then which then led to his being sent to the Red Wing Boys Reformatory school in Red Wing.

The obituary is a beautiful testament to how people who encounter hard circumstances in their childhood can overcome these in surprising ways. He met someone who became the love of his life, whom he considered a gift from God, and whom he says, "saved my life." And experienced very real success in his career, eventually acquiring a beautiful home which also became a labor of love.

For many, if not most, Red Wing has been made famous by the shoe factory there. Red Wing Shoes produces sturdy, reliable work boots and has built an enduring reputation for its comfortably durable products. For Dylan fans though, Red Wing brings a somewhat darker tone to the conversation as we recall to mind Dylan's somber "Walls of Red Wing." Interestingly the obituary cites Keith Olson as stating that he once drove in a car with Dylan from Hibbing to Duluth when they were young.

Although this this can’t be verified, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine that if young Mr. Olson were in a car with Robert Zimmerman, the latter might pick his brain a little about his experiences in the reformatory, internalize it and spill it out later in the form of a song, which he later before three times in the early Sixties.

When I began investigating this idea thread, a Hibbing High classmate of Bob's sent me a note saying, "Bob and I and our classmates all knew about Red Wing."

* * * *
Hibbing isn't really that far from Duluth, so it's not uncommon for Duluthians to head up to the Iron Range town and vice versa. We all know the story of how Dylan as a 17-year-old youth came down from Hibbing to see, hear and be inspired by Buddy Holly at the Duluth Armory just days before his untimely death in an Iowa cornfield.

There's an incident in my own life of driving Highway 53 which immediately came to mind when I read this story of Keith Olson. About ten years ago I was driving to Hibbing while listening to the audiobook Cool Hand Luke, which later became the film starring Paul Newman. It's a prison story, not reform school, but the similarity holds. As I was driving North I came upon a hitchhiker. As a former hitchhiker myself I generally try to help when able, though I do so with care, reading their faces and sensing their spirit. He seemed like a good person.

I asked where he was headed and he said Hibbing, as was I. To make a long story short, he'd just been released from prison. In order to get a license to be a cabby in Minneapolis he had have a 30 day residency in Minnesota. He was going to stay with a brother or friend (I've since forgotten) for 30 days. He was a humble man, maybe in his mid-thirties. He had purportedly been dealing LSD, though the crime he'd been arrested for was, he said, rigged.

There were other details, and I considered writing a story about it. Is it possible that Bob heard details in Keith's stories and followed through?

* * * *
The late Keith Olson. (Used with permission)
As I reviewed the obituary again there were more details that seemed to call for my attention, and like an Aha I realized I knew his wife Pat (referred to as Patricia in the obit) and even knew Keith, had once been to an informal party or meal in their beautiful lakefront home on Superior Street.

One of the surprises of living in the vicinity of a place where a famous person grew up is that you keep running into people with stories, with memories related to the famous person. It shouldn't surprise, because this person--in this case Robert Zimmerman--was not some mythological figure but rather an ordinary person who lived here and did the things others do.

In Olson's case, he didn't wear it on his sleeve but he didn't forget riding in a car with Bob Dylan, getting a glimpse of life and escaping his childhood sorrow. At the end of his life, he was "pressing on, to the higher calling" of his Lord, shaking the dust off his feet and not looking back.

* * * *
"Walls of Red Wing" was originally recorded for Dylan's second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, famous for its contributions to the emerging folk and protest scene. The song eventually appeared on Bootleg Series 1-3, Rare & Unreleased. Both Joan Baez and Rambling Jack Elliot later covered the song.


Walls Of Red Wing

Oh, the age of the inmates
I remember quite freely:
No younger than twelve
No older ’n seventeen
Thrown in like bandits
And cast off like criminals
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

From the dirty old mess hall
You march to the brick wall
Too weary to talk
And too tired to sing
Oh, it’s all afternoon
You remember your hometown
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

Oh, the gates are cast iron
And the walls are barbed wire
Stay far from the fence
With the ’lectricity sting
And it’s keep down your head
And stay in your number
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

Oh, it’s fare thee well
To the deep hollow dungeon
Farewell to the boardwalk
That takes you to the screen
And farewell to the minutes
They threaten you with it
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

It’s many a guard
That stands around smilin’
Holdin’ his club
Like he was a king
Hopin’ to get you
Behind a wood pilin’
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

The night aimed shadows
Through the crossbar windows
And the wind punched hard
To make the wall-siding sing
It’s many a night
I pretended to be a-sleepin’
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

As the rain rattled heavy
On the bunkhouse shingles
And the sounds in the night
They made my ears ring
’Til the keys of the guards
Clicked the tune of the morning
Inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

Oh, some of us’ll end up
In St. Cloud Prison
And some of us’ll wind up
To be lawyers and things
And some of us’ll stand up
To meet you on your crossroads
From inside the walls
The walls of Red Wing

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


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Related Links
YouTube video of Dylan performing Walls of Red Wing
DNT obituary for Keith Olson

The  Service for Keith Olson will be held at The First Presbyterian Church 300 E 2nd St. Duluth November 20th at 2 p.m.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bruce Henry Shares His Life as an American Griot

Magnolia Salon, 8 November 2018

Bruce Henry
Thursday evening jazz singer and educator Bruce Henry was the featured speaker at Magnolia Salon. It was inspirational, powerful, revealing, informative, educational and a very special time. The Mississippi-born jazz performer gave a two-part presentation. In the first segment Mr. Henry shared his life story, which he called the “Adventures of an American Griot," with numerous lessons and unexpected insights. After a short break he then presented an abbreviated talk on the Evolution of African American Music from Africa to Hip Hop.

The word “griot” has its roots in Africa. A griot was a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians, and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa. Before the printed word, tribal peoples maintained their identity and cultural reference points by means of these oral stories sung and passed on through the generations. A griot was of such importance to a tribe that when an adversarial tribe attacked a people they usually killed the griot before capturing or killing the king and queen.

So, it was another evening of Magnolia Salon, and after a bit of visiting amongst one another the Ringing Bowl called us to order, followed by the Smudge Stick sanctification ritual with Glenn and Emily welcoming us to Oldenburg House.

Bruce Henry was here in the Northland for a slightly extended stay, presenting his talk on the Evolution of African American Music from Africa to Hip Hop talk to a number of area schools, courtesy an ARAC grant.

Glenn Swanson introduced Bruce Henry as “an exceptional human being,” which has been demonstrated not only in the spirit of his performances in the Carlton Room, but also in his dedication to educating youth regarding the history and impact of African music. During his time here this past week he made presentations to over 700 students at UMD, Hermantown High, Denfeld and Barnum, from third graders to college level students.

ADVENTURES OF AN AMERICAN GRIOT

He began his talk with the introduction, “I am Bruce Henry. I am a singer of songs.” It was a reference to the Tony Curtis line in Holly film Sparticus, “I am Antonitus, a singer of songs.”

Though born in Mississippi, Henry spent his formative years growing up in Chicago. He said his father was a role model with strong values. His dad once said, “The person who controls your culture is your master.”

Chicago for many years was the most segregated city in America. He shared a number of anecdotes to illustrate including his first memory of a Chicago policeman when he was five. The officer, sitting in a police car, motioned for him to come over and when he was alongside the open window the officer spit chewing tobacco into his face.

The jazz singer with jazz drummer Glenn Swanson.
Growing up in Chicago gave Bruce Henry a political consciousness that never left him, which was amplified by parents who were union all the way.

His father grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi where you step off the sidewalk for whites, along with all the other associated indignities. Nevertheless, he stated, “My parents taught me not to hate. They taught me to love, when it was unnatural.” This became a foundational value in his life, to accept people .

As he grew up in the 60’s he became fascinated with history. When he was introduced to Thoreau and History and Music he responded viscerally so that when he went to college it was with the intention of becoming a politician. On his 18th birthday, however, he was invited to sing a song with a band at a biker bar and his life plans veered in a new direction. The song was “Summertime.” It resulted in his pursuing a music career.

Drawn to activism and avant garde jazz, he moved to Minneapolis where he joined a band named Solstice whose goal was to get polished then move to L.A. They attracted an agent who was all set to sign them up who at the last minute demurred, saying, “I told you, four whites, three blacks.” Their band had three white and four blacks. He tore up the contract.

Nevertheless he continued to pursue his passions, saying, “One day I’m gonna get out of Babylon.” Ultimately he established a career that enabled him to perform in five continents and to live wherever he wanted. “I’ve been blessed,” he said.

He spoke from the heart about the importance of service to others. “We have a responsibility to use our gifts for the betterment of humanity. It’s the foundation of everything. We have an obligation to use our gifts. Service is the rent due for life on this planet.”

After a break, Bruce Henry returned to the podium to share with us the Evolution of African American Music from Africa to Hip Hop.

TO BE CONTINUED

EdNote: Mark your calendars for the Oldenburg House HOLIDAY MARKET, December 7. 20 Vendors selling arts, crafts and more.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Flashback Friday: The Instant Orange Tree Trick in the Illusionist Wasn't Just a Hollywood Fiction

This 2014 blog post was surprisingly popular. Originally titled The Instant Orange Tree Trick in the Illusionist Wasn't Just a Hollywood Fiction, I have added a link to the scene in the film that this trick references and a few photos I took of pages from rare, ancient magic books in the possession of a local collector. The Houdini hand cuffs below were from the collection of the late John Bushey. 

“Everything you have seen is an illusion. It’s a trick.” ~Eisenheim

The debate may go on for years. Just as the debate regarding who was the greatest magician, Houdini or Howard Thurston, once was all the buzz near a century ago, I think there will be an ongoing debate regarding the greatest Hollywood film about magic and magicians, though on a much smaller scale. I have already written about The Prestige, first of the two candidates, and this morning am making my case for The Illusionist.

The Greatest Film Ever About Magic: The Illusionist

From the opening notes of the film's score by Philip Glass I was enthralled. The feel of the film from the opening credits into the opening scene was itself so convincing, so perfectly rendered and magical. High expectations were created by this wonderfully mysterious, graphically aesthetic ambiance and the film delivered on that promise.

Bob Yari Productions
Presents
A Koppelman-Levien/Michael London Production
In Association with Contagious Entertainment
A Film by Neil Burger

If you do not know the film, the featured stars are Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel, though Rufus Sewell as Crown Prince Leopold helps the film.

As noted above, the opening creates a beautiful suspense. At two minutes in one is already prepared to weep. The melancholic beauty of the score runs beneath the skin directly into your veins, and is swiftly conveyed to nerves and heart.

In that first scene the magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is seated on a stage, concentrating intensely, illumined by a spotlight. We see him first from the point of view of the balcony, then from the side, then close up on his face, beads of sweat building on his face and forehead. Cut to audience, agitated, someone saying, “It’s her.” And then the police, in late nineteenth century garb, march in to take their stations about the stage as Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) declares, “I hereby arrest Eduard Abramovicz, also known as Eisenheim the Illusionist… on charges of disturbing public order, charlatanism and threats against the empire.”

The film then flashes back to show us how we came to this electrically charged moment. The film is a love story at its core. When Eduard was a poor boy from the lower class his childhood sweetheart was the upper crust Sophie (Jessica Biel).  The heart of the story is the great lengths to which Eduard will go to obtain his heart's desire.

But it also an inside look at what magicians were about, and how people respond. In one scene Eisenheim has been asked to entertain the Crown Prince and his guests at a private party. In this scene Eisenheim performs a number of stunning illusions, one of them being to make a small  orange tree grow and produce fruit, within minutes. The trick becomes a recurring theme in the film because Inspector Uhl keeps wanting to know how it is done.

What's astonishing to me is that this orange tree trick was actually one that Houdini once did. It went like this. At the Chicago World's Fair, before Houdini had really made a name for himself, he did this routine where he would be dressed like an Indian fakir and play a little flute or whatever he did while cross-legged on the ground trying to attract a small crowd. He had a sheet or something lightweight laid out and he would then take a seed and "plant" it. He would make music and there would be a slow rise underneath and he would peel back the sheet to show a six inch sprout. He covered it, played a little more and it grew, grew and became a small tree with fruit.

In other words, what we saw Hollywood do on film was an illusion that Houdini himself invented and performed as a young man.

One other touch I especially liked was the story within the story of how Eisenheim became Eisenheim. The tale of his meeting an old magician is straight out of the Borges tradition, and mystical realism, a form of story became the spark which lit the flame of my own inspiration for several of the stories in my newly published volume Unremembered Histories.

Meantime, if you've not seen the film, it's a wonderful journey and the payoff is satisfying. Here is the scene in which he performs the Instant Orange Tree illusion.

BONUS TRACKS


In need of a little magic in your life?
Check out The Illusionist

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Kevin Shau: Using the Humanities to Promote Individual Excellence

"Hi, I’m Kevin Shau, a humanist, writer, photographer, mentor, and website designer. This site is dedicated to the value and practical application of the Liberal Arts." So begins the welcone dialogue at a website called The Classical Humanist. By the end of this first paragraph I was already won over with this invitation: "Feel free to browse the posts in the blog section of this website, then go read a classic."

Our paths crossed via Medium, the Ev Williams brainchild designed to bring writers and readers together. Thus far I've been impressed by the caliber of work being produced by many contributors there. Shau's themes cover the whole gamut from grammar, rhetoric and history to logic, philosophy and literature. His reading list and range of interests is striking, especially for one so young.

His birth name is Kevin O'Shaughnessy, with Kevin Shau apparently his online moniker much as I have self-identified as ennyman. Enjoy this exchange and then visit the links at the close to learn more.

EN: Your interests seem broad. What is your background and what led you into the study of the humanities?

Kevin Shau: I have always been interested in philosophy at some level. During my undergraduate and graduate years, I spent an increasing amount of time studying the history of philosophy with particular emphasis on the Italian Renaissance. This was once a period noticeably absent in many philosophy courses. Professors occasionally touched upon the works of Niccolò Machiavelli but that was about it. In addition to Western philosophy, I studied Eastern philosophy as well – Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto. Throughout my college years, I was both deeply interested in philosophy and history as well as appalled by the postmodern influence present in both disciplines. I wanted to study the humanities from a point of view based in practicality. I make it a mission of mine to promote a practical humanities education, focusing on the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric), aimed at promoting a greater understanding of human nature, and promoting the excellence of the individual.

EN: Who have been your biggest personal influences?

KS: There are quite a few to choose from. I list many on my Classical Humanist site. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the most important. I have always been drawn to his towering intellect, based in observation and experience. Leonardo understood the value of the Classics (notably Dante Alighieri) but was also necessarily skeptical of academic Scholasticism. I would argue that the modern postmodern academics are a continuation of those medieval scholastic debates about how many angels can dance on the end of a pin.

Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson been very influential. I became familiar with Paglia through her appearances on art history documentaries talking, for example, about the work of Sandro Botticelli. Her cultural criticism has proved very insightful. Additionally, she takes a long-term view of history – one going from prehistory to the present. This large time span helps acquaint one with human nature throughout time rather than merely to promote a political ideology.

Jordan Peterson has been one of the greatest influences on my life through his online lectures, Maps of Meaning, and 12 Rules for Life. Before reading Maps of Meaning, I was doubtful that the present time could contribute a text of outstanding quality to posterity. Peterson’s magnum opus proved me very wrong. The levels of insight present in that one book are enough to guarantee Peterson a spot as one of the great thinkers in the history of modern philosophy as well as psychology. Other major influences include the Renaissance humanists, most notably Francesco Petrarch who has done much to popularize appreciation for the liberal arts through study of the ancient Roman Classics.

EN: In your essay on dragons you call Carl Jung “perhaps the greatest genius of the twentieth century.” By what measures do you make this claim? (I give you credit for the qualifier at the beginning of the statement.)

Carl Jung (public domain image
KS: My brief essay on dragons is commentary on a quote from Carl Jung. Having read Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy as well as a major work written by Jung’s protegee Eric Neumann (The Origins and History of Consciousness), I became familiar with Jungian ideas at a much greater depth than the mere encyclopedia entry-style coverage of him in a college psychology course from years ago. I call Jung perhaps the greatest genius of the twentieth century because he explored human nature at greater depths than any other thinker of his time. His work has yet to be incorporated into the general culture (though Joseph Campbell promoted his ideas to a limited degree. Peterson has recently done much to popularize Jung). Carl Jung brings together science and the arts, as well as the secular and the religious, at deep levels.

EN: In your essay on empire you address the five stages of emergence, rise, golden age, decadence and decline of civilization. I believe both Nietzsche and Thomas Mann wrote about that with regards to Germany. (Nietzsche was especially critical of Wagner as emblematic of the decadence, Mann later analyzing the decline.) Where is the United States in regards to the stages of empire? What are the symptoms you see that point to your diagnosis?

KS: The topic of the course of empire is quite fascinating. The general theme can be seen in civilizations throughout history – from Rome and China to the British Empire. While Nietzsche, Mann, Spengler, and others have addressed the topic with regards to Germany, my understanding of the course of empire has been shaped largely by Edward Gibbon’s magisterial History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. The former analyzes the decay of a great civilization over the course of centuries whereas the latter presents themes related to the rise and fall of civilizations in the history of art. Camille Paglia has said that the United States is in a decadent late phase of culture.

I would be in general agreement with that. The United States, it seems to me, is at a transition from golden age to decadence. The Roman Empire is a good historical equivalent due to the size and influence of each. I would also argue that the history of the Republic of Venice is relevant as well – an Italian power during the Renaissance, it entered a long period of ‘elegant decline’ after trade routes shifted with the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Europeans. The United States has an empire of bases around the world and has been intervening in the political and economic affairs of other countries really since 1898 with the victory in the Spanish-American War. Extended foreign excursions, an increasingly top-heavy government, a Hollywood-centric culture in which celebrities push political agendas, political correctness, and an emphasis on a kind of infantilizing soft despotism (in which the state takes on more power to act ‘benevolently’) all point toward a move in the general direction of decadence.

EN: You have written about the significance of the historian Herodotus. How was his approach to history different from what you see in academia today?

KS: Herodotus stands at a major symbolic turning point in the history of how human societies were able to comprehend the past. In previous centuries, the past was mythologized to a much greater degree. Think of the Homeric epics. Historical reality was welded together with attention-arresting mythological elements so as to make such events memorable (I am not making the claim that the ancients did this consciously, rather I think that, as humans, we see the world mythologically). The archetypical hero’s journal – present in all cultures – is the best evidence for a mythological way of perceiving the world. This is further delineated by Jordan Peterson in Maps of Meaning: "The world can be validly construed as a forum of action, as well as a place of things. We describe the world as a place of things, using the formal methods of science. The techniques of narrative, however - myth, literature and drama - portray the world as a forum for action. The two forms of representation have been unnecessarily set at odds, because we have not yet formed a clear picture of their respective domains. The domain of the former is the object world-what is, from the perspective of intersubjective perception. The domain of the latter is the world of value-what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action." --Jordan Peterson

Historians from Herodotus on have tried to make sense of the world around them through the use of historical materials. The use and critical assessment of written records became relevant only when increased literacy and comprehensive record-keeping allowed for new ways of looking at the past. This also allowed historians the ability to project their own biases onto the past. The real shift in recent decades can be seen the differences between the humanities and social sciences. The former is centered on the trivium and a deep understanding of human nature (and, thus, at least considers the utility of various ways of looking at the past – including mythological perspectives) while the latter focuses on detail but has the massive drawback of having been polluted with decades of deeply politicized content. The social sciences tend to emphasize the recent over the distant whereas the humanities are centered on quality and insight.

EN: What is the “intellectual dark web” that you refer to in your essay “The Art of Discourse”?

KS: The Intellectual Dark Web is simply a group of people who put interest of ideas above tribalism. The mathematician Eric Weinstein coined the term to refer to an ‘alternative sense-making collective’ composed of people with different backgrounds and political views but united in their interest in deep conversation in order to better understand the world. I make the argument that the Intellectual Dark Web is the modern-day equivalent of the Enlightenment ‘republic of letters.’ Both terms refer to networks of intellectuals outside the mainstream establishment interested in discourse. The mainstream media of today seems more interested in soundbites, things ‘going viral,’ and chasing viewers.

The rise of the podcast has allowed the spoken word to become as powerful as the written word. Additionally, the access costs for creating a platform have decided substantially with the rise of the internet. Jordan Peterson, among others, has drawn parallels between the Gutenberg revolution of the Renaissance and the Digital revolution of the past decade. The level of discourse which the internet has allowed is staggering. Yes, there is obviously an enormous amount of low-quality material on the internet but the quality of some of the discussions platforms like YouTube allow are of the highest quality. People like Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, and Ben Shapiro (all of whom are part of this Intellectual Dark Web) host YouTube interviews with a variety of guests, each of whom brings a wealth of their own experiences to the table. I regard the Intellectual Dark Web as the most important intellectual development since the Age of Enlightenment.

* * * *

Related Links
Kevin Shau's Website: The Classical Humanist
Kevin's Author Page on Amazon

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ibsen's An Enemy of the People Questions the Validity of Democracy

A couple months ago I watched a film dramatization of Ibsen's powerful play An Enemy of the People. Like many influential works, most people have heard of them but never read them, and in this case I number myself among the majority. Until this autumn.

I'd just finished reading a biography of James Madison, who authored the Federalist Papers and was instrumental in creating the founding documents that created the foundations of the United States, a beacon of light for Democracy. We elect our officials and the people have power in the voting booths and caucuses, in the process of electing a representative government.

Ironically, Madison may have been an advocate for democracy, but he also expressed private doubts about how it would work out in reality. This was eye-opening for me, but then again that is why many scholars call it "the American experiment."

Within a week of reading the Madison bio I watched An Enemy of the People, and it became a apparent that the ideal of Democracy (with a capital D) has flaws that must be faced with honesty. Some of the drama in this year's mid-term election centers around this overabundant exuberance for democracy that we feel. And for this reason I share a brief overview of Ibsen's 1882 play.

* * * *
The story takes place in a small town in southern Norway that has earned its reputation as a tourist destination because of its spa baths. Though it's an economic boon for the community, the medical officer for the baths has become suspicious about the safety of the waters and upon having them tested he confirms that they are contaminated with bacteria and not healthy. He writes an article about the issue to be published in the papers.

The response is quite contrary to what he expected. Instead of people being happy that people will no longer get sick from the waters if they avoid them, they are angry that it will have a negative impact on jobs. Instead of being a hero who saves the town he is told he will be ridiculed for ruining the town. Local leaders make it known to him that there will be "terrible consequences" if he doesn't retract his article before it goes to press.

The newspaper itself begins to waver as regards printing the article. They wish not to be blamed if the town's economy craters. So Dr. Stockmann takes his message directly to the people in a public oration in which he gives it his all. Here are some excerpts from this speech and this section of the play.

At the opening of his speech he lays down the gauntlet: "The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent man must wage war." Naturally the crowd of townsfolk gathered to hear him is incensed, but he goes on to defend his position in this manner:

"I have already said that I don't intend to waste a word on the puny, narrow-chested, short-winded crew whom we are leaving astern. Pulsating life no longer concerns itself with them. I am thinking of the few, the scattered few amongst us, who have absorbed new and vigorous truths. Such men stand, as it were, at the outposts, so far ahead that the compact majority has not yet been able to come up with them; and there they are fighting for truths that are too newly-born into the world of consciousness to have any considerable number of people on their side as yet."

How often have we seen this. New ideas do not have a majority behind them because the masses are stuck in old ways of thinking. The earth as center of the universe, for example. That the earth is flat. So Stockman declares, "I propose to raise a revolution against the lie that the majority has the monopoly of the truth."

* * * *

I myself do not consider myself a revolutionary and I really do not wish to see the fabric of society upended so that we have to start over. It gets very cold here in Minnesota and most of us are pretty dependent on the energy grid to warm our homes.

On the other hand, no matter who wins today's elections, let's not run around declaring the best man or woman won. The winners will only be those who got the most votes this time around.

Over the years many new ideas have emerged to address issues of poverty. The idea of a Flat Tax had merit, but like many new ideas it is squashed before it gets examined. In our government and in our board rooms, if a good idea comes from someone else, especially an opponent, we feel obligated to kill it lest our adversary become more more powerful. That is, we no longer "work together" for solutions, and claw one another to maintain power.

UBI (Universal Basic Income) is another new idea and I see foaming at the mouth from some adversaries because it goes against an old idea that "he who doesn't work shouldn't eat." Well, there are other older ideas about the dignity of man that could be brought forward rather than letting people starve as the Brits did during the Irish Potato Famine in which the government let them starve because "it must have been God's will to bring them into submission." (These ideas were put forth with seriousness in the British Parliament.)

So, Ibsen's Dr. Stockmann continues:
"What sort of truths are they that the majority usually supports? They are truths that are of such advanced age that they are beginning to break up... These "majority truths" are like last year's cured meat—like rancid, tainted ham; and they are the origin of the moral scurvy that is rampant in our communities."

I encourage you to read the whole of it, if you have time. Here are a couple more juicy bits, though.

"The theory that culture demoralizes is only an old falsehood that our forefathers believed in and we have inherited. No, it is ignorance, poverty, ugly conditions of life, that do the devil's work! In a house which does not get aired and swept every day."

and...

"Lack of oxygen weakens the conscience. And there must be a plentiful lack of oxygen in very many houses in this town, I should think, judging from the fact that the whole compact majority can be unconscientious enough to wish to build the town's prosperity on a quagmire of falsehood and deceit."

* * * *
My appeal is that our legislators, who theoretically more informed than the public on most matters they wrestle with, armed with more information than can fit on a bumper sticker, will have the courage to make wise decisions based on what they know, and stop pandering to constituencies.

I don't know how many of the politicians on our ballots today are that kind of leader, but we can hope and we can pray.

Monday, November 5, 2018

First Thoughts On More Blood More Tracks, the Latest Dylan Bootleg

We take so much for granted in life. As one who has worked in marketing I am continually impressed by the orchestration involved in a new launch from the team. Quite a ways before the launch the publicity machine begins. Then the website, BobDylan.com, is re-arranged to feature the new album, CD, series or product line (e.g. Heaven's Door).

The PR machine goes to work and an article by Jeff Slate, who wrote the liner notes, appears in The New Yorker days before. Links to many of the tracks from the Deluxe edition appear on NPR's website, deliciously selected to amplify desire.

All the ducks are in a row so fans can pre-order, and a launch date is set. Finally there is the "execution" phase, which is coordinated with Amazon and shipping entities so that Bootleg Series #14: More Blood, More Tracks arrives at my door precisely on the day they said it would more than a month ago.

It's all first class, a model of execution, year in and year out. Any company with an established fan base could probably get an education from watching the machinery here. Can the company you work for, if you work for a company that has new products, accomplish this?

* * * *

After several listens I feel obligated to make a few observations based on first impressions.

1. If Dylan had not re-recorded half the album at Sound 80 in Minneapolis, Blood on the Tracks would never have been a Double Platinum album. I may be wrong, but my impression is that the stripped out version of these songs leaves them lacking in some way. Dylan may have captured what he was looking for in New York, but after he got it he must have felt it was missing something, though he couldn't put his finger on it.

2. My immediate thought here after a few listens was that the original New York sessions had produced something akin to John Wesley Harding, itself critically acclaimed with a lot of very good songs, conscientiously avoiding overproduction.

3. Being intimately acquainted with the backstory of the December sessions here in Minnesota, I can't help but feel that like so many things in Dylan's career serendipity proved to be a key factor, and that by trusting his "better angels" or that "Dylan instinct" we ended up with something so magical that one of the songs itself is about the twists of fate that sometimes serve as a form of saving grace.

EdNote: Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the great strategists and commanders in the history of warfare. Of the top 20 battles of all time more than half were conceived and executed by Napoleon. When it came to planning, he was very thorough in his planning, yet simultaneously he "recognized Chance as a variable and believed every plan should allow a period of time to remedy or exploit the unpredictable." Dylan's career seems to have been repeatedly  a beneficiary of the element of Chance. 

* * * *
Jeff Slate's liner notes are a good read. I liked the inclusion of this Dylan quote on page 6:

"The thing about rock and roll is that, for me anyways, it wasn't enough. There were great catch-phrases and driving pulse rhythms, but the songs weren't serious or didn't reflect life in a realistic way. I knew that when I got into folk music, it was more of a serious type of thing. The songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings."

That quote, from when Dylan turned 50*, is pure Dylan.

I admire Tony Attwood's effort to write on Untold Dylan about every song (that he could find) that Dylan has recorded. Though I've covered quite a few Dylan songs on this blog over the years, there are some I've desired to tackle but felt inadequate to the task. "Ballad of a Thin Man" is one of these that I still desire to offer my own spin on someday; "Tangled Up In Blue" has been aanother I've shied away from. And so it was fun to see Jeff Slate's Culture Desk piece in The New Yorker this past week.

In the liner notes Slate, which is such a cool name that it ought to be a magazine, notes that Dylan drew inspiration from the painting classes he'd been taking, as well as the stories of Anton Chekov. I

I found this sentence to be pretty cool, having seen some of Dylan's handwritten lyrics that are in the possession of Bill Pagel, keeper of BobLinks.com and collector of artifacts: I listened while perusing Dylan’s fabled “red notebook,” in which he’d written the lyrics to the ten songs on “Blood on the Tracks” in his tiny, precise scrawl. I love that description at the end of the sentence. So precise.**

Slate also noted: A decade later, in 1984, on the album “Real Live,” Dylan felt he’d finally found the song he’d been looking for. “On ‘Real Live’ it is more like it should have been,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1985.

Yes, that was a great concert, and yet another great version of "Tangled Up In Blue." (Carlos Santana joins Dylan and band for the encore in that one.)

Slate continues: Dylan has performed “Tangled Up in Blue” 1,546 times during his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and is still going. Like any good Dylan obsessive, I’ve seen many of those performances. It’s a guilty pleasure of Dylanologists to trainspot the tweaks—both large and small—that Dylan makes to the lyrics from year to year, or sometimes from night to night.

That observation also rings true, as long time Dylan fans well know.

4 of the 6 players from the Mnpls sessions on set of Paul Metsa's Wall of Power
L to R: Billy Peterson, Gregg Inhofer, Kevin Odegard, Paul Metsa, Peter Ostoushko

Related Links
More Blood, More Tracks -- The Bootleg Series Thunders On
Bob Dylan's First Day with Tangled Up In Blue, in The New Yorker
* Los Angeles Times, Pop Music: Bob Dylan Turns 50
* * Bill Pagel's "Einstein Disguised As Robin Hood" Exhibition
BOTT players on the set of Paul Metsa's Wall of Power two weeks ago.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Unexpected Gambler Robert Asiel Shares Insights on the Old Days of Cheating Casinos

In the wild west, sometimes cheats had an ace up their sleeve.
I was introduced to the world of gaming cheats through Terry Roses, "The Honest Cheat." Roses is a lifelong magician who, according to the magicians code, will not use his skills (sleight of hand, etc.) for crooked purposes. This never stopped Terry from studying the ways of the wilier wayward ones. In this manner Roses has become an expert who trains casino surveillance personnel on how to recognize cheats. In addition to giving seminars related to "Optical Warfare at the Gaming Table" (in which he shows the variety of techniques used to mark cards, among other things) he has also invented a device called the Inspecta Card Scanner which enables casinos to maintain a level playing field for their customers by eliminating marked card cheats. (Visit: DetectMarkedCards.com)

I first wrote about Terry Roses in 2016 after a visit to his secret laboratory. More recently I have met with Terry a few times, each time coming home with fascinating stories, including introductions to a couple writers whose memoirs detail highlights of their lives "on the muscle," an expression explained below by Robert Asiel, author of The Unexpected Gambler: A History of Casinos Cheating the Public and One Gambler's Revenge.

I'd love to share how Terry gave me a card-reading lesson in which I learned to see a "mark" on a card that was previously not there till I learned how to see it, but this is Robert Asiel's story, so we'll save that for another day. All gambling involves odds and risk, but the more those odds are shifted in your favor, the lower the risk.

My interview here with Mr. Asiel is aimed at informing about, not glorifying, the cheater's life. If at times you see here echoes of The Sting and its sequel, I wouldn't be surprised. I've included a link to his book at the end.

EN: You began your gambling career as a 17-year-old blackjack dealer in Vegas. What year was that? And how quickly were you aware that some of the gaming was rigged?

Robert Asiel: I began dealing blackjack in 1963 at the Lucky Casino on Fremont Street. Before I dealt there, I worked there as a shill and witnessed craps dealers shorting winning players their payoffs, and picking up “sleepers.” Sleepers were winning bets that bettors forgot to pick up.

One week after I began dealing 21, I was taught by a senior dealer how to cheat the public on the money wheel (The Big 6 Wheel). I was warned by him that if I couldn’t protect the game I would be fired. Several weeks after I began dealing, I met a 21 dealer, through a friend, who worked at the Lucky but on an earlier shift. He told me he was working for the casino as a mechanic, meaning he was cheating the public for the casino, for an extra $100 per day plus his salary and tips. He showed me his cheating techniques and I had no reason to disbelieve him. He and my friend were trying to recruit me to do business (cheat) against the casino which I agreed to do. They introduced me to two middle-aged crossroaders who were people that cheated casinos full-time. We made a plan to beat the casino which was successful.

Before I witnessed cheating at the Lucky Casino, I was aware that casinos cheated through newspaper articles about casinos caught cheating and closed and through friends who worked as 21 dealers.

EN: How many years did you stay in Vegas and when did you begin taking your revenge on the casinos by cheating yourself?

RA: I stayed in Vegas just over three years. I had made several 21 cheating plays against two casinos with two 21 dealing friends of mine before I went to work at the Lucky Casino. While a dealer at the Lucky, I made several successful cheating plays. After leaving the Lucky, I became a successful crossroader.

EN: What did you feel inside when you first started down that path? Were you afraid early on? How long did it take to become a pro at cheating?

RA: I felt guilty but got over it. I never felt afraid because what I did was safe. I always felt nervous until years later after some other than casino life experiences. I considered myself a professional crossroader when I returned to Nevada in 1969.

This ordinary card has been marked and a pro can read it.
EN: How did the casinos address cheating in those days?

RA: If a casino suspected an employee of cheating, or caught him, he would be fired and possibly black-balled from working in other casinos. I knew one dealer who was fired for cheating but did get a job in another casino. I never heard of a dealer being arrested for cheating in my early casino career. There were rumors of dealers and crossroaders being roughed-up, but none that I knew except one. He was the first crossroader I had met who told me that one time while waiting in a casino’s back-room for a sheriff deputy to arrive to arrest him, a casino security guard stomped on his foot breaking a few toes. He told me he had been arrested numerous times for cheating in Vegas but paid a local bondsman who would have the charges dismissed. Gambling offenses were misdemeanors in Nevada until around 1980. A personal experience of mine being back-roomed happened was when I was nineteen-years-old. It was in a mob-run casino in the Bahamas where a boxman had nailed me switching dice on his game. The casino manager there threatened me with a warning but I was soon released unharmed.

EN: One of the things that aided in your success was working with confederates. How did you find confederates whom you could trust?

RA: I met my confederates through others I had worked with. I was immature and trusted everyone I met. I was betrayed twice but choose not to mention that in my book. Most crossroaders I met had been casino dealers who were black-balled, or found it more lucrative to work “on the outside” rather than “the inside.” Outside meaning “on the muscle.”

EN: Can you describe some of the ways you would signal one another so that the “eyes in the sky” were unaware of what was going on?

RA: The signals that crossroaders used that I learned were universal. Touching your nose means trouble. Same with a closed fist on a table. Touching your chin means everything is OK. Crossing one arm across your chest also meant OK as well as an open hand on a table. Brushing off your sleeve meant to exit. Brushing quickly meant to leave quickly. Touching an eye meant you want to talk to someone in private. Same for pulling your ear. There were verbal signals as well. George meant everything is OK. Tom meant bad. Mr. Long meant a high-roller, etc. When I formed my own crew we invented our own much-improved set of signals.

EN: What is the biggest mistake cheats make that gives them away?

RA: Greed. Going to the well too often or winning too much money on a play.

EN: Today’s casinos are run by corporations. How did Nevada clean up the mob connections to the casinos?

These are all "crooked dice" from Terry Roses' private collection.
RA: It was a long, complicated process because of political, economic, and other considerations. Nevada had to clean-up their act when FBI undercover operations against mob-run casinos succeeded in convicting nationwide mob members and associates. Nevada legislators found legitimate owners to take over the corrupted casinos to keep those casinos from closing and throwing hundreds of people out of work. Most of the casino bosses who had run the casinos for the mob kept their jobs.

EN: What about cheating today?

RA: It’s impossible to totally stop casino cheating — casinos couldn’t hire enough employees to watch every single transaction that continuously takes place in a casino. There will always be money leakage in casinos everywhere. Employees discover new methods to steal chips and cash, and will work with crossroaders using new moves. Today’s crossroaders are more geek than magician that use modern technology to assault casino games and slot machines. To combat the cheaters, the casinos buy state-of-the-art surveillance cameras and hire private experts to train their casino surveillance personnel on how to police crooked employees and crossroaders. One expert invented a device called the Inspecta Card Scanner that will discover any type of marked cards in a casino.*

Today, it’s unlikely that any U.S. land-based casinos are cheating the public. Most casinos are owned by multi-million dollar corporations that couldn’t afford to be caught cheating and lose their gaming license. Quasi-cheating is practiced openly in some smaller casinos and riverboats. What I mean is this: a dealer will keep track of how many aces and ten-value cards have been dealt. If the deck has proportionately more big cards and aces than normal, the dealer will shuffle the remaining cards early to take away the 3-to-2 bonus for a player having a blackjack, and to lessen his chance of busting his hand. If those cards are dealt early, the dealer will then deal out all the cards before shuffling.

* * * *

If this kind of thing interests you, let me know. I have many more stories to share.

Related Links
The Unexpected Gambler
Inspect Card Scanner
The memoirs of Fast Jack: The Last Hustler

Saturday, November 3, 2018

History and Myth in the Sunshine State: Boca Raton Museum of Art Celebrates History of Florida

In the land of pink flamingos and pink sunsets.
November 13, 2018 through March 24, 2019

Because my parents wintered in Florida, and after my father's passing my mother continued, I've had an opportunity to see a lot of art there over the years. The City of Tampa has a wonderful museum where we saw a Norman Rockwell exhibition in 2015. The adjacent St. Petersburg is home to the incomparable Dali Museum. In fact, the nearby Warehouse District is awash with public art and galleries. Another favorite art space on the Western coast of Florida is the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. It's part of the campus that includes the Ringling Bros. Circus Museum and Ca' d'Zan, the majestic home Mable built for her husband John, youngest of the five Ringling brothers.

In less than two weeks the Boca Raton Museum of Art will be hosting a massive exhibition called:

IMAGINING FLORIDA:
HISTORY AND MYTH
IN THE SUNSHINE STATE

With art spanning three centuries, Boca Raton Museum of Art aims to present the untold story of Florida through the eyes of Florida artists. It's billed as the most comprehensive and all-embracing Florida themed show of its kind, with more than 200 works of art that celebrate how the Sunshine State has inspired artists across three centuries.

In Spanish boca means mouth, and raton means mouse, so you might think it funny to name a city in that way. The name comes from the words' navigational origins in which "boca" was used to describe an inlet. Raton pertained to the sharp rocks which ship captains had to steer clear of. Today, Boca Raton is associated with wealth and beauty, and their beautiful art museum reflect this.
The exhibition features paintings, drawings and photography.
This anthology of art made in and inspired by Florida and its people, places, flora, and fauna was three years in the making, guest-curated by Dr. Jennifer Hardin and Mr. Gary Monroe. The show features not only Forida artists but renowned painters who visited Florida and were enticed by its beauty. From natural landscapes to frontier outposts to burgeoning towns, the scenes featured in Imagining Florida portray many different aspects of the state, including its deep-rooted Seminole and Miccosukee heritage, its historic African American communities, and its identity as a tourist destination.

According to the Boca Raton Museum website:
Many of their selections have rarely been seen and are from some of the leading museums and collections throughout the United States. Artists and photographers include: Milton Avery, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Laura Woodward, Purvis Young, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Bunny Yeager, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Doris Lee, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, John James Audubon, Frederic Remington, William Bartram, Sally Michel, Thomas Moran, George Catlin, Frederick Frieseke, and George de Forest Brush. Imagining Florida is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue.

Here are some additional images from Imagining Florida, the first being a famous bridge to St. Petersburg that I have crossed many times:

The Hunt
Betty Page, with the Prey.
John Singer Sargent was here.
Getting a little yard work done before we play, Florida style.

One more shout out: https://www.bocamuseum.org

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