Thursday, July 28, 2016

Universal Basic Income: Our Only Hope for a Brighter Future (for All) or Sellout of the American Dream?

There's an interesting article in this month's July/August MIT Technology Review. It's interesting to me anyways because of recent readings about UBI, a.k.a. Universal Basic Income. The buzz in Silicon Valley is that with increased automation there's going to be a need for new thinking about Capitalism. Earlier this month we introduced this idea while reviewing futurist Calum Chace's new book The Economic Singularity. David H. Freedman's article "Basic Income: A Sellout of the American Dream" pushes back.

For a great starting point toward furthering the discussion, read the editor's column, in which Jason Pontin creates an imaginary dialogue between Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman.

[Aside: I personally enjoy any use of the imagination, especially these kinds of encounters of historical personages. A good example of the form is Peter Kreeft's rewarding Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. I'd known that Lewis died the same day Kennedy was shot, so news of his death was lost in the greater noise of the time. I had not known that Huxley also died the same day, so the collision of these three very different and influential men's ideas in a lengthy dialogue made for some illuminating reading. I myself used the device once to interview an uncle who had lost his eyesight during the Civil War and became a poet and newspaper editor.]

Freedman's article is a good read on an important topic. He suggests that there are many reasons the concept of UBI resonates is because many Americans are struggling economically. He points out that the wealth being created in Silicon Valley exacerbates the guilt of being rich in a land where .01 percent of the people "account for more than 20 percent of the country's wealth." The author suggests that the idea of UBI might be a result of this awareness of this growing wealth disparity.

Freedman notes, however, that just doling out dough on a scale being proposed will be far more expensive than we realize. In one of the article's callouts he states, "How much would a basic income cost? The simple answer is: a lot."

The article's section subheads spell out his view fairly strongly. "Sticker shock" and "Risky bet" stand out. In the latter part of the article he dismisses the call for UBI as unnecessary. He writes:

"It’s not just that a basic income would be a risky bet based on murky data. The bigger objection is that it’s an unnecessary bet. Existing safety-net programs could be expanded and tuned to eliminate poverty about as effectively but much less expensively, and they could continue to focus on providing jobs and the incentives to take them."

Is the real battle between proponents and opponents both wearing rose-colored glasses? People like Freedman believe that the information age will create more jobs to replace the ones automation is going to take and that UBI is unnecessary. Tech optimists see the possibility of a world where most needs (and job tasks) will be satisfied by technology so we'd better think of ways to make sure the unemployed are taken care of. It won't be enough to quote Jesus and say, "The poor you will always have with you."

Freedman concludes, "We aren’t yet close to running out of jobs, so why go through so much expense to make it easy for people to opt out of the workforce?"   He may be right for now, but since I don't possess a reliable crystal ball it feels comforting to know that there are people out there at least addressing the scenario.

Read the full article here.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Think about it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hinckley Release Brings Back Memories of the Attempt on Reagan's Life


The news is out. John Hinckley, the young man who attempted to knock off the president because of an obsession with actress Jodie Foster, is being released. What was he thinking? The courts concluded he was insane and they put him away. This week they have concluded it will be safe to release him, that he is not a danger to society. In fact, for twelve years he's been granted temporary release on numerous occasions to visit with his mother.

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I remember the moment like it was yesterday. We were living in Mexico at the time, working at an orphanage. We had just returned from town in the van. As we parked by the house and before we got out, Juan the cook came running up to the vehicle wearing an expression of distress. Susie's window was rolled down and he ran up to it, his hands gripping the door, shouting in Spanish, "The president of the United States has been shot!"

Susie and I leapt out and rushed down to the orphanage director's house where we found the other American's gathered in a semi-circle in front of the television. The news coverage, in Spanish, was almost comical because there were absolutely no details. it went like this:

Whether the president was hit or not..."No sabemos." (Which means, we don't know.)
Whether he is alive or muerte, "No sabemos."
Whether others were wounded or killed... "No sabemos."
On and on, question after question, with the same answer, "No sabemos."
This must have gone on for more than an hour and we stayed glued there because it was our only source of information.

All the while they kept playing and re-playing the footage of the shooting, the same questions repeated over and over, followed by the same refrain, "No sabemos." Eventually they showed footage outside the hospital, but again, the same lack of information: "No sabemos."

Here is unsettling footage that shows Reagan's cheerful, confident stride as he exits the Washington Hotel Hilton. Notice how swiftly the scene devolves into chaos and distress. I would call this PG-13.

Hinckley's release has become the occasion of a number talking points related to mental illness, the insanity defense, mental illness realities and gun control issues. (See WSJ story here.)

Watching the shooting by John Hinckley brought to mind another shooting many people saw on live television. In viewing the two one after the other, one can't help but notice similarities. In both instances the person being shot was surrounded by security officials (police, secret service agents) and media.

Most of us are familiar with the history of presidential assassinations in this country. It might be interesting to get schooled on how many failed attempts there were. Check out this slide show.

A conspiracy theorist might conclude that the release of Hinckley was timed for this week as a distraction from the Democratic Convention. On the flip side, other conspiracy theorists might be thinking that Hinckley's release at this time was timed to reinforce last night's convention message in favor of greater gun controls and strengthening of the Brady Bill.

Meantime, ....

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, Congratulations, Boom!

Greetings cards @ J Skylark in Canal Park, Duluth

Cool source of Baby Shower gifts and gifts for infants:

Free Range Film Festival Celebrates 13th Season This Weekend

When Richard Hansen brought the DuSu Film Festival to the the Twin Ports several years back he wasn't the first game in town for alternative film. The Free Range Film Festival is now in its 13th year out there in the Wrenshall boondocks. "The Barn" is turning 100 this year so it will be an extra special time to show your face, settle in and enjoy out of the mainstream programming.

Nearly all of us have grown up on cinema and a large percentage of us will admit privately that more often than not the films Hollywood has been producing are all too often less than satisfying. For this reason Indie films and off-the-beaten-path film festivals have become so popular among film buffs.

This particular film festival has been dubbed “a farm fresh alternative to stale cinema” since it started screening films in 2003. To celebrate the barn’s important anniversary the festival has expanded the number of films it is screening to almost 40 as well as presenting a live improvised score with the Band “Portrait of a Drowned Man”. (I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds interesting.)

Annie Dugan, director of the Duluth Art Institute, is also the force behind this event, its chief organizer and advocate. “This year’s crop of films is particularly peculiar and delightful” says Dugan. “We have such a mix with lots of shorts so there's always going to be something that will capture as well as challenge our audiences. I feel like that is what watching movies together should be about.” This year’s lineup features a mix of animated shorts, narrative shorts and plenty of documentaries including a 10 minute short about a 90-year-old woman who tries bacon for the first time.

One thing that has happened after a baker's dozen festivals is that the event has gained a reputation as being fun and quirky. As a result, Dugan notes, they have been able to leverage this to acquire some really amazing work. “This year we were able to secure a film that made a big splash at Sundance called ‘Nuts!’ It tells the story of John Brinkley who tried to cure impotence with goat testicle implants and ended up inventing modern radio along the way. And a lot of it is done in animation!”

The festival features local filmmakers alongside national headliners. Brian Barber is returning to screen work that he and Paul Lundgreen from Perfect Duluth Day directed together: “Honeycomb Hideout” interviews Duluthian Rob Berry whose collection of cereal boxes is truly tremendous.

Friday, July 29th 7pm – 11pm
Saturday, July 30th, 2pm – 5:30pm and 7pm – 11pm

The two-day event is held in the barn at 909 County Road 4 just outside of Wrenshall, MN. You'll find the full schedule, driving directions and more at the Free Range Film festival website:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Has Moore's Law Run Its Course?

2016 has been a great year for A.I.  Watson beat the best of the best in Jeopardy. And a rival A.I. sibling defeated the world's best Go player. For artificial intelligence enthusiasts everything's been coming up roses. Siri will get smarter this fall, and smart cars will continue to prove their mettle on the nation's highways.

Meanwhile, unnoticed in the shadows of all these breakthrough events was this gloomy announcement: Moore's Law R.I.P.

Moore's Law is one of those things like gravity that has been taken as a matter of faith since it was conceived, or revealed. It's named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, who in 1965 observed that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit was doubling every year and would continue to do so. Ironically as this legendary "law" became universal lore it was modified to every two years. At that point right there someone should have noticed that there would be limits on how long this doubling could go on.

Technology's capabilities have had an amazing run though and it shows no signs of letting. I doubt that anyone who worked on the ENIAC could ever have imagined the power capabilities of our smart phones today. My uncle, who had worked with the ENIAC, said that the room-sized machine was powered by vacuum tubes. After about five minutes of run time a tube would burn out and they would have to walk around trying to find the burned out tube so they could replace it. (Read how vacuum tubes work here.)

Even if Moore's Law has slowed, making predictions about the future hasn't let up one byte. This year's buzz has to do with predictions about the Internet of Things (IofT). If you think that having all the computers in the world wired is remarkable, what's coming is apparently going to dwarf this when we have all our devices, houses, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture connected.

It's no wonder that some people are a bit fearful about the possible adversity that could be caused by a superintelligent computer that goes rogue. Some believe this could even happen in our lifetimes. For others there are more immediate issues we should be concerned about. Fortunately, 95% of what we worry about doesn't happen, so try not to lose too much sleep.

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On a lighter note, here's a link to an NPR story dealing with computers and creativity. Can computers can write good poetry? Can they write so well that you can't tell who or what wrote it? It's a six poem quiz. Read each and guess whether it was written by a human or a machine. I got all six correct. Can you?

Meantime life goes on all around you. Enjoy it while you can.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Martin DeWitt Revisited: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 and His New Show at the Zeitgeist

When I was a kid we had a swimming pool and I always thought it was fascinating how the surface of the water had this certain look of undulation as the light reflected off it when the sun shone through it, casting strange shadows on the pristine floor of pool. Somehow painter Martin DeWitt has figured out how to capture that effect. I find it impressive.

This month some of his current work is on display at the Zeitgeist Atrium in a show titled Nature of Space + Hybrid Forms. His experiments with shape, form and texture continue to evolve, producing some stunning work. If you have a little time to kill downtown, check it out. For a good meal and art, the Zeitgeist Cafe can be a tasty destination offering a feast for the eyes as well.

We conducted our first interview in 2012 in conjunction with DeWitt's Homecoming exhibition at the Duluth Art Institute. This is an update using the current show as a springboard.

EN: You come from a family with several artists in it. How did that happen? Who were your mutual influences?

Martin DeWitt: That’s right. I have two older brothers. Terry, lives in Memphis, is an architect – who also paints, mostly in watercolor. Mike, an artist, lives in Turtle River, MN – painting since he was nine…Our great Aunt Helen was an artist… she gave Terry and Mike some of tubes of her oil paints and brushes…way back when…c. 1950 – that got them going. Plus, our great Uncle Ralph was a renaissance man of sorts – an architect/artist/engineer – he studied at the Sorbonne before the First World War. Some of his early drawings and paintings were stored at grandparents house...our formative years and mutual influence come from growing up in Southern California I am sure – the ocean, the light, atmosphere and creative innovation vibe (Hollywood, Disney…!) was paramount – as was a burgeoning art and design sensibility evolving there in the ‘50’s and ‘60s…as a kid, no doubt I was influenced by both my brothers…I wanted to do exactly what they did…sports, art…seeing them be creative was an especially a big influence…plus our parents, though not artists, where risks takers (moving from the Midwest to So. Cal in the late ‘40s) were always supportive!

EN: You each have your own voice and different looks. Your fascination appears to be abstraction, experimentation and design. What have been your biggest influences that differentiate you from other artists?

MDW: Well for sure…I am keen on the potential of abstraction to offer a synesthetic experience for the viewer and emote a powerful visual and perhaps emotional experience. Not sure I am different from any other visual artist out there though – always observing seeking inspiration and a unique point of view…taking risks with the work…exploring, experimenting with new media…staying curious, responding to contemporary ideas and issues, trying to communicate to a broad audience…via this visual language format…my influences are endless; cross cultural world views, yogic art, mandalas, Native American shields, Chinese Sung landscape painting, 19th – 20th century European and American art movements, Eastern and Western philosophies, the Bauhaus, modernists Wassily Kandinsky, Arthur Dove, abstract painters of the New York School…, Black Mountain College, and contemporaries, Irene Rice Pereria, Joan Mitchell, Betty Parsons, Robert Irwin, Richard Tuttle, Gerhardt Richter, and countless more…and then, George Morrison, of course.

EN: Tribute to the Ayotzinapa 43 strikes me as unusual because I do not recall your work being concerned with political issues. Can you outline the issue that inspired this piece?

MDW: Yes, this is my most recent painting – in response to the ongoing violence, systemic racism against indigenous communities in Mexico – not unlike close to home and throughout the world. On September 26, 2014, over a hundred indigenous students from the rural town of Aynotzinapa were on their way to Iguala, Mexico, in the State of Guerrero, to demonstrate the ongoing political and economic injustices. 43 of the students were rounded up, detained, disappeared, then murdered…by drug cartel thugs – who were aligned with the Mayor of Iguala and his wife…as a tribute in solidarity to the killed students, an art exhibit at UW Madison in 2015 and a surge of protests throughout the world have continued to protest the murdered students and the ongoing violence…in the midst of a violent world…people’s memories lapse…and repress…my painting is a small condemnation of the event…and an effort to bring greater awareness to the students tragic demise…I wanted to paint them a beautiful picture…

EN: If this is not a first, how have you engaged issues in the past? What were the issues and why/how did they motivate you to address them?

MDW: Actually… much of my work has been and continues to be politically inspired…current events and issues. I am quite taken with the power of art to express one’s feelings, thoughts and emotions regarding a tragedy, political issue, or humanitarian calamity. A significant example immediately comes to mind throughout world calamity and art history. Pablo Picasso’s monumental painting “Guernica” – denounces the horrors of war (Fascist bombing in 1937 of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.)… In response and protest to the US invasion and Gulf War, in 1991, I painted “Firebomb over Euphrates…” my most large scale painting then – this same year in Jan.-Feb, together with a handful of other Duluthians, I stood on the corner of Superior Street and 14th Avenue East hoisting a placard “no blood for oil” - on a regular basis, during morning rush hour. These are small things one person can do. In 1992, I created a multi-media installation in response to the Bosnian War – the genocide. Travel to Cuba in 1998-2000, inspired me to paint a series of mixed media works, in solidarity with the Cuban people, especially the artistic community there…struggling, day by day, seeking self expression…family and art…in response to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, then Afghanistan, I painted a series of paintings titled “Redwhiteblu”…questioning the integrity of “Old Glory”…the imposed Patriot Act…nationalist ideologies and political pressure, just cause, preemptive strikes, folly, sanctions and the death of 7,000 American soldiers and possibly nearly half a million Iraqi solders and civilians, children and adults.

EN: Is your technique proprietary or can you share what the materials are that you have been mixing with the paints for some of those exceptionally textured pieces?

MDW: Process is a huge part of the creative venture… Over the years I have continued to explore a variety of mixed media and integrative mediums… I paint on multiple surfaces, canvas, birch plywood and Masonite panels. I also utilize found objects (dumpster diving…) painted into and onto… using brand name oil, acrylic, latex enamels (commercial house paint… gloss, semi-gloss, satin…flat…seeking out the unwanted paints…and frequent the recycling centers.) I use a variety of grits to create textural zones…sand…crushed brick and tiles…mixed into the paint to create a thick impasto – to hold and layer color – juxtaposed and reveal relationship to each other…all in an effort to explore a myriad of color characteristics, hue, value, saturation, brightness…translucency, fluorescence...As represented in my current Zeitgeist exhibit, all the paintings have continued to explore visual and conceptual abstraction and the expressive potential of mixed media with altered digital images. In this case, images of previous and recently created paintings are repurposed, as well as new photographs taken while in Mexico this past year have been digitally altered – then printed on canvas – as a new exploration resource and tool, resulting in a hybrid of elements, digital imagery painted into, latex enamel, acrylic, layered in compound color, texture and image integration.

EN: Thank you for sharing. Do you have a website I can link to?

MDW: Sure do, here you go:

EN: Where can people see more of your work or buy it? 


MDW: My show at Zeitgeist continues through July 30 and prices are noted on the labels unless marked as sold. Viewers are always welcome to visit my website where I have new and past paintings posted and available for sale unless otherwise noted. Folks can call, email or contact me via my website. In addition, I am happy to say that Lizzard’s Gallery here in Duluth has a small selection of my paintings. Plus, I have a series of original paintings and prints available for purchase at www.fineartamerica/

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Technique for Producing Ideas: More Thoughts on Creativity

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” 
~ Leo Burnett

When I wrote yesterday about creativity and "For the Benefit of Mr. Kite" I still had a few stories to add.

Years ago I worked for a company that did something I felt was fairly progressive. They hired a consulting firm to put the entire management team through the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator Test. After interpreting the results, and without telling us what they indicated, they had us go off campus for a couple days to have us do exercises that not only revealed who we ourselves were but also whom our peers were.

Those familiar with Myers-Briggs know that the first category has to do with the intuitive-sensing scale. Some people are extremely high on intuition and others quite reality based.

The first exercise we did involved having us sit at tables in groups of six to eight. Then the facilitator gave us each a large sheet of paper and a marker to write with. He picked up a chair, held it over his head upside down, and began throwing markers in the air while walking around the room making noises, occasionally repeating, "What am I doing."

The group at my table began writing furiously. I thought he was a soldier in a pillbox and the markers were bullets exploding. Another at my table saw them as sparklers or fireworks. All kinds of translations were recorded for the duration of time that was allotted and when we finished the sheet of paper was nearly filled with possibilities.

Our lists we then read to everyone in the room, and the findings proved hilarious. We did not know that we'd been placed at tables based on how each of us ranked on the Intuitive scale. As it turns out, my table was comprised of the most intuitive/creative people in the company. When our list of interpretations was read to the group there was laughter. No where on our list were statements like, "He's walking around with a chair over his head." Or "He's throwing markers into the air."

By way of contrast, the table made up of the most extreme Sensing people had not one creative interpretation. Their list said, "He is holding a chair over his head and throwing markers into the air." And I'm not sure they added anything else to that list.

There were a number of takeaways from this first exercise. One of these was the surprising realization that all of the people in our finance department were at the S table. The facilitator noted, "Isn't it nice to know that the people counting the money and balancing the books are not doing it creatively?"

I'm in advertising, one of the professions where highly intuitive/creative people thrive. Hence, a number of good books about creativity have been written by ad agency heads. One of these is James Webb Young's A Technique for Producing Ideas.

The book is a relatively short -- no, very short -- volume that essentially outlines the five key steps in the creative process. For many people, including creative people, creativity is in essence a mystery. Hence, we hear of writers waiting for their muse, artists waiting for inspiration. But if you're in the advertising game, do you really just wait around for inspiration to strike out of the blue? Are there ways to prime the pump? Are great ideas really only a matter of chance?

In the second chapter of Young's little volume he tells about how ancient mariners, as they traversed wide open seas, would suddenly come across lovely atolls above the waters. The unexpected had an air of magic about it. "And so it is, I thought, with Ideas," Young writes. "They appear just as suddenly above the surface of the mind; and with the same air of magic and unaccountability."

Scientists understand that these atolls don't really just appear out of nowhere. They are the product of countless, unseen coral builders working below the surface of the sea. So Young asked himself, "Is an idea, too, like this? Is it only the final result of a long series of unseen idea-building processes which go on beneath the surface of the conscious mind?"

But he went further, wondering if these processes can be identified so they can be stimulated, corralled, developed into a formula. The fundamental prod behind all this was a single quest: "How do you get ideas?"

Young continues: "This brought me to the conclusion that the production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows an operative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just a must a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool."

A little further in the book Young writes, "What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced; and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas."

What constitutes an "idea" you may ask. According to Vilfredo Pareto "an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements." (EdNote: You may be familiar with Pareto due to the principle named after him, a.k.a. the 80-20 rule.)

Young affirmed that “knowledge is basic to good creative thinking,” but that this is not enough. Rather, “knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships.”

I referenced the book in a 2008 blog post and see that you can purchase your own used copy for one penny plus shipping here at Amazon.

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Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

EdNote: Picture at top right by Spanish artist Pere Salinas.