Monday, January 31, 2022

The Music of Our Lives: A Visit with Podcast Host Mindy Peterson on the Power of Music

Mindy Peterson has been hosting the Enhance Life Through Music podcast about music since 2019 and a piano teacher since 1991 to students ages kindergarten to

adult. She began taking piano lessons at the age of 6. Like many who had an early intro to playing an instrument, music has been an integral part of her life ever since. She not only enjoys listening to live music and expressing herself through music, her podcast shows how interested she is in learning more about the benefits of music, and passing on that love of music to her students and others.  

This past fall Mindy visited Duluth to learn more about the influence our city and the Northland had on Minnesota's latest Nobel Prize recipient. This visit became the foundation for a December podcast on the impact of Bob Dylan and his music

EN: Can you briefly share your background with regards to music? What you have created here— your podcast‐‐clearly didn’t spring out of thin air.

Mindy Peterson: I started taking piano lessons in first grade, and have taught piano lessons since 1991. I’ve always been intrigued by the many ways music benefits our lives, and was fascinated with news articles, books, and studies showing music’s power in protecting the brain from dementia; transforming our experience of a movie scene; increasing athletic endurance; increasing literacy skills in children with dyslexia; and more. I believe passionately in the power of music to enhance our lives, and wanted to shout it from the rooftops in order to help others make life better through music, and also to advocate for musicians and music education. Music advocacy and education are two sides of the same coin; and when people understand the value that music brings to our shared human journey, I believe they will want to invest in musical experiences and training. 

EN: Music is probably something important to most of our lives. What was it that triggered you to start a podcast about music?

MP: You’re so right – music affects ALL of our lives, whether we consider ourselves musicians, or not! While there are exponential benefits for those who actively make music, I was struck by how music can make life better in so many ways for all. I observed how frequently my non‐ musician friends made casual comments referencing music, such as: 

   “I heard this song in a store the other day, and it instantly took me back to senior prom!” (Music is the sound of emotions, and one of the last memories to fade from our brains.) 

   “After waiting on hold, I could NOT get that hold music out of my head the rest of the day!” (Earworm!) 

   “Thank goodness ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ was playing – that’s the only way I made it through the last set of that workout.” (Music has been called “legal doping” because it can enhance athletic performance and endurance up to 15%.) 

When I first discovered podcasts, I was hooked! As I explored shows and found new favorites, it occurred to me that podcasting was the perfect medium for showcasing the myriad applications of the power of music. Surely such a podcast must exist! I went on the hunt for a podcast fitting this description, but couldn’t find it. Enhance Life with Music was my creation of the podcast I wanted and couldn’t find. 

EN: You cover such a wide variety of topics showing ways that music is such an important component of our lives. What have been some of the biggest insights for you personally? 

MP: It is such a treat to meet and speak with people from around the country and globe about music’s application in fields as seemingly disparate as sports, social justice, science, business, medicine, mental health, entertainment, education, and history. I’m continually amazed by two things: 


Music’s ability to bring people together. It is one of very few things (food possibly being another?) that can lower walls and bond people who otherwise may have nothing in common – and in fact may have reason to see one another as enemies (such as the Israeli and Palestinian youth featured in Ep. 123).

The endless applications of the power of music. One of my hesitations in starting this 
podcast in August 2019 was the apprehension that I might run out of topics. I didn’t want to launch a podcast, only to have the well of ideas run dry within a few months. Well... over two years and 120 episodes later, the list of potential topics continues to grow. Music is the salt of life – it just makes every aspect of life better! 

EN: I think the way Hollywood directors use music to add dimensions to films is intriguing. Stanley Kubrick’s films are a superb example. So many classic films give us songs or tunes as a takeaway. “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” What an anthem. I read that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was the number one song of the 20th century. Care to comment on this? 

Zentangled Piano by Esther Piszczek
MP: I’m endlessly fascinated by music’s ability to affect our TV‐ and movie‐viewing experience! The phrase that comes to my mind is the courtroom phrase, “leading the witness.” Music can lead us as viewers to pretty specific emotions and biases. I used to drive my kids crazy when they were young with my commentary while watching movies together. I was constantly pointing out things like, “Ooh, the creepy music just started when this person entered; they must be the ‘bad guy!’” 

Another factor of film music that is intriguing is the fact that sometimes the most skillfully composed scores are the ones that we don’t even notice. The score plays into the storyline and overall experience so skillfully and seamlessly that we’re not consciously aware of the music as it’s playing. And you can have equally skillful and outstanding scores that are epic and totally do capture your attention (such as John Williams’ Star Wars scores). 

I suppose this fascination is one reason that several episodes explore facets of music in movies/TV! 

By the way, your reference to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” reminds me of one of my all‐ time favorite music quotes, which is by that song’s composer, Yip Harburg: 

"Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought." 

EN: I like how you discuss practical things like how to find a piano teacher, but also get into neuroscience and the ways music shape us, inspire us, lift and even heal us. Do you have a set of guiding rules regarding what you cover and don’t cover on your Enhance Life With Music blog? Can you share them?

MP: In addition to making life better through music, I look for subjects that:

--Educate me.  

--Expand my world.

--Inspire me.

--Help me.

--Entertain me.

The more boxes I can check with an episode, the better!

EN: Thanks for everything you're doing. I have no ideas where we'd be if it weren't for music, especially this past two years.

Check out Mindy Peterson's podcast here: Enhance Life with Music  

Related Links
Music of Our Lives: Songs That Make Me Think of Various People I've Known
My Early Introduction to Classical Music... And My Father's
Oli Braithwaite of Stars & Catz on the Power of Music 
Episode 118: Bob Dylan Case Study on the Power of Music to Change the World 
Quiet Heart Comfort: Music CDs and Videos

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Dysfunctional Institutions Hinder Wealth Creation

Insights from Niall Ferguson's The Great Degeneration which I started writing about yesterday.

"A Postmodern Man"
Understanding (past) Western success helps us understand more urgent questions about the recent past, the present and potential futures. 

Nogales, bisected by U.S-Mexican border, is an example of how differing economic and government institutions produce different outcomes for the masses. The difference in living standards for the two halves of the city is shocking. 

Similarly, Germany and Korea have been object lessons in the disparity of outcomes that occur based on the institutions that rule them. South Korea and West Germany had Capitalist institutions. North Korea and East Germany had Communist ones. The divergence in outcomes "within a few decades was enormous." When the walls came down in Germany, many Western observers were eager to see how far behind East Germany was from it West German counterpart. The consensus expectation was that GDP in East Germany would be about 70-75% of West. The pundits were shocked to find East German GDP to be 35% of the Germans who experienced freedom and Capitalism.

Botswana in Africa illustrates how wealth and growth can take place when its people are not plagued by corruption or civil war, like what has been occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The difference in wealth between the two Sub-Saharan nations was directly related to the institutions that ran them.

Ferguson cites The Mystery of Capital by Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, who analyzed the barriers to wealth that bad institutions erect. 

In Lima, Peru, we see a diabolical dilemma that occurs in many places around the world. The problem is that though the poor living in shanty towns have a lot of property, it is not legally recognized as theirs by the governing officials. Getting legal title to a house or workshop is near impossible. To get a permit for a garment workshop on the outskirts of Lima took 289 days. To get the legal documents to build a house took six years and 11 months, during which time they were forced to deal with 52 different government offices. 

In short, dysfunctional institutions force the poor to live outside the law. The amount of real estate owned but not legally held by the poor of developing countries is more than 9 trillion dollars. This is pretty much dead money because if they owned their properties they could borrow against it and leverage it to generate more wealth.

DeSoto's research in cities around the world demonstrates that wealth creation has less to do with cultural differences than with the establishment of good legal structures and property rights. As one reviewer notes, "This book clearly states the importance of legal property ownership and the value of using the equity of owned real state to have access to capital." Or as Ferguson puts it, "Only in a working system of property rights can a house become collateral and its value be properly established by the market."

* * * 
Later in the book Ferguson details how institutions have slowly become barriers to economic development in this country. He cites the example of a lemonade stand in New York City that took six months to get permits and approvals from the innumerable city gatekeepers. 

Here in Duluth we have a similar bundle of barriers. One contractor whom I spoke with recently said, "I'm so frustrated with the city that I won't do business here any more. 99% of the problems come from City Hall." He told me it took three months to acquire a permit to raise a (garage) foundation two feet. "In Hermantown (an adjacent city just over the hill) it would take one day."

This is an issue I will be zeroing in on in more detail sometime in the near future.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Why Civilizations Fail: Niall Ferguson Sounds A Wake-Up Call

I just finished reading, for the second time, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, by Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, who hails from Scotland, is one of the world's foremost historians. He's a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University, and a faculty fellow at Harvard. 

The titles aren't what make his writing interesting. Rather, it is the clarity of thought and the scope of his ideas. To best understand what is happening in the world today, historians help bring perspective that most everyone has lost sight of because they are so focused on being "up to the minute," making sure we're in the loop with the latest statements or faux pas of the politicians we love or hate. 

One of the matters that this book addresses has to do with Western Civilization. Since there have been all kinds of civilizations over the ages, why do some rise up above the rest at various times? And how did Western Europe grow in strength and influence so that it came to dominate the world? 

There has been a lot of well-deserved criticism of the evils committed by the nations of Western Europe, not the least of which was the slave trade and exploitation of others' natural resources. Ferguson's book provides insights on how Western Civilization achieved the power that it did, and why this occurred in Europe and not elsewhere. 

Explaining the Great Divergence

People suggest a variety of explanations for the divergence in outcomes in quality of life for various people groups. For Ferguson, "Institutions, more than geography, natural resources, climate or even the incidence of disease, have a greater impact on societal outcomes."

Why did Western Civilization fair so much better than other civilizations? Ferguson writes that from the 1500s to the late 1970's there was an astonishing diverging in global living standards.

"As of 300 years ago the average Asian achieved the same as the average Westerner. As of 1978, the average American was 22 times richer. Why?"

Not only in wealth but also in health did we see this. In 1960, life expectancy in China was in the late 40s, whereas in the U.S. it had reached 70.

"A minority of mankind had both a material and political dominance over the rest. Why?" 

It had nothing to do with racial superiority, he notes. Nor did it have to do with natural resources, geography, climate or topography.  In other words, there were no outward signs to indicate Europe would outshine the great Oriental empires. 

Nor can the achievements of Western Europe be explained in terms of imperialism. Other empires did plenty of that as well. 

In point of fact, from 500 to 1500, which we now refer to as the Dark Ages, there was really nothing to suggest that this corner of the world would break out and expand its rule over a majority of the known world.

Ferguson believes that the reason for disparity in the great divergence between the Western end of Eurasia and the Eastern end has to do with the institutions that developed.

England was the first nation to embrace pluralistic rather than extracted political institutions. Spain was not and as a result, the political systems exported to the New World (North and South America) produced different outcomes. Protestantism was also a part of this influence.

Institutions are what matter. 

Here are a few points he makes early in the book:

--Dysfunctional institutions are what force the poor to live outside the law.

--The "rule of law" has no analogue in the non-human world.

--Good institutions are hard to achieve. Bad institutions are easy to get stuck in.

And then there's the big question that seems to be the overarching theme of this book: WHY DO INSTITUTIONS FAIL? 

* * * 

Niall Ferguson concluded that the rise of the West was due to four things, which he calls the Four Black Boxes. The bulk of this book is comprised of a deep dive into the meaning of these four elements.

1. Democracy -- the consent of the governed.

2. Capitalism -- and the vibrant society healthy markets produce.

3. Rule of law -- secure property rights, fairness and (in theory) equality.

4. Civil society -- how we treat one another.

The book was published ten years ago, and much of what we're seeing today is the crumbling of our culture. A very real degeneration is occurring right before our eyes. For the past half century we have been in decline and the evidence is all around us. 

Here are four areas where we have been failing.

--Failure to enforce property rights.

--Failure to uphold the rule of law

--Failure to understand economics, and defend the wealth creation capabilities of Capitalism.

--Failure to support the foundations of civil society.

As time permits I hope to share a more details regarding the Four Black Boxes of Civilization and why we need to wake up. To defend what really matters we need to understand what's really happening.   

* * * 
Related Link
Decline of the West: Historian Niall Ferguson Sounds Wake Up Call

Thursday, January 27, 2022

"Don't Like Mondays" in the George Morrison Gallery at the DAI

Forty years ago I painted apartments with a group of apartment painters in the Twin Cities. Because of my background I was asked to create a newsletter for the team, which we called  The New Monday Memo. (Or something like that.) The idea of it was to bring an upbeat feeling to the beginning of the workweek, as opposed to the way many people feel about the grinding routines and sometimes demeaning work cultures. 

This is a topic I've written about many times and Beth Livensperger's "Don't Like Mondays" is an artist's rendition of the various ways office life can damage people. The exhibit currently installed in the George Morrison Gallery at the Duluth Art Institute (4th floor at the Depot). It self-describes in this way:

Beth Livensperger’s large-scale collages depict women navigating the banal yet psychologically-charged space of office interiors, foregrounding female relationships across generations, from adversarial to supportive. In these pieces, receptionists are trapped behind tiny desks, a lone employee drowns in paperwork, and a manager delivers bad news to a subordinate. Men are relegated to bit parts—with visible hints that they still call the shots.

According to the DAI website, Ms. Livensperger received her BFA from The Cooper Union and an MFA in Painting and Printmaking from Yale University. In addition to exhibiting in venues in NYC, she has shown her work throughout the US as well as Seoul, Korea.

* * * 

For me the Don't Like Mondays raises questions that have been circulating for most of my life regarding what is art. At one end of the spectrum are those who are more concerned with the idea or concept than the actual craftsmanship. There are some who say everything is art. And then there are some who feel that everything is art except this or that, which can come from either end of the spectrum--that is, those "educated" in the arts and the uneducated.

Don't Like Mondays seems to be more about the message -- work is demeaning for women -- than the art. As a male I wanted to say, "Corporate culture can be demeaning for men, too." This is not universal, because there are certainly places where the culture is nurturing, the work is rewarding, the sense of achievement palpable. I've experienced that at times in my career. I also understand where the expression TGIF comes from.

The exhibit will be on display through April 3. 
For more details about this and other current exhibitions at the Duluth Art Institute visit:

Related Links

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tech Tuesday: A.I. Is Already Taking White Collar Writing Jobs. Who's Next?

Photo by Yuyeung Lau on Unsplash
In November I was reading an investment update at Zach's when I noticed that the advice regarding a particular stock was not only coherent but straightforward, clear English. Just the facts, but in sentences. In fine print it stated that the paragraph had been written by a machine.

The same kind of thing, converting data into statements, is happening in sports as well. Over 400 articles sent out on the wire services during the last summer olympics were  created by A.I.  

I've been looking at articles and books on Artificial Intelligence lately, many which note how white collar jobs will be vulnerable to these thinking machines. (Assuming that organizing data into sentences is thinking.) On Wall Street no one is looking for poetry. Neither are sports gamblers. It's all about the transmission of information. The words help identify what the numbers refer to, but the machines have few ambitions to dress up their prose in order to obtain a Pulitzer.

Machines have been replacing humans for decades, which is why the subject keeps coming up regarding how we're going to take care of the dispossessed. We're not doing the greatest job now, but what happens when unemployment is 10X what it is today?

According to this article in Fortune the robots are already replacing people in ways we have not yet noticed. Annual report writers, financial analysts, online marketing, programatic advertising, anesthesiologists, diagnosticians and even physicians have already been pushed aside by thinking machines to some extent.

Ten years ago some kid graduated college thinking his internet marketing degree was going to be his ticket to wealth and Caribbean vacations. Little did he know that in fifteen years the skills he learned would be obsolete.

If there's any secret to survival in today's topsy-turvy work environment, it seems we need to teach young people how to think, and to be vigilant about staying current with the changes taking place in their career field. 

* * * 

Meta, formerly Facebook, says it is working on an A.I. computer that will be faster than any in the world. How will it be used? According to this article it will be used to train other A.I. robots. Interesting. Will it teach the machines how to think? Or will it indoctrinate?  Is Meta's A.I. going to train up an army that will serve on behalf of the Haves or Have-Nots? 

Oh well, much more can be said but we'll save that for another space in time.

*This blog post was not written by an A.I. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Check Out Hubert Phipps' Ascending in the Miami Design District

If you’re in the vicinity of Miami and want to see an unusual art show, check out Hubert Phipps: Ascending at the ARES Modena showroom in the Miami Design District. The showroom features an ARES S1 supercar model surrounded by paintings and sculptures by the artist. 

Cars and art have a long history together. A noteworthy aspect of this show is not the car, but the artist who was himself a racecar driver on the SCCA circuit from 1979 to 1985, the same years Paul Newman won four national championships racing in the Sports Car Club of America. Phipps’ team mates included Danny Sullivan, who won the Indianapolis 500 despite a 360 degree spin-out late in the race, and Michael Andretti of the legendary Andretti family. Considering the caliber of the competition, it is impressive that Phipps had numerous race wins and one year captured the SCCA Formula Atlantic National Championship.

Hubert Phipps comes from a noteworthy family as well. His grandfather Henry Phipps, Jr. grew up with Andrew Carnegie, making a fortune in steel and real estate. Like Cargnegie he devoted his later years to philanthropic pursuits.

As an artist, Phipps became known for his paint pigment drawings and abstract sculptures. The materials he has explored working with include steel, bronze, wood, composites, plaster, glass and marble. 

"Hubert Phipps' racing background and his passion for automobiles shine through in the kinetic energy of his sculptures," said Mo Elarishy of ARES Miami. The artist's monument-sized Rocket was recently slected for an Art in Public Places program spearheaded by the Boca Raton Museum of Art. (For the unfamiliar, Boca Raton is within eyeshot of Cape Kennedy on Florida's east coast.

Aviation is another facet of the Phipps heritage. Hubert Phipps acquired his aviators license at age 16 and has logged more than 4,000 hours of flight time. According to the press release he likes to fly his Airbus Helicopter H-120 to Florida from his art studio in Virginia.  

ARES has its headquarters in Modena, Italy where the world's most legendary automakers have been active: Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, a European equivalent of Silicon Valley except these designers, craftsmen and engineers apply their imaginations and skills to an alternate passion.

The Ascending show will be on display here in Miami through January 31. 
Miami Design District: 151 NE 41 Street

Hubert Phipps (Publicity still)

Photo showing context for Phipps' creations.

Photos: Gary Firstenberg, with the exception of publicity still courtesy the artist.

Tribute to John Prin: Author, Mentor and Friend

Selfie taken during our annual meet in Hinckley, 2020.
We lost another good one. 

In 1982 I met John Prin at a Twin Cities Christian Writers group. An author of national stature came to speak at one of those early meetings we attended and after the meeting we sought each other out because of the questions we each had asked in the Q&A session.
John had been a full-time writer at Control Data, a major corporation during the early days of the digital age. I was a "failed missionary" who was now painting apartments and trying to figure out how I would spend the rest of my life. I felt inwardly drawn to the idea of being a writer and ultimately came to believe it was a calling. To this end John became my mentor. He not only helped me improve my skills as a writer, he taught me how the publishing business worked for freelancers. 

The following summer we attended the weeklong Decision School of Writing and from that time on I began publishing continuously. From the end of 1982 til 1986 I painted apartments by day and devoted myself to developing my writing skills and getting assignments by night. 

In 1986 Susie and I inherited her grandmother's house in Duluth. It was my hope to get a full-time writing job and put painting apartments behind us. To showcase my work while job hunting, John instructed me to buy a $25 binder instead of a three or five dollar binder. The tactic worked. It created a professional impression that led to several freelance assignments before landing a position as a writer the first week of July. This "break" evolved into a successful career in advertising, marketing and PR. 

1988. Top row: John and I. Front row:
John's Susie, my Susie and their Emily.
Over the years John and I continued to meet annually, to share our life adventures and writing successes. I was impressed with his successes as an author, an addictions counsellor and involvement in helping the needy, not only here but also in war torn Kosovo.*

In 2007 I began blogging daily and three years ago added Medium, another blogging platform. John followed my online activities keenly and last year sought my help getting started on Medium himself. He was excited about Koinonia, a publication for Christian writers, as a platform. He was attracted to its capacity for helping others beyond his physical sphere of influence.

Because he was older and had not been involved in social media before, it took a lot of hand holding, and I did all I could to help him with blogging the way he guided my early efforts to become a publishing writer.  

A week ago Friday he called me, seeking help on another article for Koinonia. We agreed to set up a time to work through the issue on Saturday, but when he called Saturday to follow up he was unable to talk. John has been battling pulmonary fibrosis for the past few years, a disease that took his daughter Emily 5 years ago this month, and which his twin brother Dave is also struggling with now. 

The next day he went to the hospital and passed away by mid-week, diagnosed with pneumonia and Covid on top of his primary issue.  

* * *
I wrote this a couple days ago not knowing how to finish. Perhaps it's a way of saying thanks to someone who made a difference in my life. 

If you're a young person reading this with something on your heart you wish to pursue, find a mentor whose values you share and who has travelled the path ahead of you enough to help show you the way.  

*John and his wife Susie made 13 humanitarian trips to Kosovo and twice to Macedonia. Susie also made trips to Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia with other groups.  

Related Links
John's website:

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: More Than A Horror Story

I don't care much for monster movies as a genre any more. When I was young we used to be enthralled by the genre. In the early Sixties I would use my allowance money to buy Famous Monsters of Filmland, a monthly mag that covered the burgeoning horror film industry.

Some of the most memorable films of that era for me were Frankenstein, Son of Frankenstein, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Creeper and, yes, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.

As children we enjoyed these horror flicks. They were engaging and generated a sufficient amount of fear and drama to stimulate our emotions. But the philosophical underpinnings of many of these films were lost on us. It wasn't until I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein that I saw that story in a different light. 

When I was a kid we called the monster Frankenstein. It wasn't clear that this was Dr. Victor Frankenstein's creation. Mary Shelley wrote the novella while in her late teens. It wasn't written to merely be a monster story or an entertainment, but rather it was addressing ethical issues which are still relevant today

Spencer Tracy as Mr. Hyde, on the run.
The original story by Robert Louis Stevenson is called Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The respected Dr. Jekyll, like the author who created him, is interested in understanding the nature of good and evil. Specifically, he believes the capacity for both good and evil resides in each of us. 

This notion seems rather unsurprising to most of us, if we're honest. Nevertheless, we have a tendency to label people as good or bad. Why do we do this? Do we label people in order to write them off?

The story has been translated to film more than a hundred times. The 1941 version I watched starred Spencer Tracy as Dr. Jekyll. Lana Turner is the woman from a high class family whom he is preparing to marry, and Ingrid Bergman is a barmaid. The script for this version was nearly identical to the 1931 version with Frederic March. The earlier version was made before Hollywood got stricter with the Hays Code. In that version the Ingrid Bergman character was a prostitute, not a barmaid. In either version the point is driven home that good and evil are adversaries within each of us.  

In the film, Dr. Jekyll is a professional doctor whose interests lie in the realm of research more than in serving the community. This thought makes me think of a psychology professor I had in college who washed his hands 40 times a day. He said he became interested in psychology because of his phobias. Perhaps a similar motivation was a driving force in Dr. Jekyll's studies.

Jekyll's personality is gentle and not bombastic.  His alter ego Mr. Hyde, however, is an expansive sadistic character. His bad behavior isn't shoplifting. 

Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman each turn in good performances as the soon-to-be bride of Dr. Jekyll (Turner) and the barmaid Hyde gets obsessed with (Bergman). Bergman does a superb job in a complex role that speaks to the heart of every woman in a relationship with a disturbed and dangerous man. When Mr. Hyde cross-examines her, she fights to hide her fear. This kind of reality is scarier than any horror film. Horror films are over in two hours, but an abusive relationship can cause anguish for years.

As for Dr. Jekyll, is there a warning here about experimenting with mind-altering elixirs? The side effects may be more disturbing than one realizes. He comforts himself with the illusion that he's in control, but in the end it's evident he's set in motion events that are out of his control. This false self-confidence one of our common flaws, is it not?

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eliminating Oil Will Lead to Elimination of Countless Other Everyday Products

Nevada Bob at Woodstock. Love Bugs and other vehicles
are switching to battery power. Photo: Gary Firstenberg.
I've spent much of my adult life hearing news reports that we were going to run out of oil in ten years. Our dependence on oil goes far beyond the fuel we use for our cars, trucks, tractors and toys like snowmobiles, motorcycles and dirt bikes. Let's not forget airplanes, ships and boats, both outboard and inboard.

It's been about fifteen years since I last heard that prediction about running out of oil. Since then we've been told that we must stop using oil to save the planet.

By the time that day comes, one hopes that we will have found not only alternatives for power production but also alternative means of producing the thousands of products that are derivatives of oil. That's what this blog post is about.

* * * 

When crude oil is removed from the earth it gets sent to refineries where it becomes feedstock. This feedstock is used in petrochemical plants where it is turned into plastic to make a multitude of products. Solar panels, car bodies, eyeglasses, DVDs, children's toys, tires and hearts valves is just the start of a very long list.

Today's cars are laden with electronics, sensors, chips
and hoses. Tires and dashboards have crude oil roots.
The photo here is of my wife Susie, and her Soul.
Because they are non-conductive and heat resistant, petroleum-based products are used extensively in electronics. Speakers, smartphones, computers, television sets and flat panel TVs, radios, cameras and CD players are just a few of the items we're all accustomed to.

In the realm of textiles, we've nearly all become accustomed to acrylic, rayon, polyester, nylon and spandex as well as vegan leather. 

You'll find petroleum is used for making all sorts of sports equipment that we've grown accustomed to. I'm not sure what we will use in the future to replace petroleum as a resource to make basketballs, golf ball, football helmets, surfboards, skis, tennis rackets or fishing rods. (OK, we can use cane poles and come up with an alternative to the current form of fishing line.)

Personal care products is another big business today that will undergo change. I was unaware of how extensively oil was used in products like perfume, hair dye, hand lotion, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, deodorant, toothbrushes, panty hose, combs, shampoo and contact lenses. Cosmetics like lipstick, makeup, foundation, eyeshadow, mascara and eyeliner are also in this category.

When it comes to modern medicine, there are hoards of medical devices that rely on petroleum. Likewise in the realm of pharmaceuticals. Hospital equipment like IV bags, aspirin, artificial limbs, dentures, hearing aids, and heart valves will need alternatives if we shut off the oil supply. 

A few years ago an older man came out to replace our well pump. As we talked I learned that he was on his second artificial heart. He said that his first was metal, and the splashing of the blood thru the heart was noisy and distracting. He was much relieved when the new heart was installed, undoubtedly with some plastic parts. (I did hear recently that a pig's heart was successfully transplanted into a human and not rejected, so maybe there will be an alternative in this area.)

Household products is another area where petroleum has been used extensively. Roofing materials, insulation, linoleum flooring, furniture, appliances, pillows, curtains, rugs are some larger items. Dishes, cups, non-stick pans and dish detergents frequently use oil in their creation.

* * * 

THE POINT IN ALL THIS is that the auto industry has been working on doing their part for more than 25 years. I saw a number of EVs in 1998 at an Environmental Expo in Anaheim. I'm just curious about all these other products derived from oil. If were to shut down oil altogether, would hypodermic needs have to be made of glass again? Will we have enough cotton and wool to clothe ourselves? Will there be no more PVC plumbing? What will we replace it with since lead is not safe?

We want to have wind turbines to generate electricity, but what are those enormous blades made out of? 

I think we need to manage our expectations regarding what is possible and what is necessary. 

Just sowing seeds. Something to think about.

* * * 


Thursday, January 20, 2022

Throwback Thursday: A Zappa Quotebook, Revisited


While blog surfing I came across a collection of quotes attributed to Frank Zappa. Many are quite poignant. Others reflect his wit and somewhat amusing ways of turning a phrase.

In many ways he stood alone, dedicated to the craft of his art and inner vision. Over a three decade period he produced as many as sixty albums, with few becoming commercially successful. Not surprisingly, Zappa’s creative commitments made him uncompromising. He would not be a sell out for fame, and was reputedly an exceedingly demanding taskmaster in the studio. Sloppiness was not acceptable in an artist.

Zappa’s canvas was anything, no holds barred. Thus he stood against religion which he believed set arbitrary boundaries on where an artist could explore. He likewise opposed recreational drug use, which was permeated the music scene at the time his star was rising.

It takes little effort with Google to find more than your money can buy in terms of Zappa data. So, if you want more, you know where to go. Here’s a collection of quotes purportedly originating with da man.

"Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny."

"Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe."

"Tobacco is my favorite vegetable."

"There is no hell. There is only France."

"Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid."

"It is always advisable to be a loser if you cannot become a winner."

"A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open."

"If we can’t be free at least we can be cheap."

"Sometimes you’ve got to get sick before you can feel better."

"There will never be a nuclear war; there’s too much real estate involved."

"Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?"

"Outdoors for me is walking from the car to the ticket desk at the airport."

"You drank beer, you played golf, you watched football -- WE EVOLVED!"

Interviewer: "So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?"
Zappa: "You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?"

"Without deviation from the norm, ’progress’ is not possible."

"Hey, you know something people? I’m not black, but there’s a whole lots a times I wish I could say I’m not white."

"Most people wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them in the ass."

"Politics is the entertainment branch of industry."

"There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life."

"Let’s not be too rough on our own ignorance, it’s what makes America great."

"Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST."

"The creation and destruction of harmonic and ’statistical’ tensions is essential to the maintenance of compositional drama. Any composition (or improvisation) which remains consonant and ’regular’ throughout is, for me, equivalent to watching a movie with only ’good guys’ in it, or eating cottage cheese."

Fade to black.
Frank Zappa: 1940-1993

Most of the images of Zappa on this page were created over a period of two nights for the purpose of embellishing this collection of quotes which were assembled for a blog post here in 2008.

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