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Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Thanksgiving Cornucopia of Old Time Radio Shows

First off, I apologize to everyone for being late with this week’s post. The flu struck. But I wanted to be sure and get out a nice Thanksgiving offering to all our readers.

The Holiday marathon from November to December often requires a lot of travel. Many people travel to see their friends and family during this time. Sometimes this means that people spend hours stuck at airports or crammed into cars. If you are very unlucky, like those poor people snowbound in Buffalo, New York, a few unpleasant hours can transform into days.

To help turn long hours of boredom into something a bit more festive, I’ve gathered a few of the comedy greats and their Thanksgiving radio shows.

The Jack Benny Radio Show
First up we have The Jack Benny Radio Show. Jack is “widely recognized as one of the leading American entertainers of the 20th century”. He was born Benjamin Kubelsky in Chicago, Illinois on February 14, 1894. Jack began playing the violin when he was six years old. By age seventeen, he was “playing violin in local vaudeville theaters for $7.50 a week”. During World War II, Jack joined the Navy and often played his violin to entertain the troops.

During his vaudeville time, a succession of legal protests from other entertainers resulted in a slow name change for Jack. When he performed as Benjamin Kubelsky in a musical duo with a lady pianist, another violinist, Jan Kubelik was afraid his reputation would be damaged. Kubelik sued and Benjamin Kubelsky became Ben K. Benny. As Ben K. Benny, Jack performed a “Fiddle Funology”. But another fiddle and patter performer, Ben Bernie, did not like the similar names and sued. So Ben K. Benny became Jack Benny.

Funny how these long forgotten performers were so worried that Jack’s performances would hurt their reputations.

Eventually Jack Benny made it into the movies and onto radio. In 1932, Jack was invited to a guest spot on Ed Sullivan’s radio show. Jack opened his first radio appearance with:
“This is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause while you say “Who cares?”…”

Later that year, Jack got his own radio program on NBC radio. That lasted until 1948 when his show moved to CBS radio. Jack’s show ran on CBS until 1955.

For our Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Radio Shows, we have Jack Benny’s program from November 19, 1939. Jack’s programs featured a “loose show-within-a-show format, wherein the main characters were playing versions of themselves”. Jack played himself as “a comic, vain, penny-pinching miser”. He was joined by a variety of regulars and semi-regulars including his announcer Don Wilson, singer Dennis Day playing a naïve and rather silly young man, real-life wife Mary Livingstone playing a “Mary Livingstone” character that changed from show to show, band leader Phil Harris, and Eddie Anderson as Jack’s valet and chauffeur Rochester.

This Thanksgiving program centers around Jack’s plans for Thanksgiving dinner, Mary’s Thanksgiving poem, and Jack’s unusually large “turkey”. The program’s sponsor at this time was Jell-O (Jack’s program was so popular and so good at selling Jell-O that when sugar was in short supply during World War II, Jell-O had to stop its commercials on The Jack Benny Show because they could not keep up with consumer demand).

Besides the comic patter between the characters, the show also included a song by Dennis Day and musical selections by Phil Harris’s orchestra. In this program, Dennis sings “I Dream of Genie with the Light Brown Hair” and Jack and company slide in a few jokes about Jack’s hair.

Here’s a few comic bits that struck my fancy:
  • Mary complains about a joke, “That’s one of the oldest jokes in the world.” Jack, who is eternally 39, is appalled, “Mary, jokes happen to be my business. If that was the oldest joke in the world I’d be the first one to know about it.”
  • Phil praises his old painting, “Some day that picture will be hanging in Paris, right next to the Mona Lulu.” Jack is amused, “Well. I’m not gonna even bother to correct that. How do you like that, Mary? The most famous painting of a woman in the world and Phil doesn’t even know her name.” Mary answers, “If she was alive, he’d know her name and phone number.” Benny agrees, “And her address and what’s she’s doing Friday night.”
  • Mary’s Thanksgiving poem is titled “Thanksgiving, You’re a Little Mixed Up, Aren’t You, Kid?” and ends with “What’s the difference? What the heck? The turkey’s the guy that gets it in the neck.”
  • Jack, the cheapest person to ever live, boasts about his turkey, “I’ve got the biggest, fattest, juiciest turkey you ever saw.” Don asks, “Where’d you run over it?”
  • Rochester is worried that Jack’s 65 pound turkey may not really be a turkey, “Every time I go in there, she sticks her head in a bucket of sand.”

The Burns and Allen Show
Our second Thanksgiving radio show stars one of the great duos of comedy: George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen. George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on January 20m 1896. He was the ninth of twelve children. When his father died during the influenza epidemic of 1903, little George went to work to help support his family. By age seven he was working as a syrup maker in a local candy shop and he and his three young co-workers were also singing on street corners as The Pee Wee Quartet. He took the stage name “George Burns” when he started working on stage in vaudeville.

In 1923, George met, and immediately fell in love with, a young Irish Catholic lady named Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen. They launched a comedy partnership that lasted for the rest of their lives. George always valued his wife and partner; he is quoted as having said, “And all of a sudden, the audience realized I had a talent. They were right. I did have a talent - and I was married to her for 38 years”. They stared out with George playing the comic and Gracie the straight man but Gracie, with her high-pitched voice, was getting much more laughs. George switched their roles and he started to play straight man to Gracie’s hilarious “illogical logic”. They married in 1926 and later adopted a daughter and a son.

George and Gracie started their radio careers as comedy relief on bandleader Guy Lombardo’s show. They got their own show on February 15, 1932. At first, their show centered on their flirtation, as they played unmarried singles. But eventually George realized their ratings were slipping and they changed to playing versions of themselves as a married couple who were also stars of their own radio show. After the change, their ratings soared and their show “received and maintained  a Top 10 rating for the rest of its radio life”.

The Burns and Allen Radio Show started out on NBC. In 1949, after 12 years on NBC, George and Gracie, as well as Jack Benny and other radio stars, moved to CBS radio. In 1950, their show moved to CBS television.

George and Gracie’s Thanksgiving radio show from November 17, 1942 is titled the “Hat Box Hostage”. The show was sponsored by Swann’s Soap and begins with George complaining about the family budget. He does not understand how they spend so much money but Gracie quickly explains in her “logical illogic” way. They are visited by one of their regulars, a very depressed postman, and then by their announcer Bill Goodwin. Bill turns the patter between the characters into a Swann’s Soap commercial that fits right into the storyline. Like Jack Benny’s show, there is a song, “When the Lights Go On Again” by singer Jimmy Cash. Then it’s back to the story with Gracie shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. To save money, Gracie buys a live three pound turkey to fatten up themselves. George is not to happy about it and neither is Gracie’s pet duck, Herman. There is another musical number and Bill Goodwin comes back to turn the story into another Swann’s Soap commercial then George and Gracie come up with a solution for their turkey problem.

Here are a few comedy zingers that I enjoyed:
  • George complains that they are spending money for milk for cats when they do not have any cats. Gracie responds, “No, but we have mice.” “Well, I don’t get it,” says George. Gracie gives a “logical illogic” explanation, “Well, if I put bowls of milk all around the house the mice will think we have cats and they’ll be afraid to come out of the hole.”
  •  George talks about how saving money will help the World War II war effort and complains that last year’s turkey was too big, “The turkey we had last year should have had a pilot and bombardier.”
  • When Gracie buys the little turkey, she is worried about its feet, “Oh my! His little feet are chapped. He shouldn’t be running around barefoot in November.”
  • Gracie questions the grocer, “Mr. Meyer, why does he make that funny noise?” “All turkey’s gobble,” responds the grocer. Gracie retorts, “Well then he should eat slower.”
  • George is not impressed with the turkey, “He isn’t very friendly. He looks like he’s thinking of biting my nose off.” Gracie responds, “Well, look what you’re thinking of doing to him!”
  • Herman the duck and the turkey first fight then fall in love. George says, “Get this - love comes to Herman Burns.” A little later, Gracie tells George he can not eat the turkey, “George, I won’t let you touch that turkey. It would be inhuman, that’s what it would be. “What would be inhuman?” asks George. Gracie explains, “To eat our son’s fiancé for Thanksgiving dinner!”

The Abbott and Costello Radio Program
Our final Thanksgiving radio program is the Abbott and Costello Radio Program from November 25, 1943. William (Bud) Abbott and Lou Costello (born Louis Francis Cristillo) were “an American comedy duo whose work in radio, film, and television made them one of the most popular teams in the history of comedy”.

Abbott and Costello began their comedy partnership in vaudeville in 1929. Abbott played straight man to Costello’s “bumbling, wisecracking man-child”. In 1938, they were signed for a series of appearances on Kate Smith’s radio show. They were a big hit with their vaudeville routines. In 1940, they did a summer replacement radio show for Fred Allen’s show. On October 8, 1942, Abbott and Costello launched their own radio show sponsored by Camel Cigarettes on NBC radio. In 1947, their radio show moved to ABC radio and where they also did a Saturday morning children’s radio show, The Abbott and Costello Children’s Show, featuring a little girl vocalist and a little boy announcer.

Abbott and Costello’s regular radio program featured many guest stars. On this Thanksgiving program, the guest star was actress Jane Wyman. Abbott wants to have Thanksgiving dinner at Costello’s house and he wants Costello to cook his pet turkey Ingrid. Costello is appalled and so is the turkey who makes a break for freedom. Like our other two radio programs, Abbott and Costello’s program has breaks for musical numbers, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”, and songs, “Shoo Shoo, Baby”. And there are commercials for Camel Cigarettes sprinkled throughout.

Here are a few funny bits from the show:
  • Abbott claims he will not be hosting Thanksgiving dinner, “I’ll get no turkey at my house.” Costello has an idea, “OK, make it duck.” “Duck?” “Yeah,” Costello explains, “Duck, You know. That’s chicken with snow shoes on.”
  • Abbott claims he only eats the finest cuisine with the “snotty set” and Costello is not quite good enough, “Why, I couldn’t even ask my butler to serve you for dinner.” Costello misunderstands, “Serve ME for dinner? What kinda people come to your house? Cannibals?” “No, no, no, no,” assures Abbott. Costello is still suspicious, “Dracula? Frankenstein?”
  • Costello complains about a lady, “When she sucks a lemon, the lemon makes a face.”
  • Abbott talks with Jane Wyman, “I suppose you think he’s a perfect idiot?” “Oh, no,” responds Jane, “None of us are perfect.”

All three of our radio programs have been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. All three of these recordings can be downloaded or listened to online at the Internet Archive. All three are crisp and clear and very funny. Especially keep your ears open for a guest appearance of Bugs Bunny on the Abbott and Costello Radio Program. And the quackings of Herman Burns the Duck on the Burns and Allen Show is hilarious. Enjoy!

Please click this link to listen to / or download the Jack Benny Radio Show for November 19, 1939: Jack Buys an Ostrich for Thanksgiving.

Pease click this link to listen to / or download the Burns and Allen Show for November 17, 1942: Hat Box Hostage.

Please click this link to listen to / or download the Abbott and Costello Radio Program for November 25, 1943: Turkey Dinner.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

No Free Lunch: What Does Google and Facebook Know About You?

Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Spotify, all these "free" sites and services aren't always without cost. In other articles on this blog we talk about how much Google and other companies know about you by tracking what you do online. ...but, how much exactly DO they know about you?

Have you ever noticed that Facebook or Google ads seem uncannily related to your own interests? There's a reason for that. Their advertisers are categorized and pay for premium positioning. For example, with Christmas coming up, New Line Cinema would pay Facebook a higher rate to drop ads for their Hobbit box set on the Facebook pages of anyone who included The Hobbit in their list of favourite movies. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.


Google builds a profile of each of its users. Google collects the data from various sources it controls, such as its search engine, Gmail, YouTube, GoogleDocs, Google+ and Maps. Once you're loggged into your Google account, the data collecting begins.

Google uses all the information it can get to do what is referred to as "data mining" - a concept that has been around for some time. An example of data mining is found with store loyalty programs - those point cards that you carry around to eventually earn enough points to save five bucks on a purchase. The cards enable the stores to track your purchases. Data mining comes into play by taking known data and inferring things from it. For example, if your shopping patterns change to where you're suddenly buying diapers and baby products, the inference is that you have a new family and you may be looking to settle down into a house and move out of your apartment rental, so your name will be placed on a cold-call list for a mortgage broker.

Google can also use this information to target their advertising. If you visit a credit card's web site, you will instantly see ads for CapitalOne or MasterCard.

This targeting technique ends up creating what is called the "filter bubble" that shows up in both ads and search results served up from Google. For example, if Google's profile has you pegged as a Liberal, and you search for "Barack Obama" you will get results that are largely friendly to the President. If Google has decided that you're a Fox News viewer, you'll get all the conspiracy theory stories and nonsense up front in your search results. What should be an open source of information becomes an echo chamber as the more information Google collects, the narrower your view of the Internet becomes.

But you don't have to take my word for it, Google will happily show you what kind of information it has on you:

You can see how Google targets their ads toward your browsing experience here:

Google also keeps a record of everything you've ever searched for. ...Yes, everything. To see what Google has on record for your search terms,

Many Android mobile devices send GPS information such as location, direction and speed of travel and so on. All of this is recorded as well. To see what Google has recorded for your previous locations,

Google also records data about every device that is used to access your Google account and you can see what Google has on your whereabouts here;

Many apps and browser extensions can access your data. To see a list of all the apps that can access your own data and change their security settings here:

If you wanted to collect all that Google has collected about you, will produce that report for you.

Google's tracking and data storage is why we recommend search engines like Ixquick or DuckDuckGo 


Facebook is making an estimated $10 billion a year off of its users' personal information. What, you think they did this for free? In just the 2nd fiscal quarter of 2014 they made $2.8 billion.

So what does Facebook know about you?

In a nutshell, everything. Like Google, Facebook creates a profile on each and every one of its users, but unlike Google, its profiles aren't based on educated guesses and extrapolation techniques. YOU tell it everything.

When you filled out your profile, you gave Facebook data like your favourite books, bands, movies, the high school you attended, all kinds of information used to build better predictive models and networks for more precise targeted content. This info also makes for better building blocks for creating a more narrow and impervious "filter bubble". 

How can I find out what data Facebook has collected?

  1. In Facebook, click on the "padlock" icon and select "See More Settings" at the bottom of the list.
  2. Select the "General" settings.
  3. Click on the "Download a copy of your Facebook data" link at the bottom of the screen.
  4. You will be taken to a new screen, click the "Start My Archive" button to download a Zip file that contains all of the data that Facebook has collected. You will be asked for your Facebook password in order to begin the download.

What can I expect to find in the Zip file? Here's the list where Facebook freely tells you what information they're collecting:

  • Any information you added to the About section of your Timeline like relationships, work, education, where you live and more. It includes any updates or changes you made in the past and what is currently in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Account Status History - The dates when your account was reactivated, deactivated, disabled or deleted.
  • Active Sessions - All stored active sessions, including date, time, device, IP address, machine cookie and browser information.
  • Ads Clicked - Dates, times and titles of ads clicked (limited retention period).
  • Address - Your current address or any past addresses you had on your account.
  • Ad Topics - A list of topics that you may be targeted against based on your stated likes, interests and other data you put in your Timeline.
  • Alternate Name - Any alternate names you have on your account (ex: a maiden name or a nickname).
  • Apps - All of the apps you have added.
  • Birthday Visibility - How your birthday appears on your Timeline.
  • Chat - A history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat (a complete history is available directly from your messages inbox).
  • Check-ins - The places you’ve checked into.
  • Connections - The people who have liked your Page or Place, RSVPed to your event, installed your app or checked in to your advertised place within 24 hours of viewing or clicking on an ad or Sponsored Story.
  • Credit Cards - If you make purchases on Facebook (ex: in apps) and have given Facebook your credit card number.
  • Currency - Your preferred currency on Facebook. If you use Facebook Payments, this will be used to display prices and charge your credit cards.
  • Current City - The city you added to the About section of your Timeline.
  • Date of Birth - The date you added to Birthday in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Deleted Friends - People you’ve removed as friends.
  • Education - Any information you added to Education field in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Emails - Email addresses added to your account (even those you may have removed).
  • Events - Events you’ve joined or been invited to.
  • Facial Recognition Data - A unique number based on a comparison of the photos you're tagged in. We use this data to help others tag you in photos.
  • Family - Friends you’ve indicated are family members.
  • Favorite Quotes - Information you’ve added to the Favorite Quotes section of the About section of your Timeline.
  • Followers - A list of people who follow you.
  • Following - A list of people you follow.
  • Friend Requests - Pending sent and received friend requests.
  • Friends - A list of your friends.
  • Gender - The gender you added to the About section of your Timeline.
  • Groups - A list of groups you belong to on Facebook.
  • Hidden from News Feed - Any friends, apps or pages you’ve hidden from your News Feed.
  • Hometown - The place you added to hometown in the About section of your Timeline.
  • IP Addresses - A list of IP addresses where you’ve logged into your Facebook account (won’t include all historical IP addresses as they are deleted according to a retention schedule).
  • Last Location - The last location associated with an update.
  • Likes on Others' Posts - Posts, photos or other content you’ve liked.
  • Likes on Your Posts from others - Likes on your own posts, photos or other content.
  • Likes on Other Sites - Likes you’ve made on sites off of Facebook.
  • Linked Accounts - A list of the accounts you've linked to your Facebook account.
  • Locale - The language you've selected to use Facebook in.
  • Logins - IP address, date and time associated with logins to your Facebook account.
  • Logouts - IP address, date and time associated with logouts from your Facebook account.
  • Messages - Messages you’ve sent and received on Facebook. Note, if you've deleted a message it won't be included in your download as it has been deleted from your account.
  • Name - The name on your Facebook account.
  • Name Changes - Any changes you’ve made to the original name you used when you signed up for Facebook.
  • Networks - Networks (affiliations with schools or workplaces) that you belong to on Facebook.
  • Notes - Any notes you’ve written and published to your account.
  • Notification Settings - A list of all your notification preferences and whether you have email and text enabled or disabled for each.
  • Pages You Admin - A list of pages you admin.
  • Pending Friend Requests - Pending sent and received friend requests.
  • Phone Numbers - Mobile phone numbers you’ve added to your account, including verified mobile numbers you've added for security purposes.
  • Photos - Photos you’ve uploaded to your account.
  • Photos Metadata - Any metadata that is transmitted with your uploaded photos. (this includes things like geostamps)
  • Physical Tokens - Badges you’ve added to your account.
  • Pokes - A list of who’s poked you and who you’ve poked. Poke content from our mobile poke app is not included because it's only available for a brief period of time. After the recipient has viewed the content it's permanently deleted from our systems.
  • Political Views - Any information you added to Political Views in the About section of Timeline.
  • Posts by You - Anything you posted to your own Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates.
  • Posts by Others - Anything posted to your Timeline by someone else, like wall posts or links shared on your Timeline by friends.
  • Posts to Others - Anything you posted to someone else’s Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates.
  • Privacy Settings - Your privacy settings.
  • Recent Activities - Actions you’ve taken and interactions you’ve recently had.
  • Registration Date - The date you joined Facebook.
  • Religious Views - The current information you added to Religious Views in the About section of your Timeline. - Removed Friends - People you’ve removed as friends.
  • Screen Names - The screen names you’ve added to your account, and the service they’re associated with. You can also see if they’re hidden or visible on your account.
  • Searches - Searches you’ve made on Facebook.
  • Shares - Content (ex: a news article) you've shared with others on Facebook using the Share button or link.
  • Spoken Languages - The languages you added to Spoken Languages in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Status Updates - Any status updates you’ve posted.
  • Work - Any current information you’ve added to Work in the About section of your Timeline.
  • Vanity URL - Your Facebook URL (ex: username or vanity for your account).
  • Videos - Videos you’ve posted to your Timeline.

Here's the page where Facebook tells you what it collects:

What is the significance of some of this data? Well, let's take two fairly innocuous pieces of data - your Family, and Photos. In "Family" you've probably identified your mother, or probably some cousins. From this information someone can easily discover your mother's maiden name. In your pictures, you probably have a photo album that includes pictures of your pets. What are two very common security questions that people set up as their test question for when they forget a password to something? What is your mother's maiden name, and What is the name of your first pet.

Here's another security risk, and this one's a little more direct. By collecting your login and logoff times, a profile can be assembled of when you're most likely to be online - for a hacker, this means when you're most vulnerable to an attack.

You can see the problem this might create. Other ways this data can be used is if a company or lobbyist group or government wants to target a group - let's say everyone who has more than three links to marijuana legalization groups or pages. You may get added to someone's watch list. Or let's say something a little more sinister, like you suddenly switch your Facebook religious affiliation to Muslim from Christian and start frequently searching for airline seat sales to Syria, you might start pinging on someone's radar.

That's a lot of data, though. How would one sort through it all? Luckily, Facebook provides you with a tool that allows you to search and sort your own data. It's a feature called "Graph Search" that is the public face of the data mining tool that Facebook uses to provide its clients with the data they're looking for.

Right-clicking the ad's top right corner gives
access to some customization tools.
So, how do you prevent targeted ads and bubbled content? The most effective thing to do is not to volunteer a lot of information about yourself. Everything that you enter ends up tailoring your experience to some extent. Another way is to familiarize yourself with Facebook's customization and privacy options. These change so frequently that it's not practical to offer a step-by-step guide here as it will likely be out of date a few days after publishing. Currently, by right-clicking on the top corner of an ad, or on the down-arrow if it appears in your news feed, presents a link that will allow you to customize the ads that you see. Clicking on an item in your news feed allows you to take a survey to make the News Feed better. And by "better" they mean "more targeted". Switch from Facebook to Ello. I'm sure that Ello will still sell client data, but the "filter bubble" effect will be far less prevalent. Other than that, stop using Google as a search engine. Use search engines like Ixquick or DuckDuckGo instead.

Here's the ironic thing, though. Neither Google nor Facebook invaded your privacy. All the information that Google and Facebook tells you it has on you, you gave it away willingly. Be careful about what you do online. There really is no such thing as a free lunch.

More resources:

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941) is regarded as one of the most exceptional figures of modern literature in the 20th century. She was a novelist, journalist and essayist, who wrote primarily about feminism, homosexuality and mental illness.

Woolf experimented with and developed unusual literary tools including interior monologues, dream-states, free association prose and she abandoned linear narrative. She believed her peers needed to look below the surface and beyond the confines of the restricted representations of men and women.

There is a heavy emphasis on poetic symbols and the role of women in the world of academia. I know a lot of readers, reviewers or critics disparage this particular short story, as the mindless meanderings of a scribe.

Not so quick say I, because what may seem like a drifting of thoughts or a jumble of notes thrown together, is much more than that.

Have you ever been lost in thought? Perhaps caught up in a moment of time and spent unexpected seconds travelling through the winding streets of your own mind. That is the premise of this short tale. It actually gives an interesting insight into the creative mind of Woolf .
Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall
The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.
A train of thoughts set in motion by a mere speck on the wall. Much like the patterns on wallpaper, which seem to dance, twist and change to our own personal tunes. As she stares her focus turns inwards.
How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn't be able to say for certain; because once a thing's done, no one ever knows how it happened.
Her mind wanders to the meaning of life. Questioning existence and the lack of control we have over our lives and those of others, despite thinking and believing the complete opposite.
The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization
Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour.Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard
Her thoughts lead to the inevitable question of 'What about after life?' The following sentence is one, which I believe is indicative of Woolf and her immense literary talent. Her sentences role over the tongue and the mind like the sweetest of sugar.
Why, after all, should one not be born there as one is born here, helpless, speechless, unable to focus one's eyesight, groping at the roots of the grass, at the toes of the Giants?
To begin at the end, as at the beginning. (There ya go I'm being prolific, take note) She then takes a close hard look at herself and lets us take a glance inside.
Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people
for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number
She refers to her own image and the discrepancy between what people perceive, what we want people to see and then the actual reality. The real person hiding inside the shell society expects to be exhibited to them. We are like dispersive prisms and our various reflections are the dispersed lights.

The ending is both ironic and amusing. I will leave that to you to find out. Unexpected and yet just right.

Virginia suffered from frequent bouts of mental illness throughout her life, there are many who believe she may have been bi-polar. It would explain the descent into times of deep depression and manic episodes.

During the early stages of a manic episode sufferers tend be very happy, creative and productive. I think those tendencies are evident in her thought processes and most certainly in her writing.

This piece, for instance is a good example of how her creativity swirls with an intense yet rudderless passion.

One can compare it to a ball in a pinball machine, shooting from top to bottom and side to side. Each contact point represents a single thought, which spirals into a tornado then moves along to the next point of contact and becomes a new direction and thought.

All that energy combined with an intelligent mind, an abundance of literary talent and an astute view of society and the world. No wonder Virginia and her work are so highly regarded.

Free downloads of the above story and more by Virginia Woolf
Download to read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf at the Internet Archive here.
Download to listen to The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf (short story collection nr. 5) at Librivox here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Our Land was Never Lost, Never Discovered: Native Americans in Early Film

What happened to Autumn this year? One day we were a nice, cozy 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The next night we were shivering with less than 20 degrees. Winter seems to be coming early and with a vengeance.

But despite the chill, this is normally the time of year when farmers are bringing in the harvest and dedicated shoppers are plotting their holiday shopping blitz. Soon, we will all be busy gobbling down turkey, visiting family and friends, mobbing Wal-Mart, and reminiscing about the past year.

Sort of in that spirit, I was recently wandering around the Internet Archive looking for fun things to help movie and book fans relax and enjoy the holiday marathon. Naturally, I found oodles of great movies and TV shows and books (isn’t the Public Domain great?). But I also found some thought provoking things. So, before we all get lost in a turkey and stuffing haze I thought this would be a good time to look at some of those things, to remember that some people are deep in a time of “Unthanksgiving”.

For many years, Hollywood portrayed (and still portrays today) Native Americans in very stereotypical ways. Sometimes they were the “noble savage”, brave and stoic and somehow mysterious but helpful to the white hero of a movie. More often, Native Americans were nothing more than faceless, nameless, mean, nasty primitives who were bound and determined to kill the sweet, innocent white settlers who never did anything (like steal tribal lands and kill all the native wildlife) to deserve such animosity.

But way back in the beginnings of Hollywood movie-making, there was a time when things were different. There was a time, however brief, when producers and directors wanted to be realistic and sympathetic in their portrayals of Native Americans. From that early movie-making time we have two films that look into Native American life.

The Red Man’s View
Our first film is titled The Red Man’s View and is from 1909. There is a lot of controversy attached to this film, not because of the subject matter, but because of the director. The Red Man’s View was directed by D.W. Griffith.

David Llewelyn Wark “D.W.” Griffith was born in Kentucky on January 22, 1875. His father was a Confederate army colonel during the American Civil War and his sister, Mattie, was the teacher at the little one-room school house he attended. D.W. wanted to be a playwright but only one of his plays was ever performed. In 1907, D.W. went to New York and “tried to sell a story to The Edison Company. They hired him as an actor instead.” In 1908, D.W. was acting at American Mutoscope and Biograph Company (Biograph) when the main director fell ill. The replacement director wasn’t very good and, in desperation, Biograph’s head let D.W. direct his first film. Soon D.W. had his own studio and was busy changing the way movies were made.

Legendary comedic actor, Charlie Chaplin, called D.W. Griffith “the teacher of us all”. Over the next twenty years, many of the biggest names in silent films got their start with D.W., including Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Lionel Barrymore, and Lillian Gish. D.W. changed the way movies were made. He produced and directed the first movie ever made in Hollywood, California. He pioneered the film techniques of parallel editing, “the flashback, the iris shot, the mask, the systematic use of the soft focus shot and the split screen”. D.W. also invented false eyelashes so his female star could have “lashes luxurious enough to brush her cheeks when she blinked”. In 1910, he was the first to utter the famous catchphrase “Lights, camera, action!” In 1920, along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith established United Artists.

But all of D.W. Griffiths accomplishments are overshadowed by one thing; by one controversial film: The Birth of a Nation (1915). This incredibly racist movie portrayed the “Ku Klux Klan as a band of heroes restoring the rightful order”. African-Americans were played by white actors in blackface and portrayed as “unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women”. Despite the viciousness of the portrayals, this movie actually went on to be the first movie blockbuster and possibly the most profitable film of all time. Actress Lillian Gish once remarked “They lost track of the money it made.” Some of the investors of this film made so much money that they were able to finance their own film studios. The action and violence of the film and the racist portrayals led to rioting in some cities and efforts to ban or censor the movie. It also inspired many African-Americans to start making their own films and providing more positive and realistic images.

After The Birth of a Nation (1915) and its ridiculously nasty portrayal of African-Americans, the idea that D.W. Griffith would make a movie about Native Americans is almost frightening. But despite his bigoted and racist views, D.W. “detested the manner in which whites and the ‘white man’s government’ treated and oppressed Native Americans” and several of his early films explored this view.

The Red Man’s View was shot in New York State and released on December 9, 1909. In this movie, white men are the faceless, nameless “Conquerors” harassing the peaceful Native Americans, stealing their land and even their women, and forcing them into an endless, hopeless search for a new home.

The white “Conquerors” do not seem to have done anything to deserve to be called “Conquerors” except to show up and threaten the small tribe of mostly women. The few Native American men have no weapons and no recourse. The tribe is forced to walk away from their homes with only what they can carry and the rowdy group of white men move right into the tribe’s teepees and force one Native girl to stay behind and be their slave.

This actually hits close to home for me. There was a prominent Native American tribe that once called my home town area their home. I’ve seen pictures from around 1835, as the local tribe were forced out of their homes, white squatters moved right in. The Native American homes, now the squatters’ homes, were the only cabins in the area at the time. My own family, although they arrived fifty years after most of the Native Americans were forced to leave, formed several family farms on what was once Native American farmland.

It’s not a pretty picture.

The Red Man’s View is not overly violent, in fact it’s pretty passive and rather depressing. The film focuses on one young Native American man and woman. They love each other but are torn apart when their people are forced to leave. The young man must go and help his aged father, the chieftain, who is to old to manage on his own. The young woman is forced to stay behind and slave for the white men.

The tribe wanders aimlessly. They have no where to go. Even when they stop just to rest, white “Conquerors” appear and drive them on.

It’s a sad picture and a sad commentary (with no spoken words and only a few title cards) on the way a people were treated. And a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of Native American people from a man (D.W. Griffith) who was so unsympathetic towards African-Americans. Although, it is perhaps telling that none of the credited actors and actresses portraying Native Americans are actually Native Americans. Our young hero is actually played by Owen Moore, an Irish born actor who immigrated to the USA when he was eight years old and is most remembered as the jealous, alcoholic, and abusive first husband of screen legend Mary Pickford. And our heroine is actually played by Mary Pickford’s sister, Lottie Pickford.

One last thing of interest: currently there is a re-make of The Red Man's View in pre-production. The new film is titled simply Red Man's View and stares actor Michael Spears as Silver Eagle (the son of the old chieftain in our film). Here's what the Internet Movie Data Base has to say: "A controversial saga about a fictional branch of a small Shoshone tribe in northern California who is caught up in the midst of the American Civil War when its effects of the war spreads west and Union soldiers force the tribe from their homeland". Look for Red Man's View sometime in 2016.

White Fawn’s Devotion
Our second film, White Fawn’s Devotion, was shot in New Jersey State and released on June 18, 1910. This film differs greatly from our first film in that most of the people in the film are actually Native Americans. In fact, the film’s entire title is: White Fawn’s Devotion: A Play Acted by a Tribe of Red Indians in America.

White Fawn’s Devotion was directed and written by James Young Deer of the Nanticoke people of Delaware and stars his wife Princess Red Wing aka Lillian St. Cyr of the Winnebago people of Nebraska. This film is believed to be “the earliest surviving film directed by a native American and the first film shot in America by the French company Pathé”. In 2008, White Fawn’s Devotion was added to the United States National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

James Young Deer aka J. Younger Johnson aka James Young Johnson was born on April 1, 1876 in the “Old Southwest” District of Washington, D.C. He served three years in the US Navy during the Spanish-American War and later performed as a cowboy with Barnum and Bailey Circus and with Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show.

James married Lillian St. Cyr on April 9, 1906. Lillian aka Princess Red Wing aka Red Wing had been born on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska State and was sent to a pro-assimilation school in Pennsylvania after her mother died.

After James and Lillian married, they joined a group of (Lakota) Sioux Indians and performed stage coach battles and the Ghost Dance at New York City venues. By the summer of 1909, they were technical advisers for D.W. Griffith and also appeared in silent film shorts. They moved to Hollywood, California in 1909.

In 1910, James was hired to direct films for Pathé Frères. The French based studio had been criticized “that their movies were not realistic in their portrayals of the Old West, so they sent Young Deer to Edendale in Los Angeles to make Indian-themed films.” James Young Deer acted in, wrote, or directed around 150 silent shorts for Pathé and eventually ran their entire west coast studio operations.

James’ wife, Lillian aka Princess Red Wing, acted in silent shorts and often appeared in his films. In 1914 Red Wing “appeared in the screen’s first feature Western to be filmed in what people now refer to as Hollywood”. That film was The Squaw Man, produced and directed by film legend Cecil B. DeMille.

James Young Deer and Princess Red Wing “have been dubbed by some as the first Native American Hollywood “power couple” ”. But their reign was not to last. In 1913, a 15-year-old girl alleged that James had assaulted her and James left the USA to shoot thrillers in London and documentaries in France. When he returned to the USA, he discovered that Western films were no longer as popular and he had trouble finding work. At some time, James and Red Wing divorced. By 1921, she had retired from film. Red Wing eventually moved to New York City and worked on making Indian costumes for FAO Schwarz and Eaves Costume Company. She died in 1974 at age 90. James remarried and continued to work as a second-unit director on low budget films and serials. He died on April 6, 1946.

Their film, White Fawn’s Devotion, centers on a mixed race family. The father is a white frontierman. Red Wing plays his Native American wife. They have a young daughter. The frontiersman gets a letter from London, England informing him that he has inherited an immense fortune. He wants the family to go to England and collect the inheritance but his wife, Red Wing, is frightened that she will loose her husband and child to the white society of England. Despondent, his wife stabs herself. Her husband is grief-stricken but their daughter, who appears just as her father is holding a bloody knife over his wife’s body, thinks her father has killed her mother. The daughter flees to a nearby Native American settlement and tells her relatives what she suspects. Several men of the tribe then pursue the fleeing frontiersman to bring him to justice for the supposed murder of his wife.

This film is more like a traditional Western than our first film. White Fawn’s Devotion has more action. The Native American men chase the white man. There are several confrontations with gunfire and fisticuffs. The whole film looks very realistic and very well done.

Both The Red Man’s View and White Fawn’s Devotion hold up very well. There are a few signs of age on the films but mostly the images are very clear and bright. There was no accompanying music for Red Fawn’s Devotion nor for the version of The Red Man’s View that I watched. Both films used only a few title cards so the viewer must pay attention to the story and infer quite a few things.

The costumes and settings in White Fawn’s Devotion look absolutely beautiful and very realistic. But there is one huge costume problem in White Fawn’s Devotion and that involves the body stockings. Several of the Native American men have bare shoulders, chests, or knees but a couple of the men are wearing full body stockings, covering their body from their necks and wrists to their ankles underneath their Native attire. Apparently movie goers of the time would have been shocked to see too much bare skin. The costumes in The Red Man’s View seem more ordinary and there are also a few costume problems. Several of the actors seem to have problems managing their Indian blankets. In a few scenes it looks like they resorted to sewing parts of the blankets to the actors’ shoulders. The old chieftain also keeps losing his headdress and it is often smashed over his face or hanging off the back of his head.

But overall, both films looked excellent and I never even noticed the lack of soundtrack. Both films are very short. The Red Man’s View runs 14 minutes and 35 seconds. White Fawn’s Devotion runs 10 minutes and 52 seconds.

Of course, the very best thing about both of our films is that they are both FREE in the Public Domain and available for download or watching online at the Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive has two versions of The Red Man’s View.

Version #1 seems more popular with more than 1,000 downloads. Please click this link to watch / download Version #1 of The Red Man’s View.

However, I thought Version #2 (with less than 1,000 downloads) was just a bit brighter and crisper. Please click this link to watch Version #2 of The Red Man’s View.

The Internet Archive only has one version of White Fawn’s Devotion. It has more than 11,000 downloads. Please click this link to watch / download White Fawn’s Devotion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Trans Pacific Partnership Deal is "Getting Closer"

The end of 2014 marks an important deadline for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). It is a deadline set by the interested countries as a target date by which to have negotiations completed. The cynic will note that this is the third such "deadline" that has been imposed on the TPP negotiators, the first two having been missed altogether. This deadline, though, is being described as "crucial".

What is the TPP? My previous article, "Trans-Pacific Partnership: Why it Should be on Your Radar" will get you up to speed.

The deal is being hammered out in extremely secretive negotiations, and continues to be dominated by special-interests. The latest round of high level negotiations happened Monday, November 10 in an auditorium in the US Embassy in Beijing under an exceptionally high level of security.

How high level was it? Monday's meeting involved the 12 heads of state of the countries negotiating the deal. The chief negotiators from each country have hit some roadblocks, obstacles that can only be overcome by these high-level discussions. The White House photo above shows U.S. President Barack Obama with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman at the talks in Beijing on Monday. Once those wrinkles are removed, the negotiators can get back to business on completing the deal.

Log Jams

One of the big ones is Canada's dairy and poultry farmers.

140 members of the United States Congress are telling Obama to boot Canada out of the TPP negotiations if they don't drop the tariffs on its protected staple dairy and poultry markets, or get some other sort of concession from Canada. Canada protects its market for two reasons. The government feels that the market needs to be protected for the consumer so that prices for quality products remain affordable, and it also needs to be protected for the farmers so that they can get a fair price for their products and not have to rely on government subsidies to produce a good quality product and remain afloat.

The American dairy and poultry markets are heavily subsidized, and that gives American producers a major competitive advantage over Canadian producers since they can offer cheaper products at cheaper prices. A flood of cheap products would be devastating for Canada's farmers, and the Canadian farmers would have to rely on government subsidies to maintain a competitive stance with the subsidized American farmers.

The Biggest Stumbling Block

The biggest "log jam" that needs to be cleared is between the U.S. and Japan, with the U.S. insisting Japan must open its borders to U.S. farm exports. Japanese farmers are protected much in the same way that Canadian dairy and poultry farmers are, and as they are with Canada, the U.S. is pressuring them to take substantial cuts in protective tariffs. The Japanese are resisting this demand.

Speeding Up the Fast Track

President Obama and other world leaders have already sought the go-ahead to fast-track the negotiations on this trade partnership. The fast-track is a measure that allows the agreement to be negotiated and signed without input or debate from the government's opposition or legislative bodies. That is already in place, but now, the negotiators have been instructed by their various heads of state to make concluding the deal on the TPP their top priority. The heads of state want this in place ASAP.

Updated Intellectual Property Section

Despite the "Ultra Top Secret" designation, Wikileaks has been posting sections of draft copies of the agreement as they get them, and On October 16, 2014, Wikileaks released an updated version of the Intellectual Property (IP) section of the TPP to little fanfare.

The new release is from a draft dated May 16, 2014 and the updated IP section is even worse than the original release. Emma Woollacott, who writes for, has written a quick summary of the updated section. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also provided their take on it.

In a nutshell:

  • The agreement seeks a far broader application of the existing DMCA "takedown" mechanisms, forcing ISPs - even at the level of a wireless hotspot in an internet café - to assume liability for and be responsible for enforcement, flag and remove copyright-infringing content.
  • Copyright terms could be enforced far longer. It seems that all parties are now agreed that there should be a minimum length of copyright term, they're just deciding whether it will be Life +50, +70, or +100 years.
  • Wide-ranging criminal penalties for anyone caught to be infringing copyright, even for those not seeking financial gain. Canada seems to be the only country opposed to this.
  • Journalists and whistleblowers could face criminal penalties for accessing, acquiring or disclosing "trade secrets" (and "trade secrets" has a pretty broad definition).
  • Adoption of the U.S.'s currently failing laws that are intended to prevent circumvention of DMCA protections.

The U.S. is pushing for all of those items. In most of these cases, where laws already exist they include civil penalties. This agreement seeks to increase those penalties to the criminal level.

The leaked document also revealed some interesting information, such as the fact that Canada seems to be the country pushing back against the TPP the most, with their negotiators opposing proposals 56 times so far. No other country has opposed it more.

Public Domain Recognition, Sort of...

A new article has been included in the IP section that consists of just two lines. The first line says, "The Parties recognize the importance of a rich and accessible public domain." That sounds promising. The second line says, "The Parties also acknowledge the importance of informational materials, such as publicly accessible databases of registered intellectual property rights that assist in the identification of subject matter that has fallen into the public domain." Again, that sounds promising, but the article fails to describe any kind of specifics or mechanisms that would actually protect the Public Domain. Perhaps it's just my skepticism showing through, but I think that second line could be read as
the corporate interests that are dominating these negotiations positioning themselves to create a mechanism that allows them to better exploit the Public Domain. That could be just me.

Everything Else Still a Going Concern

All of the concerns lodged in previous leaks are still a going concern. FOr example, Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) are concerned that the new copyright extensions will restrict or eliminate the availability of generic drugs for developing nations who cannot afford the brand-name counterpart.

What is "everything else"? To see all of the issues of concern already raised with the TPP, please read my previous posts on the topic:

- Trans-Pacific Partnership: Why it Should be on Your Radar
- Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Future is Now
- Trans Pacific Partnership: Bad for the Environment, Too
- Trans-Pacific Partnership Steams Ahead

So What Can I do About it?

For Americans, you may recall there was a midterm election and you have some new Congressmen (and women) ...Congresspeople? Anyway, a good place to start is by contacting your congressperson and voice your displeasure since they seem to be the ones pushing the President on specifics of the deal. You can also contact the White House at that link, if you're feeling ambitious.

Online petitions have a limited effect since they are as easy to ignore as they are to sign, but there is one petition site that the White House observes. There is currently no petition on the White House's petition site to stop or affect the TPP negotiations. You can change that.

More links:

The Electronic Frontier
Stop the TPP
Popular Resistance
Flush the TPP
Our Fair Deal: (petition and information)
Public Citizen
Open the TPP!
Public Knowledge
It's Our Future (NZ)
Public Knowledge's site on the TPP
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's video on the TPP
Knowledge Ecology International's list of leaked documents on TPP
The US Government's official site on the TPP
Government of Canada TPP page
Online petition to stop Eli Lilly's $500 million NAFTA lawsuit of Canada