Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Art and More At the Encore

A gallery featuring local art is always part of theater productions
at the Encore Performing Arts Center in Cloquet.
Here are some works currently on display
while the play No Body To Murder is showing. 
See my review:
Hilarious One-Act Play at the County Seat Theatre
Area artists are invited to submit artwork that
corresponds to one of the themes in the play.
Here are some of the pieces you will find there.

"Three Americans Died" and the Story of Maximillian

It's surprising how few Americans realize that during the U.S. Civil War, France invaded Mexico, overthrew the Mexican government and installed Austrian Archduke Maximillian as Emperor of Mexico. Maximilian's rise to the throne of Mexico was a complex and controversial chapter in Mexican history, which I learned about through an insight book titled Maximillian and Carlotta. By means of this book I learned much about the interwoven monarchies of Europe and why World War I became as devastting as it was.

The story of Maximillian and Carlotta begins on a beach in Mexico near Vera Cruz. The French had come to Mexico to collect debts that France was owed by the Mexican government. For reasons I do not recall, there was an incident on the beach in which seven French soldiers were killed.

In response, France decided to invade Mexico in 1862. Mexico was itself in political disarray, but as the saying goes, when you take over you own it. NOW what is the plan?

Maximillian's older brother Franz Joseph was fully installed as Emperor of Austria, which left young Max with no real responsibilities. Wearing a crown in a foreign land had a certain appeal to the young, aimless ruler without a throne. By 1864 he was installed, but was not aware of how much resentment the peoples felt toward this 24-year-old pup who now ruled their nation.

The good times and parties didn't last though. When the American Civil War ended, the French began removing troops. The ruling elite lacked sufficient support to quash the rebellions and protests. Max and Carlotta felt increasig isolated.

Carlotta returned home to Europe, but Maximillian was not so lucky. When the American Civil War ended, the reunited government put pressure on France to get their troops out of Central America. Without the support of an army, Max was captured and executed in Queretaro by firing squad.

* * *

This is the story that came to mind when I heard the news that three Americans were killed by a drone the other day. There's been an immediate call for retribution, to get even, to make a military statement... What will it accomplish? If it is a significant action, it will only rile up more hatred against us. If it is insignificant, then what is the point.

France wasted five years and countless lives by invading Mexico to "teach her a lesson."

I recently heard someone say, "In the land of 'an eye for an eye' everyone ends up blind."

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called the children of God." He was not talking about peacemaker missiles.

* * * 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Wordsmith Wisdom: Insights from Writers for Crafting Compelling Fiction

A long and winding road.

First, a word of advice from the blogger. When I began my writing career, I didn't focus on money or fame. My goal was to excel as a writer. To do this I used my local library and read nearly every book about writing, looking for pearls like the ones you find here. Some of these books I also purchased, forming a personal reference library.

There were other things I did, but that's a longer story and my aim here was to share a few of the insights I gleaned from a few of these personal favorites. 

On Writing Fiction
"Though the literary dabbler may write a fine story now and then, the true writer is one for whom technique has become, as for the pianist, second nature."
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction 

"... whatever the genre may be, fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader's mind."
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction 

"Thus the value of great fiction, we begin to suspect, is not just that it entertains us or distracts us from our troubles, not just that it broadens our knowledge of people and places, but also that it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations."
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction

"What the young writer needs to develop, to achieve his goal of becoming a great artist, is not a set of aesthetic laws, but artistic mastery."
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction 

"One great inhibition and obstacle to me was the thought: Will it make money? But you find if you are thinking of that all the time, either you don't make money because the work is so empty, dry, calculated and without life in it. Or you do make money and you are ashamed of your work. Your published writing gives you the pip."
Brenda Uelland - If You Want to Write 

"It may feel more classy to imitate James Joyce... than All In the Family; but every literary imitation lacks something we expect of good writing: the writer seeing with his own eyes."
J. Gardner - On Becoming a Novelist 

"Detail is the lifeblood of fiction."
J. Gardner - On Becoming a Novelist

"The study of writing, like the study of classical piano, is not practical but aristocratic. If one is born rich, one can easily afford to be an artist; if not, one has to afford one's art by sacrifice."
J. Gardner - On Becoming a Novelist

"The main purpose of art... is this, that it tell the truth about the soul, revealing and giving expression to all the secrets one cannot say in simple words. ...Art is a microscope that the artist focuses on the secrets of his own soul, and that then reveals to men the secrets common to them all."
Tolstoy - diary note

"The real rewards of writing are serious and bitter as well as sweet. And they are private, not public.
W. Sloan - The Craft of Writing

"With Schopenhauer he (Thomas Mann) holds that the epic writer's aim should be to conjure up the richest possible inner life by means of a minimum of external action: 'Art consists in the writer's affecting our inner life most strongly with the least display of outer life; for the inner is essentially the object of our interest.' Thus every detail of Aschenbach's outer life is so chosen as to illuminate the deepest recesses of his mind and to furnish the richest symbolical meaning."
Von Gronicka, in a critique of Mann's Death in Venice

"The lifelong central theme of Mann's books has been an inquiry into the function of art and the artist, of culture and the intellectual in modern society."

"And yet, we know how fatal the pursuit of liveliness may be: it may result in ...tiresome acrobatics. ... Flashy effects distract the mind. They destroy their persuasiveness; you would not believe a man was very intent on ploughing a furrow if he carried a hoop with him and jumped through it at every other step."
Katherine Anne Porter

"Sin is easier to write about than grace, I suppose, because the territory is so familiar and because, too, it is the nature of grace, when we receive it, to turn our eyes not inward, where most writers' eyes turn, but outward, where there is a whole world of needs to serve far greater than the need for another book."
F. Buechner - Then and Now 

"I have never produced anything good except by a long succession of slight efforts."
Andre Gide

"One should only become aware of the difficulties of a subject progressively and in the course of working at it; if one realizes them all at the outset, one loses heart."
Andre Gide "If it Die..."

"At least in conventional fiction, the moment we stop caring where the story will go next... the writer has failed, and we stop reading.
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction 

"When the amateur writer lets a bad sentence stand in his final draft, though he knows its bad, the sin is frigidity: he has not yet learned the importance of his art..."
J. Gardner - The Art of Fiction 

"When virtuosity gets the upper hand of your theme, or is better than your idea, it is time to quit."
Katherine Anne Porter

"My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip."

Elmore Leonard

Friday, January 26, 2024

No Body To Murder: Hilarious One-Act Play at the County Seat Theater in Cloquet

Director Joel Soukkala welcomes the audience
and introduces the show.
Last night I attended the final dress rehearsal for No Body To Murder which is opening tonight at the Encore! Performing Arts Center and Gallery in Cloquet. The one-act play is a hilarious romp that generated involuntary laughter from start to finish. The story is a cross between Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Steve Martin/Michael Caine film that made me laugh till my cheeks hurt. Throw in a bit of Pink Panther and you start to get the idea.

The Encore! exemplifies the essence of what local theater is about. No Body To Murder is the first show of the Encore's 37th season. That's a pretty long run, and there are reasons people keep coming back. Community theaters foster a sense of pride and involvement. And there's something to be said for the. D-I-Y spirit of local theater, that "We can do it!" bravado that steps up to new challenges. "We don't need to pay $150 a ticket for Broadway entertainment. We've got the same feel-good satisfaction right here."

In truth, local theater is fun because it's dripping with amateur enthusiasm. Local actors, directors, stage designers and set constructors do it not for fame and fortune, but out of sheer love for the arts. 

The setting for No Body To Murder is an inn in Nova Scotia. As the story opens we are introduced to the staff as they await the arrival of the weekend's guests. An ominous note is struck when the radio announces that there is an escaped convict loose on the island. Almost immediately the guests begin arriving. Three doctors, a countess, an fitness freak named Billie Body, a bad mime, Colonel Muckle, Hilda the hairdresser, and more.

Things take a darker turn when a thunderstorm knocks out the power. When the lights go back on, Billie Body is lying dead on the couch. Hmmm.  Now how did that happen? Could it be that the lemonade was poisoned? Was it the servant with the axe? The hunt for the killer is a roller coaster ride with more twists than a sidewinder.

The play, written by Edith Weiss, is directed by Jenn and Joel Soukkala. If I have failed to convey how much fun it is, that's my bad. It really is a riot.

The show is only tonight and next week, so don't put it off. Visit the County Seat Theater website for details. 

* * * 

NOTEWORTHY: In addition to the themed art show in the gallery (always tied to the current play) there is a special section featuring the remarkable work of Rea Ching Minerva. You will certainly want to make time to engage all the art, but especially these works by the late Ms. Minerva.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Snapshots from Parma, 2023--A Catalog of Memories

Every picture tells a story.

DaVinci's Head of a Woman.(La Scapigliata)
This was amazing... Especially from six inches away.

Thank you, Parma.

Related Link:

17 Blog Posts about My Adventures in Italy

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.”
Anna Akhmatov

April 2023 I traveled to Italy for the first time in my life. For reasons I can only guess I’ve always felt an inward desire to one day visit this magical place. How marvelous it was when on my 70th birthday I received an all expenses paid trip to Italy from my daughter.

While there I scrawled 40 pages of notes and took what seems like a thousand photos. Upon my return I began processing my experience by writing about it on my Ennyman’s Territory blog. Assembling them here in one place enables me to share them with a single link.

1. Initial Thoughts after my first trip to Italy

2. A Brief Overview of My Italy Adventure

3. 850 Years Old and Still Looking Good: The Battistero di Parma
4. The Galileo Museum in Florence Is Worthwhile Destination

5. Liberation Day: Italy Celebrates Victory Over Fascism, With Expressions of Gratitude to the U.S.

6. 1000 Rooms of Splendor: The Palazzo Pitti
7. Bob Dylan in Italy

8. The Death of Galileo

9. The Scarpelli Mosaici

10. Michelangelo’s David… A Showstopper

11. Daniela Meza Sigala: Florence Artist’s Seriously Whimsical Paintings

12. The Teatro Farnese in Parma

13. The Duomo in Florence: A History, plus Photos

14. One of the Most Famous Paintings in Florence: Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), by Antonio Ciseri

15. The Bargello: Another “Must See” Museum In Florence

16. L’Ippogrifo Stampe d’Arte: Mastery of a Grand Tradition

17. Snapshots from Parma, 2023--A Catalog of Memories

If you've never been, add it to your bucket list.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Joe Miller Discusses the Power Grid: Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going?

Photo by Mohammad Mardani on Unsplash

In November I was invited to participate in a dialogue titled Shades of Purple: Nuclear Power Dialogue hosted by a group called Project Optimist. I have long believed dialogue, not dogma, is the path to understanding, whatever the issue. The organizers broke us into small groups to field questions related to energy issues in general and nuclear power in particular. 

Joe Miller was one of the people in my sub-group. Miller is director of communications with the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. He has been involved with energy and electric cooperatives for three decades. After the Project Optimist meeting I reached out to Joe that I might share some of his insights and experience with readers here.

EN: What is MREA and what is your role there?  

Joe Miller:  The Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) is a nonprofit trade association serving Minnesota’s electric cooperatives. MREA provides legislative and regulatory representation, director and employee education programs, technical training for electric cooperative line workers, and serves as the focal point for cooperation among cooperatives. Minnesota’s 44 distribution cooperatives serve about 1.7 million Minnesotans in all 87 counties and operate the largest distribution network in the state with more than 135,000 miles of electric lines. 

As director of communications, I and my team help get the word out about all the great things cooperatives are doing in Minnesota.


EN: What is the difference between electric co-ops and the major utility companies like MN Power and Xcel Energy?

JM: Cooperatives operate as not-for-profit utilities. They are owned by those who purchase power from them. They are also governed by a board of directors made up of their consumers. All costs of operating the business are borne by those member-owners. So, cooperatives are truly concerned about the cost of operating, since those consumers end up paying all the bills. They work hard to provide the best value and service levels for their member-owners.


EN: When did you first take an interest in nuclear or atomic energy? How did this come about?

JM: I toured a coal plant in ND when I was about a sophomore in high school. I remember that everything about it was big. The dragline to scoop coal, the trucks to haul coal, the tires, the plant’s generator room, etc. It produced about 1,200 MW of power. Then many years later in my life the first wind turbines went up in MN, near my in-laws by Pipestone. They produced less than 1 MW each. That meant, it would take more than 1,200 of them to do what that coal plant was doing! It just showed me the enormity of the need for power and how it would take LOTS of wind and solar (and land) to meet the need with renewable energy. If we are going to truly produce power carbon-free, we will need other large sources of power. Nuclear is an option, a very valid and important option. I grew up near Monticello, so I grew up near a nuclear plant and have no fear of them, if they are operated correctly. And, today there is new technology that makes nuclear so much safer than even years ago. SMRs are an option that we should be looking at.


EN: Governor Walz has created a 2040 target for carbon-free energy? Realistically, can this target be achieved in MN? Why or why not?

JM: I am a very optimistic person by nature. However, meeting this bill will be a monumental task. I know rural electrics in Minnesota will be working hard to achieve the goal. However, it takes years to permit and build infrastructure in Minnesota. Sixteen years in utility time is tomorrow. What will we build to meet it? We can’t do it with all wind and solar. Batteries are still an experimental technology. Utilities are trying them, so maybe they could help in 5 to 10 years. However, batteries are NOT the same as having a natural gas or nuclear power plant. Once batteries are drained you must take power from somewhere to fill them back up. A powerplant can generate new power and be ramped up and down and turned on and off (peaking plant) as needed to meet the needs. So, I think the goal can be met, but not through only building new infrastructure because there just isn’t enough time. We will need a variety of power sources to continue providing reliable electricity to Minnesotans. One of the tools in the toolbox is the ability to use carbon credits to offset generation sources that emit carbon. These will probably play a role in meeting the goal. 

EN: Why is nuclear power so contentious?

JM: I think nuclear is contentious because of the safety aspect and the waste. We must find a way to handle the waste. If we could reuse it, we could get it down to even a smaller amount than is being produced now. But, I guess we need to change legislation in order to do that. Other countries reuse the fuel and reduce their waste even more. I think the safety record has been amazing with U.S. nuclear, and is even safer today, especially if we look to SMRs. (EdNote: Small Modular Reactors)


EN: Solar only works when the sun is out. How is the energy stored for night-time?

JM: See the earlier answer. With both wind and solar, there is no way around it, they are intermittent sources. AND, those sources are NOT controlled by the generation company like all our other sources. The generation company has to adapt to a continuous fluctuation in power generation. 

Look at any live output graph on co-op websites for solar output. It can dive in the middle of beautiful day, just from a few clouds passing over. (Also check out this interactive chart.)  

Intermittent sources of power are not a way to build reliability into the grid. And for every wind and solar installation, you still need to have resources to back them up as they only count for a fraction of their nameplate capacity with MISO*. For 2022-2023, the capacity factor was less than 16%, so that means a 100 MW wind farm with MISO is rated at around 16 MW.


EN: What is the life span of a solar panel? Do they get recycled? How are they discarded?

JM: A typical solar farm lasts 20-25 years. Then they have to be replaced. Recycling is a challenge and an issue that needs to be figured out. Also, a panels’ ability to turn sunlight into electricity degrades over time. 

EN: Thank you for your insights and for helping us better understand some of the challenges that lay ahead.

# # # #

*MISO: Midcontinent Independent System Operator. MISO spans parts of 15 states, MISO is a non-profit agency that balances the load on the large transmission lines within its region and operates the wholesale power markets.

EdNote: The ideas and thoughts expressed here are those of Joe Miller alone and should not be construed as the views of the MREA.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Remembering Don Vogel, "The Round Mound of Sound"

When Susie and I returned from Mexico we made ends meet by joinging a group of painters who did apartment painting throughout the Twin Cities. For four years we painted apartments and sometimes houses. I worked full time and Susie several days awake She was the best trim painter of all the guys I worked with those years. She was careful and fast and I never had to worry about her workmanship.

Much of the time we listened to talk radio shows that aired on KSTP, though I often listened to audio books, primarily short stories by classic authors. My aim was to learn the craft of storytelling. 

All this to say that there were a couple of radio personalities that made an impression on me during that time. I can't remember the one fellow's name but he struck me as having been a Renaissance Man of sorts and philosopher as he interacted with callers. 

The second was a man who was known as "the Round Mound of Sound." His name was Don Vogel, and his style was simply enjoyable. He made you feel like you were a warmly welcomed guest in his world, which was broadcast during drive time from 4:00 - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

On one occasion he had a guest from the circus that was in St. Paul at that time. She got up on the table and did tricks that would astound you as he described her flexibility passing her tiny frame through a small hoop. He was getting a kick out of it all, you could tell.

I also remember his reading of the news, the shuffling of paper (the way Rush Limbaugh would later do) and his descriptions of the weather. 

On one occasion I was driving home from a day of painting when I happened to see the KSTP radio station and tower off to my right. I was listing to Don's show right at that very moment and thought it might be cool to go tell him in person, perhaps during his next break, how much I loved his show. So I took the next exit and circled back to the shack with the radio tower and KSTP sign. 

Don Vogel
I didn't know what I planned to say, but entering the building I could see him through the glass in a room rocking with enthusiasm, headphones on, microphone properly fixed in front of his round face. A woman came over to me to ask what I wanted, but now I was speechless. She knew what I was thinking. She'd seen this before... the recognition that this cheerful man who painted such vivid pictures of our world was blind. 

There was a sense of reverence in her tone. The entire staff seemed instilled with it. The guy was just having fun, doing his thing. And though I never did meet him face to face, I felt honored to be in his presence for that brief space of time. 

Here's an excerpt from a tribute to Don that I found online today:

Don Vogel"the round mound of sound," "stone blind and out of his mind," was the proprietor of the "Afternoon Saloon," a talk show in the 4-6 p.m. drive time slot on KSTP-AM 1500. The show created a refuge from the pressures of the day and the controversial issues found on typical talk shows. Don was a master impressionist, a comic genius, and one of the best communicators I've heard in radio. His listeners were affectionately known as the "Don Squad." When he spoke to us, he created a sense of community among the listeners and took great care to see that we were all a part of the conversation, even when he had a caller on the line.

You can find the rest of his story here.

Perhaps you've known someone, or several someones, who have overcome personal disabilities in order to follow their passion and pursue a purpose that exceeds the expectations of everyone around them. I've been blessed to know many. Feel free to share a story or tribute in the comments. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The EV Transition: Sorting Out the Myths from the Realities

The Biden Administration is dictating that 2/3s of new vehicles manufactured in the U.S. be electric-powered or something other than the current internal combustion engines that run on gasoline or diesel fuel. It reminds me of the Soviet Union's quota system, which was a failure on many levels. 

All these mandates remind me of the 60's hit by The Animals, "I'm just a boy whose intentions are good, Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood." Leaders always want to be judged on their intentions. Unfortunately decisions also have consequences. Understanding how markets work, and the laws of supply and demand, is a rather important variable.

Here are a coupe stories from last year, followed by a several others from this past week in response to the new EV Mandate

* * * * *

June 27, 2023
WSJ Ten Point

Lordstown Motors files for bankruptcy.

The electric-truck startup—cheered by investors during the SPAC boom and lauded by former President Donald Trump as a savior for a closed GM factory in Ohio—filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, after talks with its investment partner fell through. The truck maker sued Foxconn Technology for fraud and breach of contract, claiming it reneged on a deal to acquire Lordstown shares. Foxconn didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The day began less bright for electric-truck startup Lordstown, which filed for bankruptcy. It is the latest company in a crop of aspiring EV manufacturers that have so far failed to deliver on their promises to revolutionize the auto market. 

Jan 11, 2024

The Street

Here's Why EV Experts Are Flaming Joe Biden's Car Policy (July 2023)
The Biden Administration has set lofty goals for the electric vehicle market, but some automakers and union officials have their doubts.

Jan 16

Stellantis shares fell 3% after temporarily laying off 2,250 workers at a plant in Italy, citing weak electric vehicle (EV) demand. This is not the first time the company has implemented such a measure, reiterating the ongoing challenges the EV industry faces.

Jan 19


The EV Backlash Builds

Companies cut output amid flagging demand. Could it be the product?

A Consumer Reports survey in November found that new EVs have 79% more problems than internal-combustion cars. 

Jan 20


New Biden administration pollution rules would require almost 10 times as many EV sales in 2032 as today


Stellantis CEO says automaker won’t sell EVs at a loss like other carmakers


Electric vehicle experts say EVs are rising in popularity

Jan 19
The Hill

As demand for EVs plummets, Biden’s green fantasy is pummeling US auto dealers

Fox Business

Biden's EV insanity just got even worse

Frigid January temperatures have given electric vehicle owners nightmares as they struggle to keep their cars charged and on the road

In addition, the cars’ batteries reportedly drain faster in frosty weather. One study from 2019 reported that low temperatures can reduce EV range by 40% or more when drivers are using the cars’ heaters. And yes, when it’s below freezing most people will be using their heaters. 

That’s not the only blow to EVs in recent days. Hertz announced it is ditching one-third of their EVs – 20,000 cars -- from their rental fleet and will be replacing them with good old-fashioned gas-powered vehicles, the kind customers actually want to drive.  

Here's "the official story" from the White House

FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Cut Electric Vehicle Costs for Americans and Continue Building Out a Convenient, Reliable, Made-in-America EV Charging Network

Related Link

Will Electric Cars Rule? If So, When?

Robert Bryce’s U.S. Senate Testimony On EPA's EV Mandates: "Unrealistic And Unattainable"

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