George Washington’s Escaped Slave: Told By a Drunk

Happy Presidents’ Day Weekend! In a previous post about Abraham Lincoln, Chimesfreedom noted the importance of remembering that great leaders were human because we should recognize that fallible humans may still accomplish fantastic feats. Nothing makes us more human than our stupidity, and early U.S. leaders were idiots when it came to slavery. So this post features a story about Oney “Ona” Judge, a slave in George Washington’s household who escaped when she was 23 years old from the Philadelphia President’s House in 1796 while Washington was president.

History does not have to be boring, so we will let someone else tell the tale about Oney Judge in a funny video featuring actors Denny McBride and Tymberlee Hill. But storyteller Jen Kirkman is drunk and swears a bit (so do not play loud at work) . . .

Not only did Oney Judge escape slavery, she escaped from the U.S. President! How cool is that? According to Wikipedia, at the time when Philadelphia was the U.S. capital, Pennsylvania had a law that prohibited nonresidents from possessing slaves in the state for more than six months. If six months passed, the slaves had legal power to free themselves. George and Martha Washington, though, worked around the law by rotating their slaves in and out of the state so none were in the state for six months or more. So even though the Father of our Country did many terrific things as a general and as a president, he also could be a douchebag. This website for the President’s House in Philadelphia features two interviews with Judge from the 1840s.

But what about that video? My friend Mike recently introduced me to the Drunk History videos on YouTube. I am a little late coming to the party, so you may have already seen them. But if not, check out some other ones too. Drunk History videos feature a drunk person telling about a historical event while famous actors reenact what is being described. The series started a few years ago on the Funny or Die website. The series, created by comedian Darek Waters, is pretty funny, but be warned that they generally include swearing and some other drunken activities. Kids: Don’t try this at home. Not only are they funny, though, they are entertaining and educational discussions of history. Check out the links below.

Bonus Drunk History Video
: Here is a funny Drunk History video about Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, featuring John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover. Yes, even the pigeon part is true.

More Bonus Drunk History Video Links: Here is a Drunk History video about Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, starring Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle. Here is the original Drunk History episode, about Aaron Burr.

Bonus George Washington Information: In case you need to be reminded of some of the great things that George Washington accomplished, check out the official White House page for a short biography.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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    Computer Wins Jeopardy: Are We Entering Westworld?

    Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt.1Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt.1 (press play button)

    Last night, the special Jeopardy human-versus-machine match ended with Watson the computer defeating the Jeopardy human champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. In the two-game match, the winner was determined by who (or what) had the most money at the end. Watson easily won the first game and then won a closer second game to become champion. All of Watson’s money and 50% of the human competitors’ money went to charities.

    Watson went on several runs where it looked invincible, but at other times it made mistakes. Certain types of questions that required a different type of thinking caused problems for Watson. For Final Jeopardy of the first game, the question asked for a U.S. city that has an airport named after a WWII hero and an airport named after a WWII battle. Watson said the U.S. city was Toronto, which is news to people in Canada.

    Watson’s big advantage seemed to be its response time. Watson received the clues electronically through a different process than the humans. And it was able to time its responses perfectly so its buzzing was not too early, where it would be blocked, but still fast enough to beat the humans. Contestant Ken Jennings has noted this “big advantage” in Watson’s response time, but he was generous in concluding, “I wouldn’t call this unfair. . . precise timing just happens to be one thing computers are better at than we humans.” I still think the humans should challenge the fairness of the way the machine was able to get the questions and respond. Still, it was quite impressive how Watson could process the language and respond in the form of a question.

    The previous Chimesfreedom posts on Jeopardy and Watson have featured the folk song “John Henry,” so the song of the day today is “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips off the excellent album of the same name, and we are going to discuss the movie Westworld (1973). So press the play button at the top of this post and read on.

    Westworld is about an adult amusement park where androids are supposed to help human beings fulfill their dreams and fantasies. Of course, as we all know, anything involving robots is bound to go wrong. And soon, the androids, including one that looks a lot like the King of Siam from the King and I, start really killing people.

    In addition to Yul Brynner, Westworld featured James Brolin. To you kids, he’s the guy who is now married to Barbara Streisand and who is the father of Josh Brolin, who was in the True Grit remake and No Country for Old Men. Westworld was written and directed by Michael Crichton, and the 1973 movie was the first one to use digital technology. Crichton would go on to write a similarly amusement-park-out-of-control themed Jurassic Park.

    According to IMDb, there is a remake of Westworld in the works with the release scheduled for next year. It appears they are still looking for a director and cast, but Russell Crowe is rumored to be in it. I’m guessing he would play the Yul Brynner tough-android part.

    But with Watson showing what computers can do, maybe by the time the new Westworld is made, a real android will be able to play the Yul Brynner role. I suppose the use of Watson Junior in the movie will put Russell Crowe out of work. But it is not a bad thing that computers take our jobs. We will need the time off from work to eat our vitamins and discipline our bodies for the big dooms-day battle against the machines. Save us Yoshimi, “it’d be tragic/ if those evil robots win.”

    Bonus Answers to Questions: Contestant Ken Jennings answered several questions from viewers online in an interesting and funny exchange on the Washington Post website. Check it out.

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    What Song Would Springsteen Want His Children to Know?

    In early 2011, VH-1 Classic broadcast a program, Bruce Springsteen: a Conversation with his Fans. The program — which promoted Bruce Springsteen’s release of the Darkness on the Edge of Town box set, including the new album, The Promise — featured fans asking Springsteen questions. The fans were chosen in advance based on their questions, and many of the questions were very good.

    My favorite question was quite thoughtful. One woman asked Springsteen which character from the songs on the set would he “most want his children to understand.” It was a great question, requiring him to reflect about his life and the meaning behind his songs. He responded that “‘Racing in the Street’ sums up a lot for me.” He explained that he would like his children to be “untouched by that particular sadness, but that’s not the way the world works.”

    Noting that the song “Racing in the Street” is still very emotional for him, Springsteen added that he would want for them to “have that understanding [conveyed in the song] without the pain, but that is not possible.” So, he would like for his kids to “have the resilience . . . to be able to navigate their way through that kind of pain because that is what we all have to do.”

    It was an insightful statement about a beautiful song. “Racing in the Street” is one of the saddest songs written by someone who writes a lot of sad songs. If you go back through his catalog during the first fifteen years of his career, it would be impossible to find more than a few songs that are not touched by some type of sadness.

    What is “that particular sadness” in “Racing in the Street”? The song is narrated by a young man who makes money by racing his ’69 Chevy for money by riding from town-to-town with his friend Sonny (“We only run for the money, got no strings attached/We shut ’em up and then we shut ’em down”). The guy does not die in a crash, and he even gets the girl in the end. So why is the song sad?

    There are two reasons the song is sad. First, the lyrics reveal that the song is not a James Dean fantasy. They recognize the pain of real life and the existential struggle to just survive in the face of so much bleakness in the world.

    Some guys they just give up living
    And start dying little by little, piece by piece,
    Some guys come home from work and wash up,
    And go racing in the street.

    Although the hero won the girl by blowing away a Camaro driven by “some dude from L.A.,” that one happy moment happened three years ago. You do not get such heroic moments every day of your life. So, in the present, the man and the woman both live with the pain and consequences of day-to-day life.

    But now there’s wrinkles around my baby’s eyes
    And she cries herself to sleep at night
    . . .
    She sits on the porch of her Daddy’s house
    But all her pretty dreams are torn,
    She stares off alone into the night
    With the eyes of one who hates for just being born

    The other big reason the song is so sad is Roy Bittan’s piano. Even if the song had no lyrics, Bittan’s piano playing on “Racing in the Street” would still convey that “particular real world sadness” that Springsteen mentioned in response to the fan’s question. Throughout the song, the piano’s relentless rhythm, sometimes accompanied by a metronome drum sound, echoes the continuous steps the hero must take to just live through each day in a world where there are not victorious car races every moment.

    The lyrics end with a little hope, as Springsteen sings, “Tonight my baby and me, we’re gonna ride to the sea/And wash these sins off our hands.” After his voice fades, Bittan’s piano continues its rhythm, also offering some hope by echoing existential angry defiance in the face of hopelessness.

    As the Boss wished for his children, in your life too, may you have the resilience to find your way through that kind of pain.

    Bonus “Racing in the Street”: “Racing in the Street” appeared on the original Darkness on the Edge of Town album, but Springsteen included an alternate version of the song, entitled “Racing in the Street (78),” on the new The Promise album. This Promise version, which had been around on Bootlegs through the years, features a full band sound throughout most of the song. The music focuses on the anger and resistance part of the song, and for much of the song the rock sound is inconsistent with the lyrics. The band sounds great, but the band version lacks the focus of Roy Bittan’s piano in the original. Although I enjoy this other version, Springsteen made the correct choice in the 1970s to put the quieter piano version Darkness on the Edge of Town.

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    Jeopardy: Humans vs. Machine Continues

    Johnny Cash – The Legend Of John Henry’s Hammer The Legend of John Henry’s Hammer – Johnny Cash (At Folsom Prison) (press play button)

    After last night, the computer is tied for the lead with one of the humans. For the next two nights Jeopardy will feature the ongoing battle between an IBM computer named Watson and two of its all-time champions: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. After the first stage of the three-part competition, Watson is tied with Rutter for the lead. Because last night’s show featured stories about Watson and IBM, they did not finish the first match, and tonight is Double Jeopardy. Tune in to see how it comes out.

    IBM has been working on Watson for three years. The competition was taped in January, but we will not know the results until the shows are broadcast. Someone has already written a book about the battle: Stephen Baker’s book Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything.

    It is interesting how complex the machine must be to take on humans in Jeopardy. It is not like a program on your computer that already has the answers to play a pre-written game such as Jeopardy or other trivia game. Watson is really “thinking” about phrases it has never heard, processing the meaning of the words, and answering them in the form of a question without access to the Internet. The machine takes up a large room.

    But will humans still claim dominance over the machine? Above is Johnny Cash’s version of the song about John Henry, performed live at Folsom Prison. For the warm-up Jeopardy match broadcast last month, Chimesfreedom wrote more about the epic human versus machine battle covered in songs about John Henry. In case you missed it, check out the post here.

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    Is Shane a Romantic Movie?

    Many years ago, a newspaper published a list of the top romantic movies for Valentine’s Day, and the writer included Shane (1953) on the list.  At first, the choice surprised me.

    I had always thought of the movie as a great action Western.  But after reading the article, I focused more on the relationship between Shane, played by Alan Ladd, and Marian Starrett, played by Jean Arthur.  And I came to see that the author of the list was right.

    The Unusual Love Story in “Shane”

    The unrequited love between Shane and Marian is something we do not see in modern movies. The relationship is subtle, buried in hidden looks and unspoken feelings. They both are torn, as Marian still loves her husband Joe and Shane is Joe’s friend.

    There are many things to love about the film Shane. It has great scenery, Jack Palance as a villain, the gunfights, and the decent man trying to change his life. But the Shane-Mariann relationship makes the movie more complex than your usual action yarn.

    The Shane-Mariann relationship is so subtle that descriptions of the movie rarely mention it. I suspect that a modern movie version might feature a scene of the two having sex to make the same point made in Shane with a few words and glances.

    When Clint Eastwood made Pale Rider (1985), largely based on Shane, he avoided a similar relationship in his story altogether.  Instead he went for religious overtones, which was probably easier to do.

    Shane’s Ending

    {Spoiler ahead} The final scene of the movie is a classic scene in American film. Shane explains to Mariann’s son Joey: “There’s no living with a killing. There’s no goin’ back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand… a brand sticks. There’s no goin’ back. Now you run on home to your mother and tell her… tell her everything’s alright. And there aren’t any more guns in the valley.”

    The wounded Shane rides off into the sunset. And Joey yells after him, pleading for him to return.

    Interpreting the scene with our modern vocabulary, Joey yells the funniest line in the movie for those have picked up on the Shane-Mariann relationship: “Mother wants you. I know she does!” Although the child doe not know exactly what is going on, he has sensed some love.

    Below is the trailer for Shane, although I do not understand why the trailer maker used the final scene of the movie in the trailer.

    Jean Arthur & Alan Ladd

    Another unusual aspect of the movie compared to modern movies is that the female lead, Jean Arthur, was more than a decade older than the male lead. Nowadays, too often producers choose older men to be romantic leads with very young women. But at the time Shane was released, Alan Ladd was 40 and Jean Arthur was 53.

    Arthur had appeared in several great classic movies, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, but she was reclusive and did not like the limelight. She had retired prior to the making of Shane, and she made an exception to return to make Shane, which was her final film and the only one where she appeared in color.

    When You Say Nothing at All

    If Chimesfreedom were in charge of music for Shane, we would add “When You Say Nothing at All” to the final credits. The words capture the unspoken relationship between Shane and Mariann.

    The smile on your face lets me know that you need me,
    There’s a truth in your eyes sayin’ you’ll never leave me,
    The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me if ever I fall;
    You say it best when you say nothing at all.

    The version above by Alison Krauss and Union Station appeared on Keith Whitley: A Tribute Album (1994) and on Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection (1995). A live version appeared on Alison Krauss & Union Station – Live.

    “When You Say Nothing at All” was written by Keith Whitley, a singer-songwriter who died at the young age of 34 from alcohol poisoning. Although Whitley only released four albums during his career, he influenced future generations of singer-songwriters.  He wrote some beautiful songs like “When You Say Nothing at All.”

    And yes, contrary to the song, Shane did leave her.


    What other movies feature subtle romantic relationships? What about Casablanca? Leave a comment.

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