Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Old Two Harbors Super One

In the late 80s and early 90s our family used to take some vacation time at some cabins up the North Shore just beyond Gooseberry Falls. Each time we went we'd stop at the Super One grocery store in Two Harbors for supplies.

This summer I learned that the grocery store is no more. Instead, the building is being renovated and will feature  a candy making business and numerous other reasons to stop.

Muralist Brian Olson (creator of the Palace Theater mural in Superior) is making his mark in Two Harbors, both outside and inside the former grocery store. 

It's an ambitious project and impressive space.

Did you know that 4 million people drive up the North Shore
through Two Harbors every year? 
This new complex will be just one more reason
to stop along the way next time you're heading North.


Can't wait till it's completed. My grandson is gonna love it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tech Tuesday: The 5G Conspiracy

Back in the 90s, Minnesota Power was seeking to shore up its power resources by adding a backup connection to the grid that comes out of Chicago. What this meant was the addition of a corridor of high tension wires across Wisconsin.

As you might expect, there were plenty of people opposed to this. "Not in my back yard" applies to all kinds of matters, and having wires strung across the back 40 doesn't always have a lot of appeal for most people.

Well, one day a full page ad appeared in the newspaper paid for by these opponents. The ad included a quote from a friend of mine who was the PR spokesperson for the power company. The ad declared how evil he personally and the power company were for placing deadly power lines across the land. The ad informed readers that 60 children and infants had purportedly died from the low-frequency magnetic fields that were generated when strung across a reservation in Canada.

60 children died? This is quite an indictment. Was it true? Are power lines this unsafe? (The answer is no, though it will kill you if you illegally trespass, climb a tower and touch the wires.)

That story came to mind when I read Kaitlyn Tiffany's article in the May issue of The Atlantic, Something's in the Air. The article is about conspiracy theories related to technology in general, and with regards to 5G specifically. 

She opens with by noting that cancer caused by power lines was a major conviction of many people back in the 70s. Televisions and microwave ovens were believed to be human health risks. More recently, the notion of having cell phones next to our brains was leading to brain damage. (That is why I always put you on speaker phone. JK)

In short, Tiffany begins her article by citing the manner in which our paranoia can be fed when we do not understand technologies. 

I once wrote an article about how we are constantly bombarded with radio waves and sound waves and other kinds of wavs, that if we could see it all, we'd see that we are sitting in a solid mass of waves. What looks like empty space is not empty at all.

The article's intro is designed to remind us that in the light of history (and I am surprised the Luddites didn't get noted at this point) the current resistance to 5G shouldn't surprise us. What is surprising, however, is its vehemence. She writes:

A wildly disorienting pandemic coming at the same time as the global rollout of 5G—the newest technology standard for wireless networks—has only made matters worse. “5G launched in CHINA. Nov 1, 2019. People dropped dead,” the singer Keri Hilson wrote in a now-deleted tweet to her 4.2 million followers in March. As the coronavirus spread throughout Europe, fears about 5G appear to have animated a rash of vandalism and arson of mobile infrastructure, including more than 30 incidents in the U.K. in just the first 10 days of April. In the case of one arson attack in the Netherlands, the words “Fuck 5G” were reportedly found scrawled at the scene.

The article is well researched and quotes people from different points of view. David Savitz, an epidemiologist, notes how cell phones went from nowhere to everywhere in about a decade. Simultaneously, wifi and cell towers became ubiquitous.  "Now nearly every public urban place has Wi-Fi," he said, "and we will soon have small cell towers every few blocks. Whether or not you believe this will give you brain cancer, you didn’t have a chance to opt out."

Further on in the article Tiffany writes about businesses that have emerged to protect us from the adverse effects of all this technology, both products and services. Would you like your new home inspected to make sure it's not killing you? For $150 an hour, this can be done. If you know who to call. (A 21st century version of Ghostbusters, I suppose.)

Everything above is only scratching the surface as to why the 5G rollout has encountered resistance. There's that whole other aspect of a techno-culture with wraparound surveillance. They can be watching and listening to us everywhere we go. They track us by our cell phones. Why not all the other sensors in our Internet-of-Things world?

BOTTOM LINE: It's an informative deep dive into a complex issue. Wherever you stand on this issue, I believe Kaitlyn Tiffany brings a fair and thorough overview of what's happening in our age of disruptions.

Here's the link:

Monday, September 28, 2020

Peg Leg Joe and the Drinking Gourd Song

One of our favorite jazz singers at Oldenburg House in Carlton has been Bruce Henry. In addition to being a first-rank entertain, he's also an educator. One of the curriculums he's developed is called The Evolution of African American Music: A Comprehensive Journey Through Time and Culture. Every once in a while I dip into the material and draw inspiration from the stories. 

I don't think we fully appreciate how much African culture is infused in the music we listen to today. In fact, in these troubled times, I wouldn't be surprised if the one thing that could potentially bring us all together as a nation and mend our various wounds, especially the racial divides, it would be music.

Yesterday Susie said something interesting. I can't remember what was playing, but she said, "If I had to go to an island and bring but one kind of music, it would be jazz."

We like nearly all kinds of music though, and what's interesting in how much of it is root in styles that had African origins. In the second lesson of Henry's curriculum he identifies at least 10 distinctive features of African music that are part of our music today, even our Gospel music.

Because music was so much a part of the African culture, it's not surprising that music and song were features of life for plantation slaves preceding the Civil War. Had music NOT been part of a slaves life, the story of Peg Leg Joe would not make any sense.

* * * *

It's interesting how creative the human spirit is. When I heard stories of the POWs of the Hanoi Hilton, I was struck by how they were able to utilize means of communication that were developed by Americans held captive during the Korean War. Necessity is the mother of invention.

So it was that slaves communicated to one another through songs that contained coded messages. Songs like "Steal Away" and "Wade in the Water" had both religious meaning and hidden meanings for African Americans. 

Before the Civil War, in the days of the Underground Railroad, there was an old man named Peg Leg Joe who had ideas of how to help slaves escape to the North. Some have suggested he is only a legend, but he may well have been a real person. He had purportedly been a sailor and because of a missing limb wore a prosthesis. 

Because of his commitment to help slaves escape to the North he developed a song which he taught to slaves everywhere he went. The song was called "Follow the Drinking Gourd." 

Whatever could this mean? Wade in the Water can be about hiding your trail from the bloodhounds, but what's this drinking gourd song about?

Most of us who've had any basics at all in astronomy know what the big dipper is. We also learn early in life how to locate the North Star, by following the two stars on the outer edge of the dipper, or "drinking gourd," a dipper made from a gourd. 

The big dipper and little dipper may be well-known to us now, but what if you lived in the Southern Hemisphere. What were the sky signs for travel below the equator?

Peg Leg Joe went from plantation to plantation, singing and teaching this most useful piece of advice. Freedom is that-away. If you're wanting to go North, the night sky will show you the way. Follow the Drinking Gourd. 

Related Links
The Evolution of African American Music
Peg Leg Joe (wikipedia)
Songs of the Underground Railroad (wikipedia)
An illustration showing how to use the Big Dipper to find the North Star
Bruce Henry Shares His Life as an American Griot

Photo by the Author: Bruce Henry, Cookin' at the O. Matt Mobley on bass

Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Experience on a Grand Jury

When we see jury trials in movies, it is usually "a jury of one's peers" assembled in a courtroom for a specific purpose. There is usually a room full of spectators who have a vested interest in the outcome of events unfolding in the moment. Some have been subpoenaed, required to attend. Depending on the importance of the case, the. room is sparsely populated or crammed to the gills.

This is not the same as a grand jury. The trial jury, a public event, serves for the duration of a trial to determine guilt or innocence. A grand jury is a group of citizens sworn in to serve for a full six months, and with a different objective. The objective of a grand jury is to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict. That is, enough evidence to bring a person to trial. puts it like this:

A grand jury helps determine whether charges should be brought against a suspect, while a trial jury renders a verdict at the criminal trial itself. Put differently, a grand jury hands down an indictment at the beginning of a case, while a trial jury decides guilt or innocence at the very end (not counting the appeal process). 

Grand jury proceedings are held in strict confidence to encourage witnesses to speak freely, as well as to protect the suspect if the grand jury decides not to bring charges.

In Minnesota, there are two types of cases that get brought before a grand jury, murder (1) and cases involving high profile citizens (2). Examples might be a mayor, district attorney or city councilman. The reason for this latter matter is that reputations are at stake. If the high profile person is involved in an incident and it is not his or her fault, this should be handled in privacy. Unlike trials in the movies or shows like Perry Mason, grand jury deliberations have no media, no audience. The grand jury chamber only has a judge, jury, court recorder, and the attorneys who bring their evidence and, one by one, their witnesses.

* * * *

In my six months service on the Grand Jury we only had one case to preside over. The case involved a public figure who unintentionally caused physical harm to another person.

There were 23 of us on the jury. It is not a 12 person jury. 

It was our responsibility to decide whether to indict or not indict the public figure. If we decided the person was guilty, the prosecuting attorney's next step would be to file charges and prepare the case to go to trial, a public event.

One of the responsibilities of the grand jury is to never share what happened or what we heard and saw in the grand jury chambers. The word "never" means forever. And though I took copious notes throughout, I will not divulge details here, other than the process by which we made our determination not to indict.

The attorney on behalf of the victim presented first. This attorney showed us the consequences of the event that occurred. We saw medical records and heard a presentation of details from the point of view of the victim. It didn't take long for us to conclude that the "high profile person" had done a bad thing and was guilty.

Then the defense had its turn. 

The event had occurred in a public place and there were many witnesses. The police had done a thorough job of acquiring names and contact information from everyone who was there, and we listened as each one told what they saw.

The original picture that had been formed in our minds was not accurate at all. There was much more to the story. After hearing 15 to 20 witnesses tell what they saw and heard, the jury had to make a decision. 

Someone had been assigned the responsibility of being the lead spokesperson of our group. When we were left to ourselves to deliberate, he gave us all a scrap of paper and asked us to write our verdicts on these pieces of paper. It seemed to him, and we concurred, that there is no point in a long drawn out discussion if we were already all in agreement.

I believe the decision had to be unanimous, and in that first go-round it turned out we had 22 "not guilty" and 1 on the fence. 

A discussion ensued and in retrospect I feel wrong about what happened next. We had to make a decision or come back the next day and has things out. One of the members of the jury was grumbling about it and didn't think we needed to come back the next day. In point of fact, no one wanted to lose another day of work. (We were being compensated $35 a day for our service, if I remember correctly.) The person with doubts, therefore, was under pressure to go along with the rest because to not go along would inconvenience 22 other people. 

Was justice served? One could argue that it's unfair that the person with wealth and power got off scot free and another human was permanently disabled. The perpetrator, however, was also a victim of circumstances. And he did not get off "scot free." He had to deal with the aftermath of what happened, regretting it the rest of his life. 

There's much more to the story but we were sworn to secrecy and I can't share things that might give any clues. 

* * * *

This grand jury experience came to mind when I saw the outrage with regard to the Breonna Taylor verdict in which officers were tried by grand jury to determine whom and how many to indict of what. 

We do not know all the evidence that was presented. What I do know is that all kinds of information gets passed around on Twitter and through the media that may or may not have a shred of truth. I was not there and I have no idea what all the facts are. What I do believe is that the jurors themselves realized that they had a solemn responsibility and did not take it lightly. 

There are good reasons why many people do not have confidence in the criminal justice system. There are also plenty of valid reasons for having little confidence in the media. It goes without saying that social media can be even less reliable.

* * * *

Perhaps an Oscar Wilde quote would can serve as a summing up at this point. "The truth is rarely pure and never simple." 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Edward R Murrow's "Wires and Lights in a Box" Speech

Last weekend I picked up Good Night, And Good Luck for 50 cents at a rummage sale. David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow is uncanny. And 50 cents for a great film is a steal.

If you recall, the film begins with Strathairn as Murrow addressing a black tie media event in mid-October 1958. The actual speech he delivered is much longer than what we hear in the film, so I thought it worthwhile to find it online and share it.  

Murrow, as a journalist, came to national prominence through his radio coverage of World War II, doing live broadcasts from Europe for CBS. He was a noted pioneer in the medium of radio and television. He was committed to the highest ideals of journalism and believed in its importance, and the importance of integrity. His courage in confronting Senator Joseph McCarthy resulted in events that led to McCarthy's censure by the Senate.

The film has a stellar cast, including Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson, George Clooney and Frank Langella as William Paley, head of CBS. Langella is always at home in these roles, playing people with weight. I think here of the film Dave.

Sig Mickelson (Jeff Daniels) introduces Murrow who takes the podium and, with appropriate gravity, addresses the leading members of the journalism profession.

This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But I am persuaded that the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television in this generous and capacious land. I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard the one that produces words and pictures. You will, I am sure, forgive me for not telling you that the instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you of the fact that your voice, amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other, does not confer upon you greater wisdom than when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.

You should also know at the outset that, in the manner of witnesses before Congressional committees, I appear here voluntarily-by invitation-that I am an employee of the Columbia Broadcasting System, that I am neither an officer nor any longer a director of that corporation and that these remarks are strictly of a "do-it-yourself" nature. If what I have to say is responsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it. Seeking neither approbation from my employers, nor new sponsors, nor acclaim from the critics of radio and television, I cannot very well be disappointed. Believing that potentially the commercial system of broadcasting as practiced in this country is the best and freest yet devised, I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in mind no reasonable grounds for any kind of personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.

When he says, "These instruments have been good to me beyond my due," he is referring to the media of radio and television. "Beyond my due" may be referencing the expectations life may have had for him as an infant born on Polecat Creek, North Carolina, in a log cabin with no electricity or running water.

Further on he says:

This nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information, we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.

Remember, this is post-McCarthyism 1958.

I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

In his second-to-last paragraph we have a summing up, and the reference from which the speech took its title.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

* * * *

In the final paragraph he cites a quote from General Stonewall Jackson. In light of recent events, would his advisors have encouraged him to use a quote from a more politically correct source?

I strongly encourage anyone, especially those working in the journalism profession, to read the full transcript of Murrow's "Wires and Lights in a Box" speech.

* * * * 

Trivia: The R in Edward R. Murrow's name is for Roscoe, which was my grandfather's name. Both were born in the first decade of the last century, so it initially made me wonder what famous Roscoe they were named after at the time. Further reading led me to discover he was named after his father.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Governors, Politics and Our 50 Disunited States

Times are strange. In any number of ways 2020 has been different than any year in recent -- or distant -- memory. Besides the pandemic and the ongoing protests, riots and violence in many cities, has there ever been a time where the role of governors has been so pronounced, so in the news?

I don't think I can remember ever seeing governors in the news this much unless they were positioning themselves for a presidential run. (e.g, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Chris Christie)

Presidents have been making edicts forever. FDR's Executive Order 9066 to send Japanese Americans to internment camps is one early example. But in our 2020 this kind of edict-making power has filtered down to lower and lower levels of government. Governors are making decisions about who can and can't meet, and how many can assemble or be denied assembly. Governors are making decisions to interfere or not interfere with protesters, and to what degree. 

This power by edict has extended still further into cities making decisions about defunding police and whether plastic bags or plastic straws should be made illegal. 

In light of all this the story about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis caught my attention. This past Monday Gov. DeSantis vowed to defund cities that defund police

Does this mean that governors who favor defunding can make edicts to defund cities that don't defund police?

How far does this edict making go? California's governor made an edict this week saying no more gas-powered cars can be sold in California after 2035. It will be interesting to see if the infrastructure can be developed so that electric cars can be re-powered as easily as our current gas station convenience store transportation model. If the rest of the country doesn't follow suit, and gas stations close due to lack of business in 2050, will this have an effect on tourism by car if there's nowhere to refuel? How will the energy be generated to create all the extra electricity? The idealism is noteworthy. The other 49 states will learn from this experiment. 

30 years ago California decided to protect its citizens from harmful chemicals in products by requiring the top five ingredients be identified on the bottle. This transparency would protect their citizens. For many, companies, if not most, their formulas were proprietary. To address this, California created additional bureaucracy to enable companies to register their top 5 products and get codes to place on the bottle that concealed this information.

I was an in-house ad agency for a company in the screen printing industry and we had to acquire these codes and place them on the label. Not to be outdone, New Jersey followed suit. Now I had to make room for two blocks of non-identifying numbers. Shortly after, Pennsylvania made the same edict. In the interest of the people, of course. If this were to continue, there would be no room for the name of the product on the bottle because one of our products came in a bottle not much larger than 100 tablets of aspirin. What's silly is that the people still didn't know what chemicals were in the bottle.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and even though Pennsylvania passed this consumer-right-to-know law, they soon notified companies selling products in that state that they would not enforce it.


Life is complicated. Let's not make it moreso. 

Related Links
The 12 Boldest Executive Orders In History
Gov Murphy Usurps Legislative Powers with Latest Edict
Executive Powers in Times of Crisis

Photo by Massimo Virgilio on Unsplash

Thursday, September 24, 2020

1917 Is a Breathtaking, Visually Stunning Masterpiece

As the film opens you see the words April 6 in small letters above a large 1917. This film is about a single day in the Great War. 

The opening shot begins with a view of a green field lush with wildflowers, slowly pulling back to reveal two weary British soldiers resting, one lying on his back, helmet over his eyes, and the other leaning against a tree. A third soldier enters the frame--we only see his legs--gently kicks the first soldier to wake him, and says, "Blake. Pick a man. Bring your kit."

The two soldiers stand up and begin walking. The camera doesn't blink as they proceed to walk through a camp where other soldiers are busy with various activities, and then proceed into the trenches, the camera eye still open, a single long shot from the first, first leading them and then following them. They arrive at an underground bunker to report to the general -- who would rarely come in person to this position so near to the front. "It must be something important."

As it turns out, it is very important. The Germans have withdrawn from their lines and appear to be on the run, but British reconnaissance has revealed that they've set up a trap, dug in new entrenchments 9 miles back. There is a British wing that intends to pursue the retreating Germans without knowing they will be massacred. And there is no way to communicate with them because their communication lines have been cut by the enemy. Blake's brother is one of those 1600 men who will be wiped out should the next day's attack be undertaken.

Your job, boys, is to bring this memo to the commanding officer Major Stevens, to stop the invasion before it begins. "You think you can get there in time?"

The camera has yet to break. They leave the command center and return to the crowded trench, making haste to get on with the mission, Blake driven by a need to save his brother. You can see Blake's agitation as he pushes through the trench, increasingly disturbed.

Ten minutes in and this whole intro is clearly a tribute to previous masters of film. The long opening shot from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil comes to mind, given a nod again in The Player. And it's impossible not to be reminded of Kirk Douglas walking through the trenches in Kubrick's Paths of Glory.  

The soundtrack's ebb and flow is fairly tense throughout. The scenery is an epic re-creation of what it must have been like in that horrorshow of a war. As the two young men begin their journey, everything they see and experience is undoubtedly the way it was, a stomach-wrenching scene of death and decay. 

The film won three academy awards. It's easy to see why. In a hundred ways the film shows us how awful war can be, but also what heroism is. The latter is why the film garnered such praise.

What is heroism? It begins with a clear sense of purpose, and a commitment to do whatever it takes to attain that objective. 

Unlike the objective in Paths of Glory, capturing an ant hill, the hero here is risking everything to save the lives of 1600 fellow soldiers. The manifold obstacles between him and his goal are what drive the story.  

Lance Corporal Blake is played by Dean-Charles Chapman, his companion Lance Corporal Schofield played by George MacKay. 

There are so many features that make this a great film. The directing, cinematography, acting, soundtrack, the storyline and the emotions it invokes all contribute. The simple, subtle manner in which you find yourself drawn into the story is utterly brilliant, a sleight of hand maneuver that effectively weds you to these two young men who must carry out an impossible mission.

In short, the film is an achievement of the first order, and as grisly and gritty as it was, it leaves you rewarded for having invested the time to see it. 10 stars out of 10.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Hevesh5 Dominoes Setup Illustrates Concept of Viral Marketing

How does a blog post go viral? Can you "make" digital content go viral? 

Well, if you have something unusual and interesting enough, it might go viral. Here's a video compilation of dominoes being knocked down. 

Guess what? It didn't happen overnight. I mean, think of all the setting up that had to take place in order for these videos could be filmed? Think of the investment in dominoes, and the time invested in setting this all up. 

No doubt this was not their first rodeo. 

What is it that makes this video so compelling? Two things, I think. First, most of us have had some kind of personal experience setting up dominoes and making them fall. So we have a certain nostalgia thing going. Second, it's real. There are no special effects. It's down-to-earth. Third, there's so much creativity in the layouts that it's inspirational. It makes you wonder how to take other things that are ordinary and elevate them to a higher level.

It doesn't hurt any that the dominoes themselves are so colorful.

Eventually the setups go beyond dominoes and become Rube Goldberg-esque in their execution. 

Her most recent project involved 32,000 dominoes which she spent three months setting up. And I see she's leveraging her passion for dominoes into some entrepreneurial channels. Her moniker is Hevesh5. Just as one is curious what will happen next in her setups, so it is that some of will be following to see what happens next in here career.

* * * * 

It's going to be another beautiful day here in the Northland, probably our last. You may want to skip the Dominoes this afternoon and catch a breath of fresh air. Cooler weather is coming and it won't be long till Jack Frost takes up residence here again. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Eight Stories to Fill Downtime During Your Lockdown

When I built my first website in 1995 it included a section devoted to art by two crayon artists, Jeffrey Robert and Don Marco. I also used the web to share some of my fiction. The global internet--World Wide Web--was in its infancy then. Very early on three of my stories were translated into other languages. A couple years later I posted two short stories by my daughter. They ended up being published in California and New Zealand. 

Here are a few of the stories I shared at back then. No need to buy the books they appear in. I wrote them to be shared and enjoyed.

The M Zone
The revelation came suddenly. Like an "Aha!"... only it was an "Oh no!."

Two Acts That Changed the World
Of the dozen or so German physicists who had been assigned the task of building a super-bomb for Germany, Wilhelm Kurtweil more than any knew the consequences for humanity should the Nazis succeed in being the first to achieve this ultimate quest.

The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston
How impossible to know what is real and what is not.

The Nose
The crammed little bar sizzled with energy. So much was happening in the room that it began to unsettle him. He wondered why he ever said he would meet his friends here.

[Story inspired by an incident that happened to Italo Calvino's Mr. Palomar]

An Unremembered History of the World
This story begins slow, does not follow modern conventions of quick exciting hook etc. It is old fashioned. It exists because the author believed the story was worth the work and the reader who worked at it would be rewarded. I would not have it on this site if it were not important to me.

A Poem About Truth
The opening lines are derivative. The story is original. The message is timeless.

Terrorists Preying
Although I'd been an art major in college -- mostly painting and drawing -- I became discouraged with it shortly after graduation and gave it up. I was living with my family on Long Island at the time and for some while afterwards I still visited the New York art galleries, making regular tours of the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Modern.

What finally got me out of art was the whole directionlessness of it all....

The Breaking Point
It was a Wednesday when the bill arrived. Cassie Hedberg's birthday was the following Monday, so it wasn't too difficult to put one and one together to make two.

Winner of the 1991 Arrowhead Regional Arts Fiction Competition

* * * * 

Still looking for more good reads, here's a link to four more, stories by Anton Chekov, Jack London, Jospeh Conrad, Jorge Luis Borges.

Monday, September 21, 2020

What Was the Best Acted Movie Scene of All Time?

I personally think Twitter is underrated. As a source of information it's a bit of Wild West, but that's OK because all other media has an agenda, therefore it curates the stories it features to serve its own ends. 
As a source of entertainment, too, Twitter is endlessly entertaining. People are simply so imaginative and you see it displayed in the memes and other things shared there. It's also interactive. People ask questions or share things and the responses can take you all kinds of places. 
This morning this question captured my attention: What is the best-acted movie scene of all time and why? 

Before you read the answers by others, what scenes come to mind for you? The first that came to mind for me was that scene around the dining room table in August, Osage County when all the revelations come out. Not sure why that one came to mind first because after reading through part of this list I agreed with many of their selected moments.

The opening scene from Inglorious Basterds has to be on of the great scenes of all time. The tension!

Someone else selected Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and I would concur that the emotion she conveyed was palpable.

A third scene that someone suggested: the courtroom scene with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men.

At this point I started thinking that Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks and many others have given us numerous exceptional and noteworthy scenes. The best of the best are worth their weight in gold.

Here's the link:

Read through the list. I am confident it will stimulate many rewarding memories for you.

* * * * 
Photo by Vincentas Liskauskas on Unsplash

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Celebrity Culture: How Did It Happen and Where Is It Going?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Public domain)
The other day someone sent me a note about our Ruth-less Supreme Court. I'd not immediately made the connection, having failed to hear the news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's passing. 

Last night, I went looking for articles about the word Ruthless.  (After Babe Ruth retired the Yankees were Ruth-less, for example.) The one that ended up capturing me was a 2019 60-page research paper titled Notoriously Ruthless: The Idolization of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The author, Lucille Moran, takes a deep look into the nature of Celebrity Culture and how it came to pass that a Supreme Court Justice could become a media darling. (I will share the paper's abstract at the end along with a link.)

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In the early 1980's I read a short story by Anton Chekov that featured a man on a railroad train complaining to this stranger next to him about the idiocy of celebrity. In the course of his complaining he mentions his own noteworthy achievements as an engineer who designed all the bridges that this train will pass over between here and its destination. He mentions other remarkable feats that no one is even aware of. Instead, there is an athlete on this train, a complete lunkhead, who is so famous that when they arrive at the next station there will be a large crowd and media there to greet him. He himself will exit unnoticed.

The striking thing about this story is that it was written more than 120 years ago. In other words, the notion of celebrity is nothing new. It has, however, taken on new forms. 

One of the references cited by Ms. Moran is a story in Hedgehog review titled From Barnum to "bling bling": The Changing Face of Celebrity Culture. The article details P.T. Barnum's audacity, dazzling crowds in an era before television and broadcast media. 

The advent of Hollywood and television only amplified the deification of the rich and famous. Writes Amy Henderson, "By mid-twentieth century, this heroic pedestal (statesmen and generals) was claimed not by politicians and generals but by sports stars and movie legends—by “personality” rather than “character.”

"In his groundbreaking book The Image, Daniel Boorstin described this metamorphosis as one from traditional “larger-than-life” heroes known for their achievement to “celebrity-personalities” recognized for their “well-knownness” in a society enamored of “pseudo-events.”

As early as the 1960s Andy Warhol exploited this longing for "15 minutes of fame" at his "Factory" in New York City. He was dead on in this perception which eventually evolved into Reality Televsion as well as shows like America's Got Talent

What Lucille Moran explores is how a Supreme Court justice, who is appointed for life and doesn't ever have to be famous or re-elected, could become a pop culture celebrity.

She describes how celebrity culture became intertwined with consumer culture, that fame had financial benefits. As a result a whole industry of "publicity regimes and famemaking apparatus" emerged. 

2016 films about RBG
Ronald Reagan was not a politician first. He became famous as an actor, even if only a B-film star. Yet he leveraged his fame into the White House. Jesse Ventura, a wrestler, leveraged his fame as well to acquire a high political office, Governor of Minnesota. Bono and Jane Fonda, she notes, are examples of famous people who chose not to seek office, but to influence legislators and public opinion on behalf of causes.

Further on she writes, "The emergence of celebrity politicians in society has lead academics to an overwhelming consensus that this celebrification of politicians strongly correlates with the personalization of politics and a general weakening of political parties." 

At this point this first section of her paper turns to the subject at hand, RBG, and how it came about that she herself had become a celebrity. "My thesis seeks to fill this void in the research literature by examining two growing political phenomena—partisanship and identity—and how these are playing a role in Justice Ginsburg’s fame."  

You can read the full story here at the Digital Commons.


It is now a fixture of mainstream commentary in the United States that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a popular idol on the political left. Yet, while Justice Ginsburg’s image and story has reached an unprecedented level of valorization and even commercialization, scholars have yet to give sustained attention to the phenomenon and to contextualize it: why has this idolization emerged within this context, and what is its impact? This paper situates her portrayal in the cultural imagination as the product of two political forces, namely partisanship and identity politics. Considering parallel scholarly discourses of reputation, celebrity, and mythology in the legal context, and comparing the figure of Justice Ginsburg to the construction of other justices (historic and contemporary) in elite and popular discourse, the paper examines how this phenomenon represents both a continuity and break for the cultural position of judges in America. 

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See: Ginsburg in Popular Culture

Trivia: One of Bob Dylan's daughters graduated from MacAlester College. A friend of mine from St. Paul said he believes he saw Bob leaning against a tree a little distance away from the crowds on graduation day.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Today Is Rosh Hoshanah

Today is Rosh Hoshanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year. The literal meaning of Rosh Hoshanah is "Head of the Year." A two-day celebration, it is the first of the Jewish "High Holy Days." These photos are shared to mark the day, courtesy Gary Firstenberg.


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Support Your Local Librarians

Dang. Another librarian has been laid off.

As nearly everyone who knows me knows, I love libraries. Countless times over the years I've said, "Libraries are the one thing I don't mind paying taxes for." (Road repairs, as inconvenient as they are, are a close second.)

So it was somewhat heartbreaking when the Covid-19 pandemic came along and our local Duluth library was closed, with. large percentage of the staff laid off. I've been going to the library 2 to 3 times a week for decades, and I got to know many of the library staffers by name. I even wrote the beginning of a short story about an old man who went to the library because he had no friends and was kept alive by the kindness shown him by librarians.

Worse still, was running into one of the laid off front desk staffers on the street and finding out that these dedicated workers were not only laid off, but now had no medical insurance. During a pandemic! This was all last spring and who knows how long it will continue? 

So it was with great dismay that I received the following email from Roz Warren, a writer whom I'd met via Medium, the ad-free blogging platform developed by Ev Williams, co-creator of both Blogger and Twitter.

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What's up with you? After 21 wonderful years, my library job is kaput. But I'm still writing library humor.  Library Bingo for the Pandemic Era

I’m an editor. Apparently I’m also a crybaby

Ko-fi is a way for writers to ask readers to support them by throwing a little spare change their way.  I decided to see  whether this little fundraising gimmick actually works. 

Life is What Happens When You're Looking at Your Phone. Ever Wonder What You're Missing?  This is one of my  most popular essays. It ran years ago in the Inquirer. I just updated it and posted it on Medium. 

R.I.P. Diana Rigg. You rocked my world.

I don't expect you to read all of these. But even if you read just one, THANK YOU FOR READING ME! 

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Here's my interview with Roz. If you're a publisher looking for an entertaining write, check her out. 

As for our other librarians, let's pray the doors will open soon. We miss you.

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Friday, September 18, 2020

Sneak Peek: David Bowen Exhibit Opens at JNG, Plus Works by Jonathan Thunder and James Woodfill

Joseph Nease Gallery is holding what I believe will be its first art opening tomorrow from 1-4 pm. On display will be kinetic, robotic and data driven sculptures by David Bowen. The pieces are an interest mix of real-time water data along with data from water surfaces the past several years.

The fine arts at one time consisted of painters and sculptors. During the past century, as documented by many art critics, the arts evolved in a multitude of directions, many of them combining the conceptual and visual with new technologies. Bowen's works are this latter category, with bodies of water being a thread that flows through all. The show is aptly titled "On Water." 

The two smaller gallery spaces will feature new work by Jonathan Thunder and James Woodfill. The photos here were taken yesterday during installation.

For further information, contact gallery manager Amanda Hunter by email -- or by phone at 218.461.8380


Whether I see you tomorrow or no
enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Red Carpet for Red Interactive

IN SEPTEMBER 2011, as part of the Phantom Galleries Project, John Heino and I curated a joint show in the New York Building of Superior called Red Interactive. Here's a glimpse, with additional links at the end.

This is it. The days are flying off the calendar like autumn leaves during a late season Nor'easter. The Red Interactive roll-out is rumbling into town this week. For those unfamiliar with the show, Red Interactive is an experimental art initiative conceived by Ed Newman and John Heino.

The open house, billed as a "must" event on the Twin Ports arts calendar, will be the evening of Thursday, September 22, but tomorrow we're slated to begin claiming the space at 1410 Tower Avenue with a full-scale setup scheduled for Tuesday the 6th.

There are still plenty of unknowns. For example, this week a surprise package of artwork arrived from China, each piece featuring a tribute to the color red. We have no idea where the next package of red art will come from, or what it will be.

Another component of the open house will be the 3-D Red Collaborative Sculpture. We're asking everyone who comes to the opening to bring something red that they can add to the "public sculpture." Whether it's a red key to a red door or a lock of red hair, we'll find a place for it... or ask you to.

The red-themed objects d'art will become a backdrop for red-themed performance -- music, dance, poetry. What's more, opening night will be catered by The Red Mug... and there may even be some red wine.

Parallel to this physical show, space and performances, Red Interactive will continue to maintain its virtual space on Facebook, which is serving to catalog the thread of interactions from our various artists, participants and friends. Some elements will move back and forth between physical and virtual Red Interactive spaces. This is open architecture. We welcome all artists, creative thinkers and people who simply enjoy art--particularly experimental projects. The only boundary is that this is a public arts project, so we ask that all physical and virtual contributions are appropriate for public display.

Are you reddy?
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