Saturday, April 29, 2023

Initial Thoughts After My First Trip to Italy

Three of 9 Michelangelo statues in the Medici Chapel
Thursday evening I arrived at my home back in Duluth after an eleven day journey to Italy, specifically Florence and Parma. Becoming immersed in these two cities was so uplifting and sensational that trying to write about, share it, it has been challenging. 

I wrote over 40 pages of notes during my stay, and took what seems like a thousand photos. Over the next few weeks I will attempt to present "snapshots" of the various experiences I had there. 

Late last night I scribbled these two statements in my journal:

If Italy doesn't move you, then your eyes were closed.
If Italy doesn't change you, then your heart was closed.

Time will tell as regards the truth of the latter. From the moment I arrived, though, I fully experienced the former.

* * * 

Over the years I've thought much and written numerous times about influences. Usually I connected influence with people. A century ago, however, a Nobel prizewinner gave a few lectures on influence and connected it with places. Places can pull us just as much as they invigorate us and make us come alive. One of my first thoughts after I'd checked into my AirBnB and began walking the streets of Florence was this one: "I'm home." Something was resonating within me at a very deep level. 

What follows are a few miscellaneous photos from Florence with more to be shared as time unfolds over the weeks to come. 

Bust of Gallileo
Michelangelo's Bacchus
In an open square by the Academy
Bridge across the Arno
Courtyard of the Pitti Palace
One of literally countless painted ceilings.
Typical windows seen from the streets. 

There were three especially cool and unexpected surprises while I was there. Last weekend there was a protest by Peruvians in Italy, aimed at drawing attention to alleged genocide taking place in Peru under the current government regime. On April 25 there was a national celebration of the Liberation of Italy from fascist dictator Mussolini. Florence celebrated with speeches, the laying of a wreath at a monument commemorating this event in which the U.S. drove out Italy's enemies during World War II. (I plan to devote a blog post to this historical moment in which my father-in-law participated.) And third, there was a fantastic MC Escher retrospective of the first order in which I learned of Italy's influence on this great 20th century designer/artist. (This will be re-visited later as well.)

Then there were the numerous interesting people I became acquainted with. And the bookstores. And the food. And the wonder of it all.

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Friday, April 14, 2023

What Are the Biggest Threats to Small Business?

Small businesses are an essential part of the fabric of our society, and their success is critical to the success of our economy and our communities. I'd like to suggest that small businesses represent the heart of America's free markets. Small businesses are where people put their entrepreneurial dreams into action. 

Here are some of the benefits of small businesses:

  1. Job creation: Small businesses are significant contributors to job creation. They create job opportunities for the local community, providing employment for people of different skill levels and backgrounds. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses created 1.5 million jobs in 2019 alone.
  2. Economic growth: Small businesses are vital to the growth of the economy. They contribute to the GDP and promote economic growth by generating income and creating wealth. They also stimulate competition, which helps drive innovation and reduce prices.
  3. Local community development: Small businesses play a crucial role in the development of local communities. They help to build and sustain vibrant neighborhoods by providing goods and services that meet the needs of the local population. You can see this happening in Duluth's Lincoln Park District. Small businesses also tend to reinvest profits back into the community, which helps to support other local businesses.
  4. Entrepreneurship: Small businesses are a platform for entrepreneurship. They provide opportunities for individuals to start and grow their businesses, pursue their passions, and achieve their dreams. Small businesses also help to create a diverse and dynamic business environment, which encourages innovation and creativity.
  5. Resilience: Small businesses are generally more agile and adaptable than large corporations, which makes them more resilient in times of economic uncertainty like today. They can respond more quickly to changes in market conditions and customer needs, which enables them to stay competitive and survive challenging times.

On the other hand, small businesses also face a unique set of challenges and risks that can pose significant threats to their success. Some of the biggest threats to small businesses include:

  1. Limited resources: Small businesses typically have limited financial and human resources, which can make it difficult to compete with larger players in the market. 
  2. Economic downturns: Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to economic downturns as they may not have the financial reserves to weather a prolonged period of low sales and revenue. 
  3. Increased competition: Small businesses may face competition from larger, established businesses or new entrants in the market, which can put pressure on their profitability.
  4. Difficulty accessing financing: Small businesses may struggle to secure financing due to their size, lack of collateral, or limited credit history, which can limit their ability to invest in growth or ride out tough times. The current economic turbulence is especially problematic for companies dealing with debt. Uncertainty about interest rates makes it difficult to accurately plan ahead.
  5. Cybersecurity threats: Small businesses are often seen as easy targets by cybercriminals, who may exploit vulnerabilities in their systems and steal sensitive data or money. This and most of the other challenges are directly related to not having the necessary funding to stay current. 
  6. Regulatory compliance: Small businesses may struggle to keep up with changing regulations and compliance requirements, which can result in costly fines and legal issues. You may not be able to afford having an HR pro on staff, but there are HR pros out there whom you can lean on for this nightmarish facet of your business. Locally, Stacy Johnson of Audacity HR is a capable "go to" for this and other matters.
  7. Staffing challenges: Small businesses may have difficulty attracting and retaining employee talent, which can impact their ability to grow and compete. 
  8. Cash flow issues: Small businesses may face cash flow issues due to late payments from customers, inventory management, or other unexpected expenses.

These are just a few examples of threats to small businesses. One more to consider: life insurance. If your business is a partnership, what happens if one of the partners dies unexpectedly. How much will it set you back? Don't assume everything will be hunky dory because you're all young. 

On a related note, if the past three years has taught us anything it's that we can't take tomorrow for granted. Remember, it's not what happens to you, but how you react that counts.

To overcome these challenges, small business owners must develop sound strategies, stay agile and adaptable, and seek out support and resources as needed. If you're a business owner, I hope you've found something useful here.

EdNote: Story created with assistance from ChatGPT.

Illustrations by the author.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Various Ways of Looking at History with Commentary (and a Book Offer)

I have long been fascinated with history. In fourth grade I remember taking every opportunity I could get to study the large American Heritage volume in the back of the classroom telling the history of the Civil War. I was an avid reader of biographies of famous people like Zebulon Pike, Paul Revere, Lewis and Clarke and others who shaped our past.

There are many different ways to look at history. Some people see it as a series of great events, while others see it as the sum of the experiences of ordinary people. Some people see it as a linear progression, while others see it as a cyclical process. Some people see it as a story of progress, while others see it as a story of decline. (I can see these as simultaneous, which is interesting to me.)

Here are some of the different ways of looking at history according to Google's AI bot called Bard:

Great man theory: This is the view that history is made by great individuals, such as kings, queens, and presidents. It follows, naturally, that the educated class wrote books about these people as the movers and shakers of history.

Political history: This is the view that history is made by political events, such as wars, revolutions, and elections. 

Economic history: This is the view that history is made by economic events, such as the invention of money (in ancient Mesopotamia) and the spread of the Roman Empire which produced safe roads resulting in widespread commerce. The Great Depression and, later, the collapse of the Soviet Union would be important chapters in this history.

Cultural history: This is the view that history is made by cultural events, such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. 

Global history: This is the view that history is made by the interactions between different parts of the world. Historians who subscribe to this theory look at the world as a single interconnected unit, and that the history of any one part of the world cannot be understood without considering the history of other parts of the world.

Military history: This is the study of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, cultures and economies thereof, as well as the resulting changes to local and international relationships.

Digital history: This is the view that history is made by the use of digital technologies. Historians who subscribe to this theory believe that digital technologies are changing the way that history is written and studied.

Marxist view of historyHistory is a series of class struggles. In each historical epoch, there are two main classes: the ruling class and the oppressed class. The ruling class controls the means of production and the oppressed class does not. The ruling class exploits the oppressed class, and this exploitation leads to conflict between the two classes.

Religious History: By studying the origins of our world's religions and the manner in which they spread, we gain insights that can be applied to current events. 

Social history: This is the view that history is made by ordinary people, and that it is important to study the lives of ordinary people in order to understand history. This focus has resulted in bringing to light multitudes of personal memoirs and diaries whose stories shed light on the perceptions and experiences of common people, humanity's herd.

These are just some of the different ways of looking at history, each way providing us with a different understanding of the past.

* * * 

I re-arranged the Bard's list in order to end with a pitch for the book And There Shall Be Wars by Wilmer "Bud" Wagner and Lloyd Wagner. The book epitomizes this "Common Man" ordinary people perspective on history.

Bud was my father-in-law, the second civilian drafted into the WW2 at our local draft board here in Proctor. He carried a small pocket camera and kept a diary from beginning to end, from Camp Claiborne to Ireland to North Africa and the Italy Campaigns. His keen day by day observations have been amplified with a lifetime of research and reflection to provide readers with important insights through the eyes of a young soldier from rural Minnesota.

Bud served as a cook, machine gunner and company agent. He had the privilege of being on the first convoy to make its way across the Atlantic for the European theater. And the good fortune of having survived the duration of the war without becoming a casualty -- in North Africa and Italy, which included beachheads at Anzio and Salerno. 

The book was a joint project involving the research skills and memoirs of WW II veteran Bud Wagner and his son Lloyd Wagner (Masters in Literature). Bud showed me his original diaries during a weekend visit when I was dating my wife Susie. He asked if anyone would be interested in them. I was floored by their contents as I leafed through the pages.

For years I encouraged him to amplify his diaries and make a book of them. A market gardener by trade, he used the long winters here to research and assemble the contents of this memoir. The results greatly exceeded my expectations and, with the able editing of his son, produced a fascinating manuscript. A large collection of photographs accompanies the text.

The book is titled And There Shall Be Wars. It is 536 pages with 178 original photos and illustrations.

Here is a letter from retired General John W. Vessey, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who received notice of his promotion to Captain while seated in Bud's jeep:

"Dear Bud, ... Thanks not only for the copy of the book, but also for putting those wartime notes into a permanent record. It is an important addition to all the "stuff" historians record. I couldn't put the book down once I got into it. It brought back a lot of memories reading about times, places, and people from 55+ years ago."

The book is currently out of print, though a couple copies are available at Amazon for $75. If interested, we have copies available for $20 + S&H. To purchase your copy, send a note expressing your interest to

To learn more about And There Shall Be Wars visit:

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Five Minutes with Bobcat Podcaster / Minnesota Dylan Fan Matt Steichen

I first got acquainted with Matt Steichen in the Minneapolis studio where Paul Metsa's Wall of Power shows were filmed and recorded. The occasion that brought us together was the release of Bob Dylan's 13th Bootleg Series set titled More Blood, More Tracks, comprised of outtakes from Dylan's powerful 1975 release Blood on the Tracks. On that occasion, Metsa brought together the original Minnesota musicians who recorded half the songs on the milestone double-platinum album to celebrate their belated recognition, which is itself a much longer story.

I reached out to Matt here because he will be presenting one of the John Bushey Memorial Lectures at this year's Duluth Dylan Fest. The free lecture, titled Bob Dylan and his Fans: Searching for Love and Inspiration, will be shared at Wussow's Concert Cafe on Saturday May 27 at 1:30-3:00 pm. 

Matt Steichen has worked in journalism and communications in the Twin Cities since 2006. He has presented on the topic of Bob Dylan to a variety of audiences, including at the Macalester College Dylan Summit, and written about Dylan for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He hosts The Bobcats, A Bob Dylan Fan Podcast, and is co-contributor to the new book Bob Dylan in Minnesota: Troubadour Tales from Duluth, Hibbing and Dinkytown, which will be released later this month.

EN: What is it about Dylan that has produced such a broad community of fans all over the world?

Steichen family in front of Bob Dylan's 
Hibbing home 2 blocks from high school
Matt Steichen: I’ve enjoyed Bob Dylan’s music for a long time but I’m fascinated by the fandom he provokes, and that’s a big part of what I plan to talk about at Duluth Dylan Fest - why certain people are drawn to Bob Dylan in such a strong way and what it is about his music that resonates so powerfully with them. So there’s a lot I could say about this, but I think the main thing that gives his music such broad appeal is the universality of the themes he addresses and feelings he shares. As he sings in "False Prophet," he sings songs of love and songs of betrayal - but he also expresses anger, righteousness, mortality, optimism, defiance against authority and oppression, and so many more. They’re all in the songs somewhere. There must be a Bob Dylan song that corresponds with just about any emotion a human can have and so they resonate with people from all walks of life and in places all over the world.

EN: That's exactly how I feel as well. How did Bob Dylan's music first come to resonate with you on a deeper level? 

MS: I listened to his Greatest Hits album from the time I was a really little kid, but I would say my eureka moment came when I was around 13 and my older brother brought home Don’t Look Back. I didn’t like most of the documentary because Bob acted like such a jerk in a lot of it. But then he sang The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and that totally changed my perspective on what music could be. It told a story about an injustice and had a moral lesson. And the way it was delivered made a whole theater be quiet and listen to every single word. Up to that point I’d thought of music as a background thing you’d play at a party or a barbeque or something, but after that I saw that it could be so much more than that. It could be artistic and socially relevant. Of course that was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Bob’s catalog. 

Steichens in front of 5-story mural in Minneapolis
EN: Can you share the story of how you met your wife?

MS: I’ll talk about this in Duluth as well, but the basic story is this: I was attending the second of three shows in the midwest in the summer of 2004. You could say “suddenly I turned around and she was standing there.” I was first in line for that show so I was at the center of the stage at the rail, and upon arriving at my spot I turned around and she was directly behind me in the general admission crowd. We chatted a bit and it turned out we’d already been to several of the same Bob shows. I thought she was probably a local high schooler attending her first concert, so when she said she’d seen him many times, including the previous fall in Paris I was really impressed. We kept in touch a bit via email, I sent her some recordings, and then the next year we ended up going to five shows together. 

Following Dylan is a family adventure.
EN: What is your role in the Minnesota school system? Are you seeing evidence of Dylan's influence soaking into the next generation?

MS: I work in communications for a school district in the Twin Cities, so I’m not an educator but I am in education. The only time I put my teacher hat on is when I visit History of Rock n Roll classes at local high schools. They have a “Bob Dylan Day” and I talk for 45 minutes about who Bob is (a lot of them don’t know), what he’s accomplished, and about his cultural and historical impact. Considering the enormous role Bob has played in popular culture over the last 60 years and that he’s from Minnesota just like them, I think it’s a good thing for them to have a general understanding of who he is. 

When I was growing up in the early ‘90s, Bob was just about the least culturally relevant he’s ever been, and I still found my way to his music. My kids are 70 years younger than Bob and they all enjoy his music. And given how much more accessible technology has made his music, I don’t see any reason why future generations won’t keep going back to it. 

EN: Some people think Dylan will be the one singer/songwriter from this past 50 years that will still be studied 100 years from now. Do you agree with that assessment and why do you think that is?

MS: I do agree. If you listen to my podcast episode with Sean Latham from the University of Tulsa (The Bobcats, a Bob Dylan Fan Podcast), he provides some really great perspective on this. He says that because Bob incorporates so many real events, real people, cultural references, slang terms, jokes, etc, and uses many of the musical styles of the last hundred years, his music will basically serve as a time capsule for this era.

With Golden Chords drummer Leroy Hoikkala,
a member of one of Dylan's h.s. garage bands.
If we’re looking ahead hundreds of years, I think it’s also important to think about Bob’s music in a historical context. He has created music at a very pivotal time in history, so those studying events like the civil rights movement will look back to see how artists of this era responded to what was going on in society - and Bob is the first person they’ll come to. His career has also spanned a large portion of the dawn of the mass-distribution of recorded sound, which means people in the future will be able to go back and listen to everything he ever did. We don’t have that luxury when it comes to the vast majority of performers that have come before, so his music will be able to live on in a way other music hasn’t.

EN: You're one of the contributors to the new release Bob Dylan In Minnesota. How did that come about?

MS: I moved to Minnesota in 2006 and since then I’ve always been interested in his youth spent here and in how he’s perceived by his home state. There are still people out there who say that Bob Dylan hates Minnesota and has never said anything nice about Minnesota.

Keith Miles reached out to me a couple years ago on Twitter and said he was going to write another Troubadour Tales book, this time about Bob in Minnesota. I think he was just looking for a photo at the time because I’m a regular visitor to Duluth and Hibbing. He said he wanted to write a chapter about my family of Bob Dylan fans and asked if I wanted to write anything. I decided that it would be a good opportunity to debunk all those claims some people still make about Bob not liking Minnesota. Having read hundreds of his interviews and many biographies, I felt like I could provide a much more complete picture of how growing up in Minnesota helped shape his imagination, how it has affected his music, and how he feels about the place where he grew up, so that’s what my chapter is about.

EN: Do you have a favorite Dylan song or album? What is it and why?

MS: My favorite song since I was 7 or 8 has been Mr. Tambourine Man. I could explain why I appreciate it now in a more nuanced way, but at the heart of it it’s still just about his voice and the way he sings it.

* * * 

IT SHOULD BE NOTED HERE that Matt is one of several Minnesota contributors to the soon-to-be released Troubadour Series book Bob Dylan in Minnesota. It is very possible that books will be available for sale after Matt's talk with at least two of the authors contributing signatures that day (if not more).

You can read one of the early reviews here.

Related Links
Duluth Dylan Fest 2023
The Bobcats: A Bob Dylan Fan Podcast 
     On Spotify
     On Apple

A Visit with Seth Rogovoy: On Looking at Dylan Through a Jewish Lens
Rogovoy's John Bushey Memorial Lecture will be available live on Zoom, Sunday May 21. Login details will be posted on the Duluth Dylan Fest website.

A Rewarding Visit with Writer-Musician Jeff Slate, Author of the Liner Notes for More Blood More Tracks

Mark your calendar for May 25, An Evening with Jeff Slate

with Paul Metsa & Sonny Earl Opening

Monday, April 10, 2023

Four ChatGPT Stories with Implications for All

AI generated art  based on 
Double D artwork by e.
ChatGPT, the language model chatbot developed by OpenAI, continues to create quite a stir. It is also a work in progress. That is, it uses human feedback (feedback from users) as a means of learning. Because it is trained by data from humans, it has been prone to reflect our human biases

In addition to being biased, ChatGPT is also inaccurate at times. It is not connected to the Internet and was trained only up till 2021. Therefore, it can actually get its facts wrong as when I recently asked he/she/it to tell me about the Duluth music scene and the best night spots to hear music. One of the places it suggested had been out of business for a couple years. In other words, verify accuracy or you may end up passing along falsehoods.

The number of people experimenting with ChatGPT is quite remarkable. There were more than one billion visits to the website in February alone. That's pretty amazing since this was only launched in November 2022.

Here are some comparisons to help put ChatGPTs growth into perspective, the amount of time it took to reach one million users:

Netflix: 3.5 years
Spotify:  5 months
Instagram: 2 months
Facebook: 10 months
ChatGPT: 5 days*

Here are a few recent stories that caught my eye. I found the last one especially interesting in light of the note above that ChatGPT is inaccurate at times. 

One story is about the bot's ability to pass a medical exam with flying colors. I am guessing it could also pass the bar with flying colors as well. Will ChatGPT be able to offer legal advice to a team of attorneys hired to defend ChatGPT in the defamation case below.

* * *     

ChatGPT AI lists jobs it can do better than humans 

as millions could be put out of work

OpenAI’s wildly popular chatbot, ChatGPT, is expected to replace 4.8 million U.S. jobs, according to a new report.

Outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas recently asked ChatGPT’s bot a series of questions, including "What jobs can ChatGPT replace?" and in what fields the bot would be most capable of working, according to a press release provided to Fox News Digital. 

Surviving AI by Calum Chace Is a Must Read for Those Who Plan to Be Here in the Future

AI could go 'Terminator,' gain upper hand over humans 

in Darwinian rules of evolution, report warns

Artificial intelligence could gain the upper hand over humanity and pose "catastrophic" risks under the Darwinian rules of evolution, a new report warns.

The newest version of ChatGPT passed 

the US medical licensing exam with flying colors 

and diagnosed a 1 in 100,000 condition in seconds

A doctor and Harvard computer scientist says GPT-4 has better clinical judgment than "many doctors." 

Australian mayor readies world's first defamation lawsuit 

over ChatGPT content

SYDNEY, April 5 (Reuters) - A regional Australian mayor said he may sue OpenAI if it does not correct ChatGPT's false claims that he had served time in prison for bribery, in what would be the first defamation lawsuit against the automated text service.

Brian Hood, who was elected mayor of Hepburn Shire, 120km (75 miles) northwest of Melbourne, last November, became concerned about his reputation when members of the public told him ChatGPT had falsely named him as a guilty party in a foreign bribery scandal involving a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia in the early 2000s.

* * *  


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