Tuesday, June 27, 2023

James Dean (Small Screen)

 When I heard that my beloved Turner Classic Movies is in trouble I decided to dip down a rabbit hole for diversion and in preparation for a potential Warner Bros. boycott. For years I've noticed that many of my favorite movie directors and writers (George Roy HillPaddy Chayefsky, et al.) began their careers working on short TV movies that were broadcast live in the 1950s. It didn't take long to stumble across many works of James Dean, who only made three films for the big screen before his tragic death in 1955, but did a lot of work on these anthology series. I thought I'd share some here.

A Word about Kinescope Recordings: Before 1956 the only way to record live TV shows was by pointing a movie camera at a television screen and filming it that way. These recordings are called kinescopes, and their quality is nowhere near as good as the original broadcasts must have been, but at least they were preserved.

So, as promised, here are some early James Dean "movies" for you:

From the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars we have "The Unlighted Road," broadcast live on May 6, 1955:

Campbell's SoundStage brings us a presentation of James Dean in "Something for an Empty Briefcase", was broadcast live on July 17,1953:

James Dean and Natalie Wood starred in the live broadcast of "I'm a Fool" for General Electric Theater on November 14, 1954. This video shows a version that was aired following the death of James Dean in 1955, with an introduction by Ronald Reagan

From the Kraft Television Theatre we have "A Long Time Till Dawn," written by Rod Serling and broadcast live on November 11, 1953:

Less than two weeks later, on November 23,1953, Dean appeared on the Johnson's Wax Program's production of "Harvest" (with several other faces classic film fans will find familiar):

November of 1953 was a busy time on the small screen for James Dean, as you'll see in the Armstrong Circle Theatre production of "The Bells of Cockaigne", which aired live on November 17 (between the two films above):

There are several more of these that can be found on YouTube, and a seemingly endless number of teleplays featuring classic film stars and future Academy Award winners early in their careers. That being said, please, dear God, #SaveTCM!

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Lamentations En Français

 Chaque jour, elle voit des photographes d'endroits comme l'Europe et Hawaï partager de belles images de lieux et de choses qu'ils capturent de leurs propres yeux. Elle voit des peintres de New York et même de sa ville natale créer un art qui remue son âme. Mais elle ne peut pas voyager en Europe, à Hawaï, ni même à New York. La plupart du temps, elle ne peut même pas quitter sa propre maison. Elle trouve donc un moyen de créer des images intéressantes qui lui viennent à l'esprit - des endroits dont elle rêve et de choses qu'elle aimerait voir.

Elle crée des images de choses qu'elle envisage parce qu'elles satisfont quelque chose en elle. Et elle les crée de la seule façon dont elle peut, de la meilleure façon dont elle peut, et elles la rendent heureuse.

Et puis arrivent les détracteurs - peut-être prennent-ils des photos, peut-être peignent-ils, mais la plupart du temps ils ne font ni l'un ni l'autre... ils tapent simplement des mots parce qu'ils le peuvent. Et ils disent qu'elle n'est pas une artiste. Ces images ne sont pas de l'art. Elles ne méritent même pas d'exister.

Et dans son confinement, elle ne s'en soucie pas vraiment. Elle veut juste se sentir mieux. Les images sont faites pour son propre plaisir. Si d'autres les apprécient, c'est encore mieux. Elle souhaite les partager avec sa famille, ses amis et tous ceux qui aimeraient les voir. D'ailleurs, elle n'est heureuse que lorsqu'elle crée des choses. Quant aux cyniques, ils sont inévitables. Pour elle-même, ils ne la concernent pas. Mais pour d'autres comme elle, elle ressent la douleur de leur condescendance. Elle les voit plaider leur cause: "NOUS SOMMES des créateurs!" Quant à elle, elle est trop fatiguée pour se disputer avec "ses supérieurs", et elle est suffisamment âgée pour savoir que cela n'a pas d'importance. Et elle espère que vous aimez ses images.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Fake Memes



The fake meme above was created using Midjourney, the same program that fooled the world with a picture of the Pope wearing a puffer jacket, and again when supposed images of Trump being arrested enraged MAGA Republicans and delighted much of the rest of the world. It was able to do those things fairly realistically because it created the images exactly as it was told to without having to think or reason beyond its programming. 

People worry about the impact that Artificial Intelligence will have on the work force and, in fact, the very existence of humanity. I'm more optimistic. Take, for example, the person who demonstrated how he was able to launch and market a product in 30 minutes, complete with a website, promotional video, and even email and social media ad campaigns. This shows how AI tools can enable people with little capital and/or advanced education to start a business they may never have been able to otherwise, and I think that's awesome. But if you're really worried, take heart in this quote from an earlier article I linked: 

Luckily, by Hinton's outlook, humanity still has a little bit of breathing room before things get completely out of hand, since current publicly available models are mercifully stupid.

I work with them every day and can attest to their frustrating deficiencies. A good example of their limitations is trying to get AI image generators to make funny memes. Midjourney, considered by many to be the gold-standard, has a grasp on common meme formats, but when left to its own devices to come up with great images using only the prompt, "funny memes with text," proves that its intelligence is indeed truly artificial.  So while we bide our time waiting to see if modern technology is an existential threat that will destroy all humanity, I thought it might be fun to offer you a gallery of AI-generated memes to show how far off-base so much of the artificial intelligence you may have been hearing a lot about it is (for now, at least).

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Bitter Taste of Chocolate

The chocolate industry is worth over $100 billion annually as we gobble up millions of tons of chocolate every year. But there's a secret, bitter ingredient hidden deep inside of the smooth, indulgent sweetness that most of us crave so often. What's the secret? That so much of it is STILL produced using child slave labor.

In countries like the Ivory Coast, hundreds of thousands of children work in harsh, dangerous conditions to harvest cocoa beans. These children are trafficked or forced into labor, sometimes working 12-14 hours a day wielding machetes to cut cocoa pods from trees, facing threats and physical abuse to keep them moving. This rampant child exploitation is what powers the global chocolate industry, fueled by high demand for cheap cocoa to produce more, and more, and more.

Despite decades of promises by industry giants like Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey to end child labor in their supply chains, little has changed. As recently as the 2020s, myriad reports found that child labor was still common in West African cocoa farming. Why have these companies failed to deliver on their pledges? Largely because ending child labor would cut into their already obscene profits. Stronger action—like paying cocoa farmers fair prices and ensuring fair wages and safe conditions—costs money that might prevent a chocolate baron from buying a sixth superyacht. It is far cheaper to maintain the status quo, turning a blind eye to the abuse and simply issuing new promises to address the problem each time it's exposed.

This is a global injustice. Western consumers and corporations have leveraged disproportionate power over producers in developing nations, prioritizing low costs and high profits over basic human rights. Until we DEMAND change by insisting upon ethically-sourced chocolate from these billionaire chocolate barons, until companies are forced through regulations and consumer pressure to clean up their acts, the bitter truth will remain: the chocolate we love so much is too often produced by those whose suffering we continue to ignore. It's on us to stand up for what's right and use our democracy and our pocketbooks to reform this broken system.


If you've read this far, I'm wondering at which point you started suspecting that the above was AI-generated, or if you suspected at all. Don't get me wrong, I didn't just tell ChatGPT to "write me a blog post about child slavery in Côte d'Ivoire." I spent a couple of hours discussing and learning about the history and political structure of the Ivory Coast, finding out that country's GDP is peanuts compared to the annual revenues of the chocolate barons, and learning how quickly efforts in Congress to pass slave-free certification laws for chocolate are shot down. I made a web page about this more than 20 years ago and am dismayed to realize it's still as bad as it was then. It's been on my mind, what with heart-shaped boxes everywhere I look and Half-Price Chocolate Day, aka February 15, being right around the corner.

Still, it did give me something to blog about. I've been meaning to write on here for more than a year. Indeed, I have several drafts that I started but never finished -- with titles like, "My Pro-Life Abortion" (about the time a surgeon saved my life after a fallopian tube ruptured and I was bleeding to death internally, but I was begging him to save the baby or let me die with it as I was being wheeled into the operating room) and, "The Bonus Round (When You're Tired of Playing)" about some of my other narrow escapes from the hereafter, and how each era that followed has been another bonus round in this game of life. I'm on my fourth, by the way. 

I needed something to break the writer's block, and the previous paragraph should give you an idea about my mindframe, and why I felt that letting a very eloquent and skilled (albeit non-human) writer help me out of the corner I've painted myself into was a good way to try and come out of exile. 

Please visit slavefreechocolate.org to learn more and find ways to help put at least one thing right in this world of human suffering.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Before Electric Park: Early Amusement in Kansas City

A lot of people in Kansas City are excited that the J. Rieger & Co. Distillery plans to open the "Electric Park Garden Bar" in the East Bottoms neighborhood where the turn-of-the-20th century Electric Park amusement park was located, and I'm one of them. I've been studying Kansas City's amusement parks for decades, and helped publish a book called Kansas City's Fairmount Park, which is really a history of all of KC's amusement parks of that era.

Most Kansas City history buffs can tell you about Electric Park, and most of them know that there were two Electric Parks in KC. There were actually THREE, but we'll get to that later. I've often seen or heard the words, "The first amusement park in Kansas City was Electric Park." That statement is quite incorrect, so I'd like to go a bit farther back in time and talk about early amusement parks and venues in Kansas City that were already here before and when "Kansas City's Coney Island" opened its gates for the very first time in 1900. Travel back in time with me, if you will!

In the late 1860s, Kansas City was a town that enjoyed it's amusements. It was a Gateway for countless pioneers as they moved to settle in the West, and commerce was booming. The citizens, visitors, and the settlers who decided to stay here were never at a loss for ways to have fun. For men such as Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp, Kansas City was their playground. 

Early Amusements in Kansas City
Click to Enlarge

By the mid-1860s Kansas City flourished with 24-hour restaurants and saloons, billiard halls, ten-pin alleys (another name for bowling), shooting galleries, and, though it was not legal, a lot of gambling. Different circuses came to town regularly. There were fairs of various sorts, dances, and ice skating in the winter. Even though the town was still rough and still recovering from the Civil War, there was always something fun to do in Kansas City.

Much of livelihood of our town could be credited to members of the community that the Daily Journal of Commerce newspaper referred to as, "our fun-loving Germans."  Before amusement parks existed here, there were numerous beer gardens, thanks to German immigrants like Peter John Schwitzgebel, who opened the first known brewery in Kansas City in the late 1850s.

In 1865 another German immigrant, C.J. Frank, constructed a three-story building on the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Main, across the street from the courthouse. The first and second floors were a grocery store, and the third floor would soon become Kansas City's most popular amusement hall.  People would climb three flights of stairs to be entertained by everything from church socials and lectures to theatrical and burlesque performances. Frank's Hall would also bring popular circus sideshow acts like Chang and Eng, the "Siamese Twins," and General and Mrs. Tom Thumb to Kansas City.

Cheng and Ang, the "Siamese Twins," and General and Mrs. Tom Thumb.

There was always something going on at Frank's Hall, until snow collapsed the roof of the building at 3 o'clock in the morning on December 18, 1878, killing two. By this time Kansas City had plenty of other amusements to offer.  1870 saw the completion of the Coates Opera House, and the same year the Kansas City Driving Park brought horse racing to town. 1870 was also the year Kansas City got it's first real amusement park.

In Kansas City, and probably a lot of American cities, 19th century amusement parks were often built to serve one of two purposes, or possibly both, in addition to providing a place for recreation of the town's citizens and visitors. One purpose was to sell beer. The other purpose was to provide a reason for people to ride streetcars which had lines that led far outside of city limits and the business districts. The thinking was that if a streetcar line was built that went "way out into the sticks," putting a park at the end of the line would not only encourage people to ride the streetcar, it would also inspire real estate development along that line. These were called "Trolley Parks."

Kansas City's first amusement park was called Tivoli Garden. Tivoli Garden belonged in the first category -- it was also known as Tivoli Beer Garden, and the Belleview Beer Garden, and sometimes the Tivoli Wine Garden. The name Tivoli Garden came from what is now the second-oldest amusement park still in operation -- the original Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. Kansas City's Tivoli Garden was located on the Westport Road, on the grounds near the Keck home at 24th and Main street, which was just outside of what was then the city limit of Kansas City.

Tivoli Garden in Kansas City

Tivoli Garden was created by a German immigrant named Martin Keck. Keck came to Kansas City on the Santa Fe Trail working as a freighter in 1862. In 1868 Mr. Keck bought the old Helmreich & Co.'s brewery, and shortly thereafter married Helmreich's daughter Mary. At the time Tivoli Garden opened Martin's brother, John Keck, was the City Marshall of Kansas City.  Martin Keck was already well established in Kansas City and owned the Gem Billiard Hall on Grand Avenue.

Tivoli Garden -- Early Kansas City Amusement Park

The bandstand at Tivoli Garden was a platform built around a large tree in the center of the park, and there was always music and dancing. There was a "ten-pin alley," and an ice cream parlor of sorts. There was a pavilion where "entertainments," called "varieties" (later to be called Vaudeville) were held.  Tivoli Garden lasted for around ten years, until an ordinance was passed forbidding the sale of liquor on Sunday, and people were looking elsewhere for entertainment.

To be continued...