Thursday, October 27, 2016

Throwback Thursday: How Will It End?

The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey as Truman, is a wonderfully original film about a man whose whole life, unbeknownst to him, has been lived in front of TV cameras. His life is a TV show. The story becomes a vehicle for many insights and questions about our own lives, the roles we play, our level of awareness as regards what is really going on outside our own little world.

One of the themes in the film is a pin Truman is wearing. "When Will It End?"

Despite the comic story line, amplified by Carrey's naturally inventive style, the film is serious in tone. And this question is not simply for Truman's audience, but for each of us as well.

We're all familiar with sayings like "it came to pass," with which we comfort ourselves during hard times or a cold spell. Nothing lasts forever, we say. Yet when we say this, we seldom apply this across the board. We generally live as if we ourselves are not going anywhere any time soon. And by extension, few of us can imagine a future in which the United States is no longer the United States.

So when we read books and articles about the fall of the Roman Empire, designed to teach us lessons about how nations and empires fall, how is it that we do not, almost cannot, relate it to our own nation, which is currently the world's strongest superpower?

Last Saturday I wrote about bread and circuses. Someone responded Monday by sharing an article with me from the Wall Street Journal that day regarding a prediction that the U.S. will be history by 2010. According to Andrew Osborn, a certain Igor Panarin has predicted for more than a decade that the U.S. will break up in a civil war due to economic and moral collapse.

This is no lightweight academic. Panarin is a former KGB analyst who is head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. The factors that will bring us down include "mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation"... along with collapse of the dollar. His new portrait of our United States will be a breakup into six pieces, Alaska ultimately returning to Russian control.

The story sounds far fetched, but stranger things have happened. No one expected the USSR to unravel as quickly as it did when the Soviet empire began to implode. Would the Wall Street Journal print something like this if it were the rantings of a lunatic? The friend who forwarded this article found it on The Drudge Report.
There was a time when Britain basked in the glow of knowing that the sun never set on the British Empire. How long can the United States be so blissfully oblivious to the reality that all things must pass?

Which leads directly to my question. How will it end? Nothing lasts forever. We know that. So, what next? The evidence that America is in decline is all around. Predictions of decline have been heralded for some time. How serious is our sickness? Will the patient recover?

Is this all too far out? You tell me... because an inquiring mind wants to know.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Scenes from Last Friday's Twin Ports Arts Events

There was plenty to see, and all three art-themed events and exhibitions were very well attended. Top-to-bottom the photos here were taken at Art on the Plaza, the DAI's Make Your Mark Fund Raiser and Goin' Postal. 
Similar Dogs performed here before going to Amazing Grace.
Art on the Plaza is moving to the former Dunbar Building on Tower Avenue. 
Make sure you check out their new space.

Local artists like Moira created art "live" and the work was auctioned off
to the hoity-toity lumberjack set. 

There were several new artists represented and many familia ones at Goin' Postal
Much of the work will be on display through the winter. 
Be sure to do your Christmas Shipping at Goin' Postal. 
Special thanks to Andy & Becky for their tireless efforts 
to support the arts and ensure all their guests had a good time.

Meantime, art goes on all around you.
Enjoy it. 
And when you really like something, 
ask if it's for sale. 
When you bring it home you can 
enjoy it for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Day For Lists: 35 Items of Greater or Lesser Insignificance

I've been recently bitten by the David Foster Wallace bug. That is, I keep finding myself drawn to reading more of his work. Impressive is an understatement. Pow! Blam! Ouch.

Wallace liked lists. Or so I've been led to believe. Here's a list of miscellaneous observations, notes to myself of things to read or do, and ideas to ponder. There's always more to do than there is time, so a list is all we end up with in the meantime.

1. Game 1 of the World Series is tonight featuring the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, the two teams that have gone longest without winning a World Series championship.
2. Today is World Pasta Day.
3. Who comes up with these things? World Pasta Day?
4. Why is it called the World Series when it only involves a competition North American teams?
5. Blog topic: young bull, Death in the Afternoon, good and bad bulls.
6. Last Friday's Fall Art Show at Goin' Postal was a lot of fun for a lot of people.
7. Blog Idea: Series of blog posts featuring the songs on Dylan's Oh Mercy album, beginning with "Political World."

We live in a political world
Love don't have any place
We're living in times
Where men commit crimes
And crime don't have any face

8. Trivia: Teddy R changed name of Executive Mansion to White House
9. Worth re-reading: How To Lie With Statistics
10. Don't forget to pay your bills.
11. Learn more about Will Rogers.
12. Einstein was a pacifist who became a non-pacifist because of Hitler
13. Item 13 is now removed and has been replaced with this sentence.
14. What are your goals for the next 30 days? Do you have goals or do you simply drift?
15. Submissions are now open for the Water-Stone Review through December 1. They are seeking original, unpublished creative fiction, essays, poetry.
16. In 2009 the richest man in Asia had 168 cars. The average income in India at that time was $500 a year.
17. Jay Leno had more cars than the richest man in Asia.
18. I'm curious how much money the DAI raised last Friday in their Make Your Mark fund raising event.
19. A million square miles of land was added to U.S. as a result of the Mexican War.
20. WikiLeaks: No one likes what Mr. Assange did yet everyone seems glad to have found out about what's been going on underneath Washington's skin.
21. Most dangerous jobs in America #1: Crack Dealer #2: Logging
re: crack dealers... 1 in 4 killed who serve four years on job
22. Fear of being shunned causes people to avoid honesty; takes courage to speak honestly
23. “A hard day’s work never really killed anyone, but why risk it?” ~Ronald Reagan
24. The great virtue of capitalism is that it decentralizes power and minimizes coercion. One nation’s gain does not necessitate another nation’s loss, and it doesn’t discriminate; it is open to anyone.
25. The Man by Irving Wallace made an impression on me as a teen in the Sixties, a novel about the first black U.S. president and the special challenges he would experience.
26.  "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God." ~Corrie ten Boom
27. In Muslim culture hypocrisy is not as serious of a vice as here because it is better to uphold ideals we fail to live up to than to just give up and say “anything goes.”
28. Blog Entry idea: Great Gatsby and Lady Chatterley’s Lover both have as a theme the difference between good adultery and bad adultery.... A noble adultery and ignoble....
29. Blog Exploration: Do the strong stay strong forever or do they weaken over time (eg. Buddenbrooks)
30. Blog Exploration: What if our brain lost its "sort" function.
31. Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards." ~Kierkegaard
32. In the "good old days" New York City had 40,000 horses that generated 400 tons of manure a day, 20,000 gallons of urine and nearly 200 carcasses. (19th century stat.)
33. “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt
34. What are you doing today that will make a difference tomorrow?
35. Another verse from Political World:

We live in a political world 
Wisdom is thrown in jail 
It rots in a cell 
Is misguided as hell 
Leaving no one to pick up the trail

The times are most definitely a-changin'.

"The future depends on what you do today." ~Mahatma Gandhi

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Visit with Ann Klefstad on Themes Related to the DAI's 4North

Alison Aune piece for 4North
The Duluth Art Institute has a number of noteworthy upcoming events slated for the next few months. One of these is the 61st Arrowhead Biennial, which is the longest running biennial juried show in the upper midwest. It's a great opportunity to see some of the best work in the region. The opening reception for the Biennial is Thursday, November 10.

Also opening that same evening is an exhibition titled "4North: New Work by Alison Aune, Kirsten Aune, Ann Klefstad, and Arna Rennan."

When Prairie Home Companion's Garrison Keillor talks about Lake Woebegone's Norwegian bachelor farmers, what he's really doing is sharing the particular ethnic influence of our region, Scandinavian and Northern European. Those strains of Scandinavian culture show up in all manner of ways, from the Lutheran churches to the love of outdoors, no matter the season.

Buildings in Duluth like the Sons of Norway Building show that these Scandinavian connections a not only fresh but continually renewed. The four artists in 4North have been part of a number of arts and cultural events there, and with Christmas season approaching it will not surprise me to see more.

The 4North promotional material states that this show "explores a sense of place through four distinct voices. The artists share a Scandinavian heritage, as well as live and work in northern Minnesota. While the four create in disparate media—painting, sculpture, and textile arts—the threads connecting their work reveal a deep reverence for the natural world and the translation and transmutation of patterns and symbols."

I asked Ann Klefstad, a former DNT art critic and lifelong artist, to share some of her perspective on the work she's contributing to 4North.

* * * *
EN: To what extent is your art informed by or inspired by your Scandinavian roots?

Ann Klefstad: Norwegians have always held their land close to their hearts; only 3 percent of Norway is arable land, so wild land, forest, mountains, wildlife, the sea, IS their home. I read, years ago, a tourism-in-Norway book written by an Englishman in the mid-nineteenth-century in which he described the emotions of Norwegians on his ship who were visiting their homeland after emigrating: it was an amazingly affecting account of the way that the landscape evoked extreme emotion-- they wept for joy to see the familiar coast; they wept for sorrow, knowing they would leave it again. My own grandparents, who all grew up in Norway and left as adults, loved and missed their homeland intensely-- and the very land and sea itself was a big part of what they missed, even though Duluth was similar. My great-aunts owned "skog" -- forest land -- and in Norway skog was managed very carefully. It was never clear-cut. The forests were assumed to be entities that would exist forever, and those who owned them and logged them were very conscious of their responsibilities.

When immigrants came to this country, I think much of that fell away. It was not "their" land in the way that Norway had been. But now, it is my land. And I feel the way about this patch of the earth the way they did about Norway. And actually, my grandparents were good land stewards and loved the outdoors deeply here.

Also, Norway is the birthplace of Arne Naess's "deep ecology": a concept of the earth in which the living world has the right to exist for itself-- not merely for human use. His writings on the ethics of ecology have been immensely influential worldwide and are important to me as well.

What remains of my life and career I would like to devote to cultivating in people a consciousness that the living world around them, which was there before people began to occupy the land and which will survive us all, is what determines us, is what teaches us. The animals and the living waters and the forests have a space for us, as animals too, and if we can learn to inhabit that space, we will have a deeper life, with more grace; a consciousness of both what our limits are and what is, indeed, limitless--which we do not control. Our ability to grow out of our whims and our false needs will yield a maturity of perception that is very rich-- a gift from the living world.

EN: How did you come to choose a career in the arts?

AK: Couldn't help it! Not so much a choice as what the skalds would call "wyrd." I am stuck with trying to make things.

EN: Can you share a little about your work for this show?

AK: I am doing several carved wood sculptures of local animals that are carved from wood felled in the recent windstorm. They are finished by fire-- I'm burning the surface to coat them in carbon black. The work engages with global warming (the fire, you know, the carbon). Also, the windstorm is just one example of the extreme weather events that are driven by rapid climate change, and it delivered my materials to me. I traveled around the city in my old truck collecting wood for this project.

Another subtext is simply that animals share our world-- they have as much right to be here as we do. But we create the conditions under which they live, very often. I'm hoping to make people mindful that animals are our companions in this world. I'm not a vegetarian, nor am I against hunting. We people are predators, as are wolves and foxes and hawks. I'm just saying, we need to be mindful of living in harmony with our fellow animals and we need to learn from them. There will be large-scale line drawings of an animal world in the hallway gallery, as well as these wooden burned animals. I may also show a small selection of sketches like the one attached, of Badger being harangued by Toad.

For more details on the DAI's upcoming shows as well as the artist talks and assortment of events slated around the 4North exhibition, visit this page.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Is This Really the Third Golden Age of Television? Stick a Fork In It.

I once threw a television set off a bridge. I called it an art project at the time. The authorities would've called it littering. Had I been more into the showmanship aspect of this conceptual expression I would have gathered an audience. As a college art student I was making a statement, I believed. I was also going for a certain explosive effect that I was anticipating as the glass onion hit the rocks.

I'm not trying to be mean. Television is an incredibly powerful medium, but as more than one person has noted -- David Foster Wallace most vividly -- it is a powerful distraction from getting other things accomplished. At its essence, network television is clickbait.

Google defines "clickbait" as "content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page." It's an internet-era term that I think applies to TV as well.

Wallace notes that one major feature of television is that it's an effortless medium to imbibe in. He writes,  "Easy and undemanding, requires nothing of us, as a result we as a nation are mentally lazy. This is normal to avoid work, which is why few people strive to paint like Leonardo da Vinci or play piano like a virtuoso. We pretend to be philosophers but we really don't do the heavy lifting of philosophers."  

* * * *

It's in this context that I wanted to share a few observations, prodded by my recent re-reading of Difficult Men by Brett Martin. Martin's book is a detailed examination of the players and proceedings of what he argues is "the third Golden Age of television. His premise is that the original Golden Age (fulfilled in the 50s) and the Second Golden Age (a period in the early 1980's) has been experiencing a third, led by a host of influential HBO shows such as The Sopranos and The Wire. These story serials have taken viewers into new territories, producing cult-like fan followings. Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and The Shield are premiere examples of the form.

Martin's book highlights the bold writing, as well as the manner in which exceedingly flawed characters are regarded heroically. It's heralded as a "raw realism."

The chief aim of Difficult Men is to put these groundbreaking scriptwriters on a pedestal and throw accolades.

But at certain points Martin shows too many of the cards in his hand. No question these scriptwriters are exceptionally influential. Are they making the world a better place?

Raw. Realistic.

What was the secret to HBO's success? Martin expressed the problem like this: How can we (HBO) make people pay for our content when they already get more than enough on Network TV... FREE? Well, the answer was not complicated. Show things that you can't get on prime time: breasts and the kind of language that is forbidden there.

From its racy beginnings more than three decades ago today's shows make early HBO look like grade school.

After reading Difficult Men I decided to test the waters a watch one of the series that got raves from the author of this book: The Wire. The story takes place in the inner city of Baltimore. Drugs, gangs, crooked cops, crooked officials higher up the political seawall... corruption and social cancer, all authentically portrayed with solid acting, interesting characters, etc. etc. etc.

As we're going along in episode four the script writers did something that made me roll my eyes. It's well known that Hollywood insiders love to see how much they can get away with. As in any field, people are competitive. So a screenwriter looks for an opportunity to get into the record books for something as meaningful as, um, "Let's see how many times we can get the F-word into a movie?" Yes, a noble pursuit that we all want our children to aspire to. The Wolf of Wall Street packed 506 of them into its 3 hour feast. There was such a buzz about this achievement that you knew ahead of time it was not "a family movie." 

But those screenwriters are competitive and that Scorsese film has been surpassed already with a 900 word F-bomb massacre.

What's the point? It's obvious. People are still watching and this confirms their cynical view of human nature.

Episode four of The Wire (someone can correct me if I'm wrong) takes a page from the Scorsese playbook with a bit of dialogue that is so unreal only a screenwriter could write it.

Remember, the main idea of writing fiction is verisimilitude. That is, the story needs to give the appearance of being real. What you don't want is for the reader (or audience) to have a mental pinprick that produces the thought, "Pshaw, that would never happen." Which is exactly what I experienced in the scene I am about to describe involving detective William "Bunk" Moreland played by Wendell Pierece and detective James "Jimmy" McNulty, played by Dominick West.

There has been a shooting at a residence. These two detectives arrive to check it out. The dialogue our screenwriters apparently provided went as follows. (I have mis-spelled the critical four letter word and replaced it with a euphemism.) Here's the dialogue, as delivered:

Mother Fork
Fork, fork, fork, fork, fork.
Fork, fork, fork, fork.
Mother Fork
Aw Fork
Aw Fork
Fork, fork, fork, fork, fork.
Oh, fork, fork, fork.
What The Fork
Mother Fork
Fork me.

On paper this must have been funny to someone. Raw? I guess. Realistic? Do you think this would be how two detectives would talk for ten minutes when investigating a crime scene? Now I am not suggesting they do not us the F-word. What I am saying is... where are the in between words, like, "What happened here?" or "Oh man, like whoa... Is he still breathing?"

Maybe I lack the experience as a television watcher. The scene struck me as too stupid to be taken seriously. So much for The Wire.

Alas. No wonder our visions of the future are so dystopian. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Go Tribe! Can Terry Francona Deliver Cleveland Fans the Big One?

Cleveland Indians fans have been feeling pretty good this year. When the season opened last spring local pundits seemed confident about the Tribe's chances to finish on top. Fans like hearing that kind of talk, but the club's April performance seemed to dampen enthusiasm a bit. Over time, the character of the team began to emerge and when all was said and done, they did indeed finish at the top in their division. Two stellar series later and we're now simply waiting to see who our opponent will be in the World Series.

The Indians have not been in the World Series since 1997, in which they were defeated in 7 games. Their previous trip to the Series, in 1954, was also a heartbreaker in the end. With a stellar pitching staff (3 future Hall of Fames) expectations were high, but they were snuffed in four. In 1948 Cleveland achieved this dream behind a host of hot bats and stellar pitching, the same arsenal of weapons this year's Indians are armed with.

Following the Indians success this past month has been a personal thrill, though I've kept my emotions under wraps because of our long history of disappointments. In part, it's because I and many other Cleveland fans are all too well aware of the Curse of Rocky Colavito. Just as Red Sox fans had to endure a lengthy history of remorse for trading Babe Ruth, in the same manner Indians fans have attributed their history of failure to the management stupidity that occurred in 1960.

All my early love of the game came from those Indians teams of the 1950s and early 60s. How quickly they fell from great to, well, not so great. I remember all their names. Vic Power, Woody Held, Bubba Phillips, Jimmy Piersall. When you're a kid and you're a fan, every name is cool. One of the coolest names for me was Tito Francona. I remember seeing him play as a left fielder and watching him hit from the left side of the plate.

The much weakened Indians after Colavito's departure.
Colavito was the coolest of the cool, though. He was young slugger who did this maneuver with his bat each time he went up to the plate, grabbing its ends with both hands and sliding it down over the muscles of his back, a move that every kid I know would try to emulate. For more about Rocky Colavito, visit this article about how "the curse" started, and watch this video about his legacy.

As a kid, though, I think we liked a lot of our heroes just because their names were cool. Or was it that because they were cool we loved the sounds of their names? I dunno. Tito Francona, Rocky Colavito, Minnie Minoso... Indians names with as much potency as their Yankee adversaries.

That's why I think it's grand to have another Francona back on the franchise, leading this team to its historic moment. Cleveland is a town that loves its heroes and appreciates their efforts on behalf of the fans. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona already had a lot of us in his corner as soon as he stepped to the helm. The papers call him Terry but he was nicknamed Tito like his dad had been. Like his father he was a first baseman and an outfielder. This is his fourth year as manager after having managed the Phillies and the Red Sox. He took the Red Sox to the World Series twice, the second time breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

His first year in Cleveland he took us to the playoffs and though we came up short, the team has really gelled in this post-season.

As I write this the Chicago Cubs have the National League title within their grasp. With the exception of the Indians, only the Cubs have gone longer without winning the World Series. A lot of people are rooting for the Cubs to defeat the Dodgers this weekend. I, for one, strongly to see the Indians as World Champions, but if they had to lose then this is the only other team I would accept as a consolation. It will be a heart breaker, though.

Enough of that. what follows are a few items that caught my attention while verifying stats for this blog post.

Miscellaneous Baseball-Related Items

Trivia: Tito Francona, Rocky Colavito and the late Arnold Palmer all lived in Cleveland in the fifties and later moved to Pennsylvania.

Here's an interesting YouTube video making a case for Rocky Colavito being in the MLB Hall of Fame.

Home Run Derby: When I was a kid I remember a weekly television show called Home Run Derby in which top home run hitters would compete at hitting home runs. I first saw it when I was visiting my cousins in Nevada. Kids and adults all got thrills from the long ball, so why not make a game of it? I'd forgotten the rules of the game, so it was fun to discover this episode with Rocky Colavito and Harmon Killebrew.

This anecdote from the career of Tito Francona was unusual enough to be recorded on Wikipedia, and seemed worth sharing here in the "incidental details" department. "A bizarre incident occurred to Francona in Spring training heading into the 1961 season. Francona hit an exhibition home run against the Boston Red Sox on March 26 at Hi Corbett Field. When John C. Cota, a city parks employee, went to retrieve the ball, he discovered a dead body. The body was that of Fred Victor Burden, who was wanted by Tucson, Arizona police in relation to the shooting death of former prize fighter James Cocio."

One hallmark of the Cleveland franchise has been great pitching. When I was born my parents named the four teddy bears in my crib after the 1952 starting rotation. Three of these were eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame and all four can be found on the list of top ten greatest Indians pitchers. (We had box seats behind the Indians dugout when Early Wynn made one of his attempts for a 300th career victory in 1962. I was ten.) Going way back to the 1890's one of the greats of all time pitched for those dominating Cleveland teams: Cy Young, for whom the famed Cy Young Award is given annually to the league's top pitcher.

The Cubs bats have kicked in again, and if the pitching holds they're bound to be celebrating all over town tonight in Chicago. Two teams who have known more than their share of bad luck will face off and one will go home having earned a place in history.

Go Tribe!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Chuck Berry at 90, Art Shows and Bucket Lists

"Is it rolling, Bob?" ~Nashville Skyline

This week I saw a news story about Chuck Berry releasing an album of new songs at age 90. Wowzer. Made me wonder what I will be doing for my 90th birthday. I immediately thought of former president George Bush's 90th birthday parachute jump. Then my mind meandered to the notion of bucket lists, parachute jumping in general (I made three jumps in college, before the tandem thing became preeminent) and what it was like to see Chuck Berry at Ohio U in 1973.

If it was indeed 43 years ago that I saw Chuck Berry, that means he wasn't even 50 yet. Back in those days Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane stated that no rock 'n roller should still be playing after age 50, that it was indecent (or something to that effect.) If I recall correctly her issue with old rock 'n rollers was that the songs were about protest against the establishment and the old people who ran it. So, has anyone seen her remarks about Coachella's Desert Trip?

To be frank, I would be interested in hearing what kind of songs Chuck Berry has been writing from the vantage point of a long life lived. As a result of an encounter with Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry signed with Chess Records in Chicago. Two Beatles covers were Chuck Berry hits from that time.

* * * *
Hanging the new show at Goin' Postal
So, what's it going to be? How's your Friday going? Here's a re-cap of three art events you might want to check out if you're here in the Twin Ports.

The Goin' Postal Fall Art Show is from 6-9 and will be at the usual location in Superior down by the tracks on Tower Ave, though the after party will move to the newly renovated Cedar Lounge. (FREE)

From 3-5 this afternoon there will be a We're Moving show at Art on the Plaza. Their new address will be 1413 Tower starting in November, but their closing celebration is at their Belknap Plaza location and you should try to be there, if nothing else than to hear Similar Dogs perform a couple songs with a guest harmonica player. (FREE)

Finally, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. the DAI Make Your Mark Fund Raiser is being conducted down at 1400 Railroad Street, between the Silos and Garfield. There will be local artists making live art as well as plenty more to see with many of the usual suspects on hand. ($50 per person) The attire is Lumberjack Chic, as there is no heat in the building. There will be lots of artists making art, however, generating a measure of warmth thereby. The turn is just before the tracks if you're coming from the direction of the AMSOIL Arena/Bayfront Park. Follow the signs till you get there.

* * * *
As for Bucket Lists, I first wrote about bucket lists in this 2009 blog post, and in re-reading it I can see that my somewhat short list is pretty much obsolete. Do you have a "Bucket List" and if so, how serious are you about it. I know some people swear by them as a means of staying motivated for living a life of purpose. What activity are you saving for your 90th birthday?

Well, if that seems a little beyond the scope of your imagination, then just make it your aim to visit with us at Goin' Postal tonight. There's a great batch of talent making art for the Duluth Art Institute, too. Live. For information on additional upcoming DAI exhibitions and events, here's a link to check out.

See you there.... or here, or wherever. It's a weekend. Why not start with art.