Category Archives: Public service

And now for something completely different. . .

Yet another animation from the National Film Board of Canada, today’s offering is the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, a man born in the Caribbean in 1863, who transformed attitudes in one Canadian city simply by doing the things he loved best, swimming and teaching others to swim.

From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

Fortes came to Granville (Vancouver) on the Robert Kerr, debarking on 30 Sept. 1885. The town was booming because of the lumber industry and its designation as a railway terminus . People moved from Vancouver Island to the mainland in search of jobs, and a number of blacks came as well from eastern Canada, Alberta, the Pacific northwest, the West Indies, and even further afield. Consequently, the centre of British Columbia’s African Canadian community changed from Victoria to Vancouver as the century drew to a close. Most members of the black population there, which never numbered more than around 300, lived mainly in what became known as Strathcona or the East End.

For eight months, until the great fire of June 1886, Fortes ran Vancouver’s earliest shoeshine stand, in the Sunnyside Hotel on Water Street. Afterwards he worked as a bartender and porter at such local establishments as the Bodega Saloon on Carrall Street in Strathcona and the Alhambra Hotel at the corner of Carrall and Water. Known to be clean, sober, and an expert mixer of cocktails, he was most famous, however, for his volunteer work as a swimming instructor and lifeguard. He was a common sight at English Bay beach, where he taught thousands of children to swim. It was not until around 1897 that the city, in recognition of his services, put him on its payroll as a lifeguard; at some point he was also made a special police constable. He reputedly saved more than 100 people from drowning, including many children and several adults, among them John Hugo Ross, who would die in the sinking of the Titanic.

And without further ado, from the National Film Board of Canada:


Program notes:

This animated short tells the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, one of Vancouver’s most beloved citizens. Born in the West Indies, Joe Fortes swam in English Bay for over than 30 years. A self-appointed lifeguard at first, he became so famous that the city of Vancouver finally rewarded him with a salary for doing what he loved best. He taught thousands of people to swim and saved over a hundred lives. Yet there were some who did not respect him because of his skin colour. Through his determination, kindness and love for children, Joe helped shift attitudes.

Directed by Jill Haras – 2002

Headline of the day: First Amendment heroes

From the Guardian:

You are not what you read: librarians purge user data to protect privacy

US libraries are doing something even the most security-conscious private firm would never dream of: deleting sensitive information in order to protect users

Map of the day: Cooperatives in the U.S.

From the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives:

BLOG Coops

And now for something completely different. . .

Imagine Akira Kurosawa, director of all those classic Toshiro Mifune samurai flicks, had lived long enough to make a public service ads about a thoroughly modern Japanese problem, Aruki-sumaho [smartphone walking] and all those inevitable accidents.

Such, apparently, was the think of folks ar Japanese wireless carrier DoCoMo, and the result is a PSA featuring many of the classic elements of a samurai flick: The sankin kotai was the mandatory pilgrimmage of a daimyo — feudal lord — to the palace of the Shogun — feudal overlord — in Edo [Tokyo].

Failure to make the trip resulted in the slaughter of the daimyo’s family, so it was a journey fraught with consequences.

Now imagine that smartphones had existed back then and you have all the elements you need to appreciate this from DoCoMo:

Samurai Smartphone Parade

And if you haven’t seen a Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai is a good place to start, a film remade as Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western The Magnificent Seven, which, in turn, spawned a whole succession of imitators, most recently films from Quentin Tarantino and [shudder] Adam Sandler.

Only one Kurosawa film is online, the haunting Rashomon, which deals with the conflicts in eyewitness testimony in a visceral way.

H/T to The Presurfer.

And now for something completely different. . .

With all the political venom in the air, we decided to recall what many journalists feel was the high water mark of American television, an event that would sink the political career of a would-be tyrant who played to paranoia and fears of an enemy within.

For Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, the opportunity came because of genuine fears of communist infiltration of American institutions. High officials lowly soldiers had indeed supplied Soviet agents with state secrets, including critical information on nuclear weapons during World War II.

But McCarthy, liked Donald Trump and others today, took real fears transformed their objects into immediate threats to everyone, threats requiring radical action and curtailment of previously granted rights.

And to accomplish that agenda, anyone who dared voice opposition to their excesses was subject to naming and shaming, to identifying with that object of fear.

It took one man, Edward R. Murrow, to catalyze the growing doubts and concerns about McCarthy methods.

Murrow was a journalist, and one trusted by millions of Americans for his radio broadcasts from Europe before and during World War II. In those pre-television days, radio journalists had to paint the scene with words, and Murrow’s incisive, matter-of-fact reports brought listeners a compelling sense of what it was like “over there.”

Perhaps his most famous broadcasts were made in the summer and fall of 1940, when he covered the Blitz, the brutal but ultimately failed German aerial warfare on Britain.

All the following videos are from vlogger KD:

Edward R. Murrow from a London rooftop during the Blitz – 22 Sept. 1940

Program notes:

Full transcript.

So it was Murrow who had the credibility and the courage to take a stand against man whose resentment-fueling attacks seemed all to familiar to a journalist who had covered the fascist leaders of Europe during the run-up to World War II.

Murrow hosted See It Now, a weekly half-hour program on CBS featuring interviews with the prominent and not-so-prominent.

In those pre-cable, four- and soon three-network days, CBS was considered the Tiffany network, the examplar for what a commercial network ought to be, with news carried as a public service [usually] and a loss leader supported by proceeds from entertainment shows.

And so it was that on 9 March 1954 that Murrow deviated from his usual interview format and produced a landmark in the history of the American electronic media.

See it Now: “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy”

Program notes:

Full transcript.

The response, another full segment produced by McCarthy himself, was a classic example of distorted thought and guilt by [non-existent] association, damning Murrow by implication as a vulture flapping his wings to a tune written by Moscow.

Joseph McCarthy responds to Murrow – full See It Now episode

Program notes:

April 6, 1954, “See It Now” on CBS. This is Senator Joseph McCarthy’s televised response to Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now broadcast, which aired a month earlier. Murrow offered McCarthy a chance to respond in the original broadcast. Video located by Noah C. Cline.

Leaving Murrow with the last word:

Edward R. Murrow’s response to Senator McCarthy’s accusations

Program notes:

April 13, 1954. Source and full text.

Finally, from vlogger dabell43, an excerpt from third installment of the landmark 1997 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series Dawn of the Eye, “Inventing Television News, 1946-1959,” featuring some of Murrow’s colleagues at CBS News, most notably Walter Cronkite, a journalist who was once the “most trusted man in America,” recalling the McCarthy era:

Murrow vs. McCarthy

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals

A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to UCLA students

Three years before his assassination, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Came to the UCLA campus in Los Angeles to deliver a passionate speech on the state of black America.

And now, thanks to the digitizing of the archives of the university’s Communications Studies Department, you can hear his rousing oratory once again.

Note that several problems singled out then are back again, most notably the loss of low-end jobs to automation [to which must be added today’s exported jobs] and relentless efforts to disenfranchise blacks by way of prohibitive measures.

While legally mandated racial segregation has been outlawed, class-based segregation, a problem disproportionately afflicting African Americans now as then, remains as powerful now as then.

And listen closely to his ruthless debunking of the implicit basis of the arguments of the temporizers, those who argue that only time, not legislation, can redress the attitudes that have harmed America’s minorities.

When King refers to Proposition 14, he is citing the California ballot measure passed by voters the year before, nullifying the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963, which had abolished racial segregation of housing in the Golden State.

Sponsored by the California Republican Assembly and the John Birch Society, the seedbed of today’s neoliberal movement [Fred Koch, father of the Koch brothers was a member until his death in 1967, and Charles Koch was a member at the time of King’s UCLA address], Proposition 14 would be overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1968.

Oh, and another supporter of Proposition 14 was one Ronald Wilson Reagan, elected governor the same year as the state supreme court ruling.

The temporizers are back again in full voice today, declaring that we are living in a “post-racial America,” a loathsome claim that finds endless resonance through Fox News and pundits of the radio airwaves.

From the UCLA Communications Studies Department:

Martin Luther King Jr. at UCLA 4/27/1965