Sunday, January 31, 2021

Winter Dance Party: 62 Years Ago Today Bob Dylan Saw Buddy Holly Here at The Historic Duluth Armory

In 1972 Don MacLean's American Pie was the number 2 song on the hit parade. At the time I remember trying to decipher it, and like most who made the effort, we clearly recognized Dylan, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as the main characters. What I did NOT realize is WHY these three were highlighted in the song. And I am guessing that you might not realize it as well. 

For most Dylan fans, and all who are part of the Dylan circles here in Duluth, it is well known that Buddy Holly was a primary influence on the young Hibbing teen who came down on a freezing cold mid-winter night to see this singer-songwriter and cohorts. Bob Dylan references the event several times in later life. "He stood six feet away"... or three feet away depending on the account. Something passed between them, he's said. 

If you come to Duluth and I will show you where he stood, right up tight against the stage, according to his pal Louis Kemp.

That the Beatles and the Stones were primary influences on a generation of 60's youth is well known. But were you aware that both these supergroups saw Buddy Holly as a primary influence. Primary. 

The Beatles performed as many as 40 of Buddy Holly's songs in the beginning. Even before becoming The Beatles, when John had his band The Quarrymen they were learning Buddy Holly songs. In 1962, long before The British Invasion, The Beatles recorded one of Holly's songs and eventually had as many as 40 Holly songs in their performance repertoire. In a letter to a fan John wrote, "Why do you think we became the Beatles? We were Insects." Buddy Holly's band on the European Tour was called Buddy Holly and the Crickets.

John saw Buddy Holly's horn-rimmed glasses not as geeky but as liberating. John, too had poor eyesight. He was free to leave that unconcealed.

As for the Stones, their Mississipi Delta blues influence is well known. It's what brought Jagger and Richards together. But they were also keen fans of Buddy Holly as well, which is why the first cut on their first album is Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away."

* * * 

So it was that 62 years ago Buddy Holly and the Winter Dance Party rolled into town. Barely three days later Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson, a.k.a. "The Big Bopper," died in a plane crash, along with pilot Roger Peterson, in an Iowa cornfield. 

In recent years I've written stories about these events. As a tribute to Buddy Holly and a remembrance of his having passed this way, here are links to some of those stories. 

In Memoriam: Buddy Holly Stood On These Floorboards

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Almost Died

A Visit to the Buddy Holly Crash Site

The Winter Dance Party, Dylan and American Pie

Why Buddy Holly Still Matters

* * * 

A FEW PHOTOS AND THE MEANING OF AMERICAN PIE



The Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson


Ritchie Valens

Buddy Holly R.I.P


Floorboard from the Armory. The Joe Mann Collection

PARTING SHOT

When people ask Don McLean what does American Pie really mean, 

he likes to reply: "It means I never have to work again."


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Ralph's Last Days

I met Ralph sometime around 1991 at a beach on Park Point here in Duluth. At the time, his wife was in a nursing home near there and he was living in an apartment in town that had a view of the big lake. In our first meeting I learned that he was originally from Estonia, a young man when WW2 broke out and had had a whole raft of remarkable experiences during the occupation by Stalin, the liberation by Hitler and subsequent events involving numerous close calls with the Grim Reaper. I later turned these stories into a script that was read by a Disney producer in Hollywood.

Ralph learned at that first meeting that I was a writer, upon which he replied that, "Many people have told me my life should be a book." This statement triggered a friendship that spanned many years.

At a certain point in time in the late 90s he expressed a desire to return to his homeland one last time to see the places he grew up and perhaps find some people who were still alive from those dark days. His wife had passed away and he was eager to go home

After packing all he could carry in a backpack, and a long Minnesota goodbye, Ralph left Duluth to travel home. 

* * * 

Ralph Returns

I can't recall how many months had passed when the phone call came.  The man asked if I knew someone named Ralph Kand. I said yes. The man said that Ralph was staying in a room at what is now the Casa Motel. (I can't recall what its name was at the time.) He told me that Ralph had been there about a week, but was ill and could not stay there. He was having bloody stools and needed help.

When I picked him up he was happy to see me and wanted me to take him to the Viking Motel so he could die while looking out the window at the lake. Lake Superior reminded him of his days growing up in Tallinn on the Baltic Sea. 

Instead, I spent part of a day learning about the safety nets in Duluth, how few there are and the challenges they present. 

After making calls I found a place that said it would take him, but he would have to get a checkup at the hospital first. I brought him to the hospital and went back to work. They took x-rays and did other tests but the whole process lasted till 4:00 in the afternoon so that when I called the place that said they would take him, everyone had gone home early because it was a Friday.  

Now I had to scramble. A Loaves & Fishes home for men said yes, I could bring Ralph there. When I arrived I had my doubts, even though the staff was nice enough. His bed was in an open areas almost like a hallway. It was a large house but overcrowded. Like many last ditch places, they probably have a hard time saying no. They respond to the need that is before them.

The following day, however, I received a call that said he was not suitable for their facility. He was exceedingly cantankerous, crude and uncooperative. Of this I was not entirely surprised. I went to retrieve him, wondering what to do next.

* * * 

How Ralph Ended Up Back In Duluth

A little backstory is in order here. When Ralph left Duluth to go home to Estonia he had an accident somewhere in Europe. His backpack was so heavy that at an airport in Switzerland, as he was starting up an escalator, the weight of the pack pulled him backwards and he got stuck at the bottom flailing about, unable to get up as the escalator continued upwards, jostling beneath him and he tumbled downward.

Whatever occurred after that led to his being unable to proceed to Estonia and he was sent back the United States. Instead of returning to Duluth, however, he went to the West Coast and took up residence in a homeless shelter in Portland. At some point in time there was a fire in the homeless shelter and he attempted to stay inside, hoping to burn to death. He was forced to evacuate, and with nowhere to go decided to return to Duluth.

* * *

What Happened After Loaves & Fishes
The staff at Loaves & Fishes were sorry to evict him but the situation was already tense with other residents. I was told of another place on 3rd Street which could keep him a couple days until we found something more suitable. 

Ralph was again having issues with bloody diarrhea when I picked him up and brought him to St. Luke's Hospital for further tests. I went back to work, distracted by mulling over where I could bring him next. 

Around three in the afternoon I received a phone call saying that Ralph was standing on the sidewalk outside St. Luke's Hospital. Someone had called me to come get him. The hospital put him out the door. He had NO MONEY to take a cab. NO PHONE to call anyone. NO STRENGTH to walk anywhere. I left work to go pick him up. The doctor said there was nothing wrong with him. 

One of the places I'd brought him a couple years earlier, for a temporary place to have food and shelter, was a place called Miketin's in Gary New Duluth. I found Miketin's after Ralph's apartment at Gateway Tower downtown had had a fire. At the time I brought his furniture and valuables that were not destroyed to our garage further up the hillside.

I showed up at Miketin's with Ralph in tow and they said they had one bed available. It was a narrow room with a window and a bit of space to stand, but Ralph didn't stand. He lay there three days and died.

* * *

Here was a man clearly dying who was put out on the street with nothing, and no help from a hospital with doctors who make hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was so weak he could not walk a half block to get anywhere. He had no money. And worst of all, they sent his hospital bill to me because I was the one who did the good deed of bringing him there.

We didn't pay his hospital bill, of course. Nor did we pay the bill the funeral home sent me. 

* * * 

Related Links

The Day It All Broke Open
Uprooted: The Ralph Kand Story (Introduction)

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis Didn't Do It For Me

I've been a longtime fan of Michael Lewis, having read a half dozen of his books over the years. I recently started reading The Undoing Project and for some reason wasn't getting into it. I then decided to re-read Moneyball, the bestseller that later became a motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. As with the first time, I again thoroughly enjoyed it.

This prompted me to go back and continue with The Undoing Project. It's not the first time I started a book, failed to connect and had better luck the next time. It was until my third effort with Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano that I not only engaged with but devoured it. Unfortunately, my second effort here yielded little fruit. If words were food, The Undoing Project was sawdust. Why was this?

I decided to go to Amazon and see what other readers were saying. Many liked the book very much, but there were others who expressed my sentiments as well.

--> This is my 10th or 11th Michael Lewis book and this is the only one I couldn't finish and did not enjoy. 

--> When this book was chosen for my book group, I looked forward to reading it. I have read other Michael Lewis books and totally enjoyed them, even when the topics were not a subject I was particularly interested it. Baseball! Derivatives! Why not psychology? Lewis' books always had energy and told an interesting tale. Not so with The Undoing Project. Nearly halfway through I stopped to read some reviews of the book because I had no idea what it was about or where it was going.

The book opens with Lewis talking about the challenges basketball teams have in determining who will succeed and who will not in pro basketball. Just as Moneyball focused on the Oakland A's, this book details challenges the Houston Rockets faced. 

Somewhere along the way it seemed I missed what this had with Undoing, but I hung in there, wondering where this would all be going. I'd read enough Lewis books to know that he is a storyteller, enjoys gathering details and sharing them in story form. Unfortunately, as these stories unfolded I was unable to see where they were all going.

There is a certain amount of trust that readers put in writers. If they trust the writer they continue reading, believing there will be a payoff for their efforts. The Fables of Aesop always had a payoff, but they did not require endless pages of story to get there.

The central story here is that of the friendship between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israeli psychologists and economists who did research on heuristics (among other things) in Eugene Oregon. Their work ultimately garnered them a Nobel Prize.

After the lengthy lead-in we arrive at the main event, which is presented in a meandering story that winds over the river and through the woods, but never arrives anywhere. Or at least, after passing the midway point, did not give me confidence that there was a destination. It felt like the story was supposed to be the destination. And I was not alone in this sentiment. Here's another Amazon reviewer:

--> I'm a huge Michael Lewis fan but this book was awful. It was tedious and trying to understand where he was going with the book was hopeless.

I can't say the book was awful. It just wasn't engaging, and I would suggest part of the reason had to do with the writing. Tedious is probably an accurate word. As a result, I lost faith that the story was taking me somewhere.

Be sure to read the positive Amazon reviews before you make up your mind on this one. This review is just my two cents from the peanut gallery.

Related Links

My review of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano

Moneyball Worth More Than the Price of Admission (A Review)

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Mine! Mine! Mine! How Entitlement Attitudes Hurt Us

Most of us are familiar with the various personality tests people have designed to help our self-understanding and personal growth. The tests have been used as tools for psychologists and marriage counsellors as well as consultants striving to improve corporate cultures.

Two of the most familiar are the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Test and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

A few years back I became aware of some of the work being done by PsychTests AIM Inc., a company devoted to developing products to assist in psychological assessments. 

Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D, founder of Psychtests is also a leadership coach. In addition, her company helps other companies hire, train and develop talent. A subsidiary of her business is a website called Queendom, which bears the moniker "Land of Tests." The Queendom site has tests for willpower, pandemic resiliency, integrity, burnout, hypertension risk and much more.

I mention all this because of this press release I received regarding new research on Entitlement.  

* * *

Mine! Mine! Mine! New Study Indicates That Entitlement Is Linked to Dishonesty

A recent study by Queendom.com reveals that self-entitled adults will resort to deceitful behaviors in order in order to get what they want.

Young children can largely get away with pulling a tantrum when they are not given what they want. Grown-ups, not so much. Seeing a rebuffed adult making a scene in public is awkward, whether it’s about cutting in line, getting VIP treatment, or putting on a mask in order to shop. A strong sense of entitlement can also be a powerful motive for deception, according to recent research conducted by Queendom.com.Their study reveals that self-entitled people may employ underhanded tricks in order to get what they feel they deserve, including manipulation and lying. 

Analyzing data from 8,864 people who took the Integrity and Work Ethics Test, Queendom researchers compared people on different traits related to honesty/dishonesty, based on their level of self-entitlement. Several noteworthy variances were discovered. 

Certain personality attributes can increase a person’s likelihood of acting dishonestly, including the following: (Note: Scores on the traits below range on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the score, the stronger the trait). 

DECEITFULNESS 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 70
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 24 

MANIPULATIVENESS 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 78
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 22

SELF-INTEREST 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 79
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 26 

MACHIAVELLIANISM 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 71
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 37 

DISDAIN FOR RULE-FOLLOWERS 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 70
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 17 

VINDICTIVENESS 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 75
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 28 

DEVIOUSNESS 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 80
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 28 

ANTAGONISM 

  • Score for people with a strong sense of entitlement: 72
  • Score for people with a low sense of entitlement: 24 

SELF-ENTITLED PEOPLE ARE ALSO MORE LIKELY TO: 

  • Have an overdeveloped sense of self-importance and superiority (score of 84 vs. 23)
  • Desire admiration (74 vs. 25)
  • Loathe weakness in others (80 vs. 26), as well as to be gullible (72 vs. 32)
  • Take pleasure in other people’s misfortunes (80 vs. 23) 

ON THE FLIPSIDE, SELF-ENTITLED PEOPLE ARE LESS: 

  • Remorseful when they commit an act of transgression (56 vs. 83)
  • Accountable for their actions (60 vs. 82)
  • Willing to stand by their values, should they have any (55 vs. 86)
  • Trustworthy (53 vs. 78)
  • Loyal (55 vs. 72)
  • Discreet (41 vs. 73)
  • Empathetic (55 vs. 76) 

“There are a number of factors that can breed a strong sense of entitlement,” explains Dr. Jerabek. “It’s important to first point out, however, that when we talk about entitlement, we’re not referring to a person’s fundamental right to safety, medical care, justice, respect, and love. We’re talking about people who demand and expect preferential treatment. This attitude is often seen in narcissists, people who have a chip on their shoulder, or who were raised by permissive, over-indulgent parents. However, a person may also develop a strong sense of entitlement as a result of over-compensating for low self-esteem, abandonment, betrayal, or an injustice. This compels the person to put their own needs first, to fight for their demands to be meet, regardless of the cost or inconvenience to others. And as our study has revealed, they have no qualms about using underhanded means to get what they want.” 

* * *

Want to assess your integrity? Check out their Integrity and Work Ethics Test, at https://www.queendom.com/tests/take_test.php?idRegTest=3976 

 To learn more about psychological testing, here's a free eBook:
 
Whatcha think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Edgar Allan & the Poe Boys Perform Nevermore

 Someone sent me a note to check this out.
It's a video by Edgar Allan and the Poe Boys.
When I Googled it, there were a whole raft of 
other videos featuring banjos, so I had a inkling 
what I was getting into. I like pickers and bluegrass
so it was easy listening. Then I had an epiphany.

And the funny thing is, until this minute
I never knew why Art Modell called his team
the Baltimore Ravens!


Related Link

Steve Martin Does it Again: Rare Bird Alert

Click to enlarge


The best to you in all things. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

This Thursday, Join Us for.an Open House with Duluth Toastmasters Club 1523

I joined Toastmasters just over a year ago. The meetings were live and lively. The club I became part of here in Duluth was friendly and welcoming, and in a very short time I felt right at home. Three months later, the world shifted on its axis. The pandemic hit and we no longer met in person. Like millions of other people we had to learn how to use new technology to gather while social distancing.

It was surprising how quickly we adapted. One week we were meeting in the Old Central High School in Duluth's Central Hillside, two weeks later we were learning how to log in through Zoom. Even from the start our meetings began on time and our energy level was high as we pursued this new adventure.

ALL THIS TO SAY that once a year our Toastmasters group has an Open House and you are invited. Last year we met in the Green Room at the Duluth Public Library. One week later we were forced to start Zooming. What's great is that visitors to our club can Zoom in from anywhere in the world this year. 

What is Toastmasters? 

Toastmasters is an upbeat, safe way to learn how to be a public speaker ad more. It will help you in future job interviews, in making presentations and speaking at meetings. It is an invaluable tool for building your leadership skills. In short, it can make a difference in your career and in your life. 

Our Duluth Chapter 1523 is comprised of people from a variety of backgrounds. Yana Stockman, for example, is originally from Ukraine with English her third language. Bert Hursh is a teacher who one worked on a nuclear submarine. Dave Boe is a writer. Some are young, some late in their careers. All are quite interesting.

Randine LePage says she originally joined when she was going through a career transition. She wanted to get more comfortable with public speaking. "I have stayed because I have found many more directions in which to learn and grow within Toastmasters.  What I learn in my personal and professional life, I develop further in Toastmasters, and what I learn in Toastmasters, also develops further at work and at home.  More opportunity means more growth, more success and more fulfillment!

Jordan Simpson initially joined Toastmasters six years ago as a way to keep up her confidence as a presenter. "I didn't know at the time how much Toastmasters would help me grow as an individual. For five of the six years I've been in TM, I've been able to expand and mold my leadership skills and connect with individuals between Thunder Bay, ON, CA, to the Twin Cities in MN." 


Wulf Gar joined Toastmasters to further his leadership skills and to become more comfortable with speaking in front of people. "What I've received has been far greater than I anticipated. My confidence has been lifted, not just when speaking in front of others, but also at work and in my community." 


Wulf sees the fail-proof learning environment as its secret sauce. "Toastmasters instructs and nurtures new members, while providing a fun and non-judgmental atmosphere to practice. When you take those skills into the real world, you're already polished and experienced, ready to interact with others with confidence. I love the fun and inspirational atmosphere!"


International Life Coach and Club President Yana Stockman says she lacked confidence when making presentations in a third language. Toastmaster has given her a place to practice. Constructive feedback has helped her immensely. Nothing crushes fear more than confronting it head-on," she says. "After a few months of meetings, my speech deliveries felt much less anxious and much more like my second nature. Consistency of weekly meetings builds up my confidence, which is critical to deliver an influential presentations. 


"I did not expect to receive the enormous amount of benefits that came with my Toastmasters membership: unlimited access in education, a worldwide network community, an opportunity to advance leadership skills on multiple levels. Toastmasters will always be a big milestone in my personal and professional life, because Toastmasters will help you to create a tool-box of skills that you will carry with you for the rest of your life."


As Jordan Simpson puts it, "Whether you want to: build confidence while speaking, sharpen your leadership skills, learn about constructive feedback, build relationships with people throughout the world, or simply see people virtually on a weekly basis, Toastmasters is for you."


Special thanks to team member Dave Boe for assembling these testimonies and quotes.


OUR MEETING IS THURSDAY, JANUARY 28

You are invited.


Register Here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/toastmasters-open-house-tickets-137230814059?fbclid=IwAR1-MmeIONeKJa9v1vEZT9k7iIveJ2QdKPeGRfbrUeNE0Dfq6LYLZ4otx_Q

Monday, January 25, 2021

Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and Other Finance-Related Anecdotes

I recently received an email that said Amazon sold 20 million items in 1999 and generated an annual revenue of just over $1.6 billion. Two decades later, in 2019 Amazon, sold over 175 million products in a single day (Amazon Prime Day) and the revenue for the year was a whopping $280.5 billion. Said differently, in 2019 Amazon was generating more revenue every two days than it was making in a full year back in 1999.

When Amazon became a publicly traded company in May 1997, you could have bought shares for $1.50. For $150 you could have owned 100 shares of Amazon stock. Currently, the price of Amazon stock (AMZN) is $3,292 per share, but that does not mean your initial 100 shares  ($150) would be worth $329,200. The company had several stock splits while it was in early growth mode and you would actually now have 12 times that amount or nearly four million dollars. 

You don't have $150 to invest in the next Amazon? You probably spent more than that on Amazon Prime in a couple years or your cable bill in a few months or eating out (before Covid).

* * * 

There really aren't that many Amazons, are there? Ummm...  Actually, there are more than you think.

For more on this topic, read my story in the Data Driven Investor on Medium.  It includes an important reminder about risk.

Here is the Friend Link

* * * 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Chuck Connors Was Branded: Dealing with a Stained Reputation

All but one man died.
There at Bitter Creek.
And they say he ran away.

Branded, scorned as the one who ran.
What do you do when you're branded,
and you know you're a man?


Wherever you go, for the rest of your life
You must prove, you're a man.

source: Lyrics on demand

* * * 

When I was a kid I had a good friend who really liked Chuck Connors as Lucas McCain, The Rifleman. As a writer, one of the most interesting parts of writing fiction is creating characters and giving them names. Lucas McCain is intriguing. The four Gospels of the New Testament are written by men named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Lucas is the formal full name for someone nicknamed Luke. The "Mc" in the last suggests a Scottish origin, "Son of Cain." The firstborn of Adam and Eve were Cain and Abel. Cain lost his temper and killed his brother out of a jealous rage. The implication is that Lucas McCain is a good man with a complicated heritage in a complicated world.

The show ran from 1958 to '63 after which time the tall, lanky Connors got a new role: Branded. In Branded, another 1880s Western, Connors plays the role of Jason McCord, as West Point grad who has now been court-martialed and shamed for having survived a massacre at Bitter Creek.*

One thing about television, it can really sink a jingle into your brain when put to music. For more than 50 years that line has stuck with me, "What do you do when you're branded and you know you're a man?" 

* * *

There are actually several takeaways here. The first that comes to mind is the notion of Reputation. A good reputation will open doors for you in the marketplace. A bad reputation will hurt you on many levels. Trust is the basic foundation of most relationships and loss of trust is detrimental. All kinds of sayings affirm this. "He's as good as his word," is the first that comes to mind.

Another saying along that line, "It takes years to build a good reputation and minutes to destroy it." Your reputation is your cred. It is more important than many people realize. 

A second takeaway is how this story dovetails with a common emotion that people have at times, the feeling of being misunderstood. I don't think many of us have been in the same circumstances as Jason McCord, but most of us have experienced the pain of being misunderstood. Hence the popularity of the 60s hit from that same time period, "Oh I'm just a boy whose intentions are good. Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood."

A third takeaway here is the challenge we have regarding our stance toward others in the community. That is, how much can we reveal and how much must we conceal regarding who we are. This has become especially disconcerting on social media. When we were children life was "live and let live." Now we have to give more thought to how we say things. On one level that it's OK to be circumspect and thoughtful with our speech. On another level, it seems sometimes that communication today has descended from trying to understand one another to trying to pin people down, with no mercy.

* * *

Those early days of television were very different from today. Westerns were the rage. Maverick, Bonanza, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel are just a few of the dozens that of Western-themed shows. What really interesting is how many actors who came to enjoy later success were either stars or guest characters in these shows. Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Michael Landon and Richard Boone were just a few who used starring roles in Westerns to springboard to broader careers on the silver screen. 

* * *

Related Links
The One Who Gets Things Done: Have Gun, Will Travel
Cowboys and Aliens 
Branded at imdb 

When I was 15 and 16 I caddied at a country club in New Jersey. One of the caddies was a fellow who had been court-martialed. He had low self-esteem and I could see it weighed on him. He was mocked privately behind his back, which I didn't understand at the time and felt bad about.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Profiles in Courage: Breaking Records and Breaking Barriers in Pro Sports--Henry Aaron, Jim Brown, Marion Motley

I saw all three of these heroes in the 1963 All Star Game.
Hank Aaron passed away today. The headline of the AP news story reads, "Hank Aaron, the baseball legend who endured racist threats with stoic dignity as he broke Babe Ruth's home run record, has died at 86."

The title is heartbreaking because it says so much about the cruelty many of our black heroes were experiencing while we cheered for them from the stands. The story, if you are unfamiliar with it, was that as the veteran all-star Aaron was approaching Babe Ruth's home run record, he began getting death threats. 

This was not in the news, but did come out later. It is an appalling commentary of our nation. It took courage to go out there and do the work he'd be called to do. 

 It also brings to mind for me some other stories from sports history.

An Aside: My favorite player of the era was the Puerto Rican star from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roberto Clemente. Sometime in the mid-Sixties I sent him a letter and said how much I appreciated him (or something to that effect.) He sent me a note and an autographed photo of himself. The striking thing about that was that this was not a publicity still or a professionally printed photo made for signing. It looked like a page from a magazine that was cutout and signed with a ballpoint pen. I had that photo on the bulletin board in my room all through high school.

Henry Aaron influenced me, too. I had read a long article in Sports Illustrated about his consistency as a player. The sportswriter described how Aaron's power was in his wrists. Because I was determined to be a baseball player one day--had been playing seemingly every day since 7--I used to work out a lot. Our coach of the freshman team at BRHS-Wet shared an exercise that was designed to strengthen your wrists and I took it to heart based on the Aaron article. There is no sweeter sound than the crack of a bat on a ball the lines into the outfield and it's done with a flick of the wrists.  

* * * 

Marion Motley and Jimmy Brown
Nearly everyone knows the story of how Jackie Robinson was the first African American to cross into the Majors from the Negro  Leagues in baseball. Football stories are less well known.

When I read Jimmy Brown's autobiography years ago, he told stories about some of the tricks white opponents from the Jim Crow South did to hurt him. For example, when he was tackled, they would sometimes have a fistful of dirt, sand or whatever and fling it into his eyes while he was on the ground under a pile where the refs couldn't see.

In preparation for last Sunday's playoff game between the Browns and the KC Chiefs, I decided to watch a "History of the Cleveland Browns" DVD that I have. Every Browns fan should own a copy. It would make you proud. Paul Brown, founder and first head coach of the team, is one of the truly great coaches in NFL history. Many of his innovations are still in use today.

Paul Brown took the lead in bringing black players into pro football. It seemed strange to him that these men who fought for our country in WW2 could not participate in pro sports. In 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson crossed the color barrier in baseball, Paul Brown recruited three Negro players, among them the powerful running back Marion Motley.

Motley and the Browns were the best in the game for many years, but few knew the challenges he had to deal with. Again, just one anecdote tells a lot. Football is a very physical game, and normally the goal is to tackle the guy running with the ball. Sometimes, however, the white boys on the other team took a different approach. Instead of tackling him they would hold him up to keep him from falling, pummeling his body with their fists. 

I only learned about this from the documentary, which I'd watched before but with fresh eyes again last weekend.

Here's some football trivia you may not know. As you know, there are many arguments about who is the greatest this or greatest that. I did a research paper on who is the greatest baseball player of all time. The first step is to establish criteria.

That being said, who was the greatest running back of all time? It could be argued that the player who has the most rushing yards in a season is the top dawg. But as we know, today they play more games in a season than they used to. Today's rushers get four extra games in a season.

My favorite player was Jimmy Brown. Over the last half century I have compared all highly touted running backs against Brown. Here is a stat worthy of note: most yards per game, lifetime. No player in NFL history has averaged more than 100 yards per game, except Jimmy Brown. 

Interestingly, Marion Motley, the Cleveland Browns running back who preceded brown, set another record that no other running back has ever broken: most yards per carry average, lifetime. Motley averaged 5.7 yards rushing every time he touched the ball. 

* * * 

These two stories came to mind when I learned of Hank Aaron's passing today. They were heroic not just for the achievements on the field, but for the character they displayed. 

In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech Henry "Hank" Aaron said, "A man's ability is only limited by his lack of opportunity." These are words to ponder well and take to heart.

Photo courtesy Gary Firstenberg


* * * 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Does Moneyball Give a Gliimpse of How to One Up Wall Street?

I realize that not everyone is a reader. When I interviewed the famed British illustrator Ralph Steadman (think of Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for example), I mentioned that I had started as an artist and became a writer. He replied that he started as a writer and became an artist, "because no one reads anymore."

Near two decades have passed, and the readers of this world still love their books. Many of us have not only read 50 or a hundred books a year most of our lives, but we've read many of those books more than once and as many as four or five times possibly.

I bring this up because I am currently reading, for the second time, Michael Lewis' Moneyball. After my first reading it was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, near 20 years later, I am seeing it with new eyes, not as a baseball fan but from the point of view of an investor. 

The book is about how baseball historically came to place value on certain factors that statistics actually proved were backwards. Billy Bean, who had been drafted as a most-likely-to-succeed superstar, is at the center of this story about the Oakland Athletics. Bean is GM, the decision maker regarding the makeup of the team. His experience as a failed potential superstar gave him an insight into the game that most front office folks could never recognize. 

How this applies to investing is obvious. The conventional wisdom is that the prices of stocks (which represent partial ownership of companies) are fairly valued by the market. That is, if the price of one share of a company is seventeen dollars, the company's true value will generally correspond with that in the aggregate of all its shares. Or more correctly, the price of a share will correspond to the future earnings based on risks and potential rewards.

If this is so, how then does a bridge player  from Omaha do so phenomenally better than a majority of others when purchasing portions of company's shares? How does he succeed where others fail? 

It may be like the story in Moneyball. Conventional wisdom is safe but backwards. Warren Buffet made a name for himself by (a) doing more homework than the herd, and (b) by using a different set of measurement tools.

I like the illustration of the herd because it corresponds to life as a zebra on the Serengeti. There is safety in the herd. The reason is that to leave the herd is to become vulnerable to the lions. 

The problem for the zebra in the herd, though, is that the grass gets shorter and shorter. Outside the cluster of zebras in the herd there is ample food, but how retrieve it and enjoy it without risk of become food oneself? 

Somehow Warren Buffet is getting outside the herd and avoiding the lions as well. How he does this is not my point. The point is that there are opportunities available by shucking off conventional wisdom. This is what Billy Bean did because he saw with great clarity how wrong the "experts" were about him.

I once published an article titled "Who Are Your Experts?" in which I challenge people to think for themselves, or at least recognize that when choosing experts you are ultimately responsible for the choices you make. 

Desert Storm was another example of how the conventional wisdom was wrong. Experts were saying that we were about to enter a protracted war with Saddam Hussein that would end up as another Vietnam. Instead, Iraq capitulated in 100 hours. (This was Desert Storm under George Herbert Walker Bush.) There were many lessons for both businesses and investors from that brief war.

* * * *

The subtitle of Moneyball is, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. Wall Street, which Michael Lewis has also written about in the past, is also considered by many to be an unfair game. Can the lessons Billy Bean learned about player valuations be transferred to the Street? 

To some extent it may be possible. When everyone loves a stock because of the personality of its leader or for any other reason trotted out by the media, it valuation goes up, and likely exceeds its real value. The diamonds in the rough, like some of the players with apparent flaws -- a pitcher with a quirky delivery, for example -- may be neglected and undervalued, until someone notices that they have been consistently making a boatload of money for years, and with no end in sight.

All decisions involve weighing risks and rewards, and learning how to identify what has real value and what only has the illusion of value. Be wise.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Field of Dreams and Memories

I was born in Cleveland in 1952 , a year in which the Tribe--as the Cleveland Indians were called--had the best starting rotation in baseball, three of whom would become future Hall of Famers. My parents must have been baseball fans because they named the four teddy bears in my crib after those four pitchers. my favorite being a black white bear with skinny arms and legs called Feller.

Bob Feller was a famous fireballer with a classic story of heart and heroism. His roots were middle America, a small town Southwest of Ames Iowa.

Iowa is also where the film Field of Dreams takes place. The movie, starring Kevin Costner, was based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. 

* * * 

Recent events brought to mind this memory from the first year after we moved to Duluth in 1986. I'd landed my first full time job as a writer. My boss, himself an excellent writer, introduced me to another writer friend and the three of us--Terry, Art and I--attended several monthly readings by authors flown into town by a prof in the lit department of UMD. One of these notables was W.P. Kinsella.

Kinsella began by describing his childhood and how he came to be a writer. He said that his family lived in a remote area in Canada Northwest of here. It was so remote, in fact, the the nearest family with children was a hundred miles away and he was, if memory serves me well, an only child. This led to his developing the fertile imagination which produced his literary career as a storyteller.

You may recall that the lead character in Field of Dreams, played by Costner, is an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella. It's a character who is misunderstood, and in some ways a product of the Sixties, which left a lot of us misunderstood. The following conversation between Ray and his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) is part of the story's setup.

Ray Kinsella: I think I know what "If you build it, he will come" means.

Annie Kinsella: Ooh... why do I not think this is such a good thing?

Ray Kinsella: I think it means that if I build a baseball field out there that Shoeless Joe Jackson will get to come back and play ball again.

Annie Kinsella: [staring in disbelief] You're kidding.

Ray Kinsella: Huh-uh.

Annie Kinsella: Wow.

Ray Kinsella: Yeah.

Annie Kinsella: Ha. You're kidding.

James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster, in his final screen performance, are also part of this saga that echoes the magical realism of Jorge Luis Borges, one of my all-time favorite authors.

All this is just an excuse to share some photos from the Field of Dreams location in Iowa that was created for this movie. And maybe an excuse to take a trip down memory lane.


Photos courtesy Gary Firstenburg

Here's a link to his website. Ye shall be impressed.

FWIW
My short volume of stories titled Unremembered Histories falls into this genre of supra-normal, magical realism. Subtitled Six Stories with a Supernatural Twist, you can find it here on Amazon.

TRIVIA: If I were ever to have my stories turned into an audio book, I would have James Earl Jones be the one to read it. I just love that deep baritone vibe. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for your contribution toward make this film a very special experience.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Longest Rivers in the United States

Louisville on the Ohio River
I started watching Ken Burns' documentary of the Lewis and Clark expedition that had been commissioned by Thomas Jefferson. When they first began preparing for the trip the Louisiana Purchase has not yet taken place and when it finally did, these were the first men to see what Jefferson had purchased.

Their journey, which began in 1804, took them up the Missouri River through Iowa, Nebraska the Dakotas and Montana, then across the Rockies with the final destination being the Pacific Ocean, which they reached in November 1805.

The purpose of this little blog post isn't to summarize the Lewis & Clark expedition, but rather to briefly talk about rivers. 

It's astonishing how much has changed in little over 200 years. I can't even imagine what the world will look like 200 years from now or how history books will describe this period. Back then there were no roads yet. Rivers were the roads of yesteryear. When we reflect on all the major cities in our country you'll notice how they sit at the edge of bodies of water--oceans, lakes and rivers. Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland. In fact, look at the list of cities with an NFL football team and nearly all can be found with a waterway at their feet. (Desert-bound Las Vegas is probably the one exception, though its proximity to Lake Mead and Hoover Dam resolves that problem.)

A bridge across the Mississippi in Minneapolis

While Abe Lincoln was a young attorney in Illinois he saw the future of transportation when he became involved in a lawsuit between riverboats and a railroad bridge. The bridge was blocking the ability of the riverboat to service the river. "Bridges are not welcome here!"

Lincoln spent time studying the issue and came to realize that railroads were the future and somehow a compromise would have to be achieved. It could never be either/or. Years later, this experience as a young man became a see that flowered, leading to the ambitious transcontinental railroad initiative.

* * * 

So, this is a trivia game. What are the ten longest rivers in the United States? What I will do is list them here in the incorrect order. See if you can list them in their correct order. I think you'll be surprised.  

Rio Grande River
Red River
Columbia River
Yukon River
Ohio River
Missouri River
Colorado River
Mississippi River
Arkansas River
Snake River

 * * * 

The Duquesne Incline in Pittsburgh, above the Monongahela.

Photos courtesy Gary Firstenburg

Here's a link to his website. Ye shall be impressed.


Missouri (2341 mi.), Mississippi (2202 mi.), Yukon River (3190 mi.) Rio Grande (1759 mi.), Colorado (1450 mi.), Arkansas (1443 mi.), Columbia (1243 mi.), Red (1125 mi.), Snake (1040 mi.), Ohio (979 mi.)

Related Links
Rivers!
The One River, Many Stories Project
Watching the River Flow: Dylan Wrestles with His Inner Self