Sunday, December 28, 2014

Nordic Quack: Sweden's Bizarre Tradition- Watching Donald Duck Cartoons On Christmas Eve

(By Jeremy Stahl., 22 December 2014)

Nothing says Christmas like Donald Duck … if you’re Swedish. Every culture has its own holiday customs, and Jeremy Stahl, a non-Swede and a “partially lapsed Jew,” stumbled upon an odd one during a trip to Sweden. In the article reprinted below, Stahl explains the Christmas cartoon tradition.

Three years ago, I went to Sweden with my then-girlfriend (now wife), to meet her family and celebrate my first Christmas. As an only partially lapsed Jew, I was not well-versed in Christmas traditions, and I was completely ignorant of Swedish customs and culture. So I was prepared for surprises. I was not prepared for this: Every year on Dec. 24 at 3 p.m., half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, "From All of Us to All of You." Or as it is known in Sverige, Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul: "Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas."
Kalle Anka, for short, has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time on Sweden's main public-television channel, TV1, on Christmas Eve (when Swedes traditionally celebrate the holiday) since 1959. The show consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s, only a couple of which have anything to do with Christmas. There are "Silly Symphonies" shorts and clips from films like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Jungle Book. The special is pretty much the same every year, except for the live introduction by a host (who plays the role of Walt Disney from the original Walt Disney Presents series) and the annual addition of one new snippet from the latest Disney-produced movie, which TV1's parent network, SVT, is contractually obligated by Disney to air.

Kalle Anka is typically one of the three most popular television events of the year, with between 40 and 50 percent of the country tuning in to watch. In 2008, the show had its lowest ratings in more than 15 years but was still taken in by 36 percent of the viewing public, some 3,213,000 people. Lines of dialogue from the cartoons have entered common Swedish parlance. Stockholm's Nordic Museum has a display in honor of the show in an exhibit titled "Traditions."Each time the network has attempted to cancel or alter the show, public backlash has been swift and fierce.
Kalle Anka (pronounced kah-lay ahn-kah) gets its name from the star of the show's second animated short, a 1944 cartoon called "Clown of the Jungle," in which Donald Duck is tormented by a demented Aracuan Bird during a luckless ornithological expedition. The short is typical of the random violence of many early Disney cartoons. The sadistic Aracuan (regularly mistaken in Sweden for Hacke Hackspett, or Woody Woodpecker) sprays Kalle with seltzer, bashes his head in with a mallet, blows him up with an exploding cigar, threatens to kill himself simultaneously by hanging and gunshot, and ultimately drives the infuriated Kalle insane.

Watching Kalle Anka for the first time, I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters. My soon-to-be father-in-law, a burly man built like a Scandinavian spruce, laughed at jokes he had obviously heard scores of times before. Nobody blinked at the antiquated animation, the cheesiness of the stories, or even the good-old-fashioned '30s-era Disney-style racism. (In the 1932 "Silly Symphonies" short "Santa's Workshop," there is a scene involving a black doll who yells "Mammy" at the sight of Santa Claus then moons the screen. It was eventually censored from the American version of the cartoon but remains in Kalle Anka.)
The show's cultural significance cannot be overstated.* You do not tape or DVR Kalle Anka for later viewing. You do not eat or prepare dinner while watching Kalle Anka. Age does not matter—every member of the family is expected to sit quietly together and watch a program that generations of Swedes have been watching for 50 years. Most families plan their entire Christmas around Kalle Anka, from the Smörgåsbord at lunch to the post-Kalle visit from Jultomten. "At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, you can't to do anything else, because Sweden is closed," Lena Kättström Höök, a curator at the Nordic Museum who manages the "Traditions" exhibit, told me. "So even if you don't want to watch it yourself, you can't call anyone else or do anything else, because no one will do it with you."  To Kättström Höök, Sweden's affection for Kalle Anka is tied up with older holiday traditions. "It's the dream of the old peasant village before people moved to towns," she said. "Kalle Anka is almost like gathering around the fire in old times and listening to fairy tales."

But how did these tales become part of Sweden's folklore? It was largely an accident of history, specifically the history of television in Sweden. The show first aired in 1959, when Swedes were just starting to own televisions. "You couldn't have done this in 1970," said Charlotte Hagström, an ethnology professor at Lund University and archivist of the university's Folk Life Archives. "It had to be 1960 when television was new." The fact that there was only one channel in Sweden until 1969 and only two—both public-service stations run by Sweden's equivalent of the BBC—until 1987 helped, too. As did the fact that, for years, Christmas was the only time when Swedes could see Disney animation—or any American cartoons—on television.
Over the last half-century, the characters and sketches have become as much a part of the holiday as the Christmas tree, so much so that each time TV1 has suggested modifying the schedule, public outcry has forced the network to back down. In the 1970s, Helena Sandblad, then head of children's programming, attempted to pull the show off of the air because broadcasting a Disney program didn't jibe with the prevailing political ethos. "Everything was pretty serious in the '70s and anything that was commercial, or considered commercial, was not good, was considered an ugly word," said SVT publicity officer Ursula Haegerström. After newspapers got wind of the plans to cancel the show, the station was bombarded with letters, phone calls, and negative press. Sandblad received personal threats. "That was one of the worst audience storms in our history," Haegerström told me.

SVT ultimately gave in, and Kalle was saved. In 1982, the network made the seemingly innocuous decision to replace one of the special's most beloved cartoons, the 1938 Oscar-winning short "Ferdinand the Bull," with "The Ugly Duckling." Again newspapers picked up the story and public outcry ensued. Munro Leaf's famous tale of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in a Spanish coliseum was touted by leftists during the Spanish Civil War and World War II as a parable of pacifism. That the message resonates with a nation defined by a centuries-long policy of neutrality shouldn't come as a big surprise. Since 1983, when Ferdinand was returned to its rightful place in the lineup, the program has remained largely unaltered.
Kalle Anke and Friends has made national icons out of its cartoon characters—Kalle, Ferdinand, Piff och Puff (Chip and Dale), Musse Pigg (Mickey Mouse), Långben (Goofy), Pluto—but also its Swedish stars. Arne Weise, who hosted the show live from 1972 to 2002, personified Christmas to two generations of Swedes. In 1992, when he attempted to get the network to record his portion of the program in advance so that he could spend Christmas with his family, newspapers got a hold of the story and helped scuttle the change. "We had recorded everything, but no way," SVT's Haegerström said. "[The] host was supposed to sit there in some sort of vigil over Christmas."

Weise claims that Sweden's stubborn insistence that he record live every year destroyed his personal life, blaming the show for his three divorces. "I wasn't easy to live with—I was in a bad mood out of nervousness before going on air, and tired afterwards. That doesn't help to make you a good father or lover," he told the newspaper Aftonbladet in 2007. During his final taping of the show, in 2002, Weise—whose history of alcohol problems is well-known to Swedes—claimed to have been "high as a kite" on the morphine pills he was taking at the time for psoriasis. The other popular national figure to emerge from the program is Bengt Feldreich, the Swedish voice of Jiminy Cricket and narrator of much of the program. Feldreich, a Swedish television reporter who built his name interviewing Nobel Laureates for SVT's news division, is now most famous for his impromptu rendition of "When You Wish Upon a Star" during the original taping of the show.
Lund University's Hagström faced her own Kalle Anka backlash in 2004 when she gave an interview to the Swedish news agency TT, suggesting that the widespread popularity of DVDs and cable television had changed the meaning of Kalle Anka for younger Swedes. The Swedish media sensationalized the story. The headline in the popular tabloid Expressen read "Is Kalle Anka on His Way out of Christmas?" Critical comments soon flooded online messageboards. But the next generation of Swedes may not quite have the same dedication to the special. Despite the consistently strong ratings, SVT's Haegerström could not predict how much longer Kalle Anka will last as a national institution. "I think that we will probably hang in there for a few more years at least. I see my grandchildren, you know, they're not as attached to it as their parents," she told me.

For the time being, though, Kalle Anka is safe. Sweden's staunch defense of Kalle against all attackers, perceived and real, suggests an affection that has long since transcended the circumstances that first made it popular. For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together. "People always want to change everything, and make everything new," Feldreich, Sweden's Jiminy Cricket, told the Swedish newspaper Länstidningen in 2008. "And then, like in a fairy tale from when we were kids, there's something familiar." Kalle Anka, he said, "offers security in a confusing world."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Where Are The New Christmas Classics?

(By Allison Stewart, Washington Post, 21 December 2014)

This time of year, Run-D.M.C.’s Darryl McDaniels doesn’t like to leave the house. “I’m scared to go to the mall, because every five steps somebody’s screaming, ‘It’s Christmastime in Hollis, Queens!’ Kids, grandmothers, it’s crazy,” McDaniels says. “I can’t be going shopping till after Christmas.”   Run-D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis” is a modern holiday standard, making McDaniels a member of a vanishingly small club: Most lyricists of classic Christmas songs are dead. “Christmas in Hollis” was originally released in 1987, during a 10-year span that produced two other classics, Wham’s “Last Christmas” (1984) and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” (1994). There hasn’t been an enduring holiday song released in the 20 years since.
No one, not even such superstars as Taylor Swift, Coldplay or Beyoncé, has managed to turn a temporary seasonal hit into an evergreen since Carey’s tune. Some recent songs that showed promise, like Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” or Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” couldn’t survive their singers’ waning popularity. Others, like Christian group NewSong’s tearjerker-turned-novel-turned-TV-movie “The Christmas Shoes,” flamed out early.  Some, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ newly perennial “Christmas All Over Again,” released in 1992, have taken decades to gain any traction. Petty’s song follows many of the rules laid out by holiday songwriters over the years: It mentions things like presents and mistletoe. It’s jolly and Christmas-positive (depressing Christmas songs are thorny things, best left to Joni Mitchell and Irving Berlin). Christmas hit-making has more rules, more boxes to check off, than rest-of-the-year hit-making.

Many of the rules contradict the other rules: Don’t gloss over the religious nature of the season, but avoid specific mentions of Jesus. Be upbeat, but if you must write a somber holiday song, make sure the song’s subject is sad merely because everyone around him/her has forgotten the True Meaning of Christmas. Audiences like personal details, but don’t leave out classic tropes like snowmen and chimneys.
It’s a wonder new holiday songs get written at all. Vocal group Pentatonix’s new album of holiday standards, “That’s Christmas to Me,” contains one original, the title track. Writing the new song was a source of great anxiety. “We were so nervous going in,” says Scott Hoying, one of the group’s lead vocalists. “It’s hard to come up with great lyrics. Everything has been expressed so eloquently. To come up with something new is really tough. It’s about a balance between being creative and risky and new, and also keeping that classic nostalgic feeling of what Christmas is about.”  Less than two months after its release, Pentatonix’s album has already gone gold. Holiday albums are a lucrative business; artists often find that the inclusion of new material is artistically and financially unnecessary. Many Christmas songs are old enough to be out of copyright, meaning their composers don’t need to be paid. To write a would-be classic is an exercise in delayed gratification, the opposite of writing a hit. A hit registers almost immediately; standards can take years to make themselves known. Hits channel the moment; classics must sound timeless.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” was modeled after Phil Spector’s early 1960s girl-group hits, says its co-writer and producer, Walter Afanasieff. “It’s an immortal sound. It’s not hip-hop or pop or the flavor-of-the-month production. It’s not what we were doing in 1994. It goes against every rule.”  From its earliest days, Carey and Afanasieff guided the song with an eye toward posterity, rarely allowing it to be licensed. It eventually turned up during a memorable scene in the 2003 film “Love Actually,” cementing its status as a classic for a new generation of listeners.  By then, the record industry had begun to reconsider the view that Christmas albums were where the careers of old-timers went to die. “In 1994, no one was running to go do Christmas albums. That was something you did at the end of your career, like when [people would] play Las Vegas,” Afanasieff says. “It’s different now. Everyone does a Christmas album first and foremost. Look at Pentatonix. The highest-selling albums for people in their careers are Christmas albums. At that time it was reversed, so it was a very bold and daring move. . . . We weren’t thinking: Oh, this will be a really big single. We were thinking: God, I hope this makes it. This is kind of cute.”
Kelly Clarkson’s 2013 hit “Underneath the Tree” is a close cousin to “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Both are upbeat love songs that draw inspiration from the Wall of Sound era. “We were cautious, like, let’s not get too close” to Carey’s song, says Greg Kurstin, the song’s co-writer and producer. “The standards of writing back then were so different. You have to get in that mind-set, I think. When you write a modern Christmas song, it’s very different. The chords have been simplified over the years. You have to find those memorable, complex melodies and chord changes.”

Many artists seeking holiday-song immortality reach even further back in the Christmas canon for inspiration, to the golden period from the 1940s to the 1960s, when such evergreens as “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “Silver Bells” were born. That is a mistake, says Mitchell Kezin, who directed “Jingle Bell Rocks!,” a new documentary about the pleasures of offbeat Christmas songs. He cites Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?” as a particularly egregious offender. “Terrible,” Kezin says. “And Olivia Newton-John recorded (an album) a couple of years ago called ‘Christmas Wish.’ Again, sappy, sentimental.”
To ostensibly sophisticated modern audiences raised on snark, heartfelt Christmas ballads can seem self-conscious and saccharine. “They feel calculated. They’re referencing those familiar tropes and all those cliches, and they’re grasping at the kind of songwriting that no longer exists,” Kezin says. “There was a golden age [of songwriting], and interestingly enough, the majority of them were Jewish songwriters who wrote all those classic chestnuts. The reason they’ve endured is because they were so well crafted, and they were so deeply expressive in capturing the holiday experience in a way songwriters these days are unable to do.”  Cheery novelty songs can be equally divisive. In historical polls of the most loathed Christmas classics, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” usually finishes second, bested only by the chorus of dogs barking “Jingle Bells.”

Liz Phair recently contributed a lighthearted original, “Ho Ho Ho,” to the Amazon Prime digital-music playlist of holiday tunes “All Is Bright.” “Because I chose to take a different angle, I had a ladder in the chutes-and-ladders sense,” the indie/alt-rock favorite of the ’90s says. “If I tried to take on something meaningful — images of Robert Frost’s ‘the snowy fence between neighbors’ comes to mind — you can’t quite get there. But because I decided to do something dystopian about how Christmas can actually suck sometimes, it was easier. I could find my way into that much quicker.”  The thing to remember about a Christmas song, Phair says, “is that it has to have Christmas. It is a Christian holiday, so there’s some sort of nod either to or away from Christian values . . . charity, generosity, forgiveness, humility.”

Last year, veteran punk band Bad Religion released “Christmas Songs,” a religious-hymn-heavy standards collection. “No one is less of a theist than me,” says Brett Gurewitz, the band’s guitarist. But “I love Christmas songs, and Christmas, too. I absolutely adore them. . . . I’ll take ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ over ‘Rudolph’ any day. It’s just a better song. It’s more powerful.”  Holiday standards often include an appeal to what Gurewitz calls the “yearning to be our better selves.” The most enduring ones transcend racial and generational barriers.

“Music succeeds where politics and religion fails,” McDaniels says. “It brings us together.” McDaniels is partial to Bing Crosby. “The same way everybody talks about how special ‘Christmas in Hollis’ is to them, the song that’s special to me is Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas.’ I’m a black American hip-hopper from the hood, and ‘White Christmas’ is gangsta to me.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Favorite Movies Of 2013

1              Gravity
2              American Hustle
3              Dredd 
4              Skyfall
5              Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug
6              In A World …
7              Premium Rush
8              Zero Dark Thirty
9              The World's End
10           Heat, The
11           East, The
12           The Family
13           Les Miserables
14           Star Trek: Into Darkness
15           Drinking Buddies
16           The Pirates! Band of Misfits
17           Perks Of Being A Wallflower
18           World War Z
19           Bling Ring
20           Before Midnight
21           Don Jon
22           Wolverine, The
23           Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
24           Last Stand, The
25           Captain Phillips
26           Red 2
27           RIPD
28           Despicable Me 2
29           Elysium
29           Oblivion
30           Machete Kills
31           Hunger Games: Catching Fire
32           Kick Ass 2
33           Iron Man 3
34           Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
35           Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
35           Olympus Has Fallen

x              Guild, The (Season 1-5)
x              Orphan Black: Season 1: Disc 1
x              The League: Season 1 & 2 & 3
x              Burning Love: Burning Down the House
x              Iliza Shlesinger: War Paint
(x = Televisions series, so not ranked in with the movies)

My Most Disappointing Movies Of 2013

1              Doc Savage: Man Of Bronze
2              Cat Run
3              Death Race 2
4              Somewhere
5              Good Day To Die Hard
6              Bullet To The Head
7              Bachelorette
8              Fast & Furious 6
9              Now You See Me
10           Man Of Steel
11           A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas
12           Ender's Game
13           Angel's Share, The
14           The Dictator 
15           All Superheroes Must Die 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What You Know About July 4th Is Wrong

(By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, 02 July 2014)

You learned in school about what happened in July 1776, and think you have a good handle on events surrounding American independence from Great Britain. Right?  Well, if you think that was the day that America’s independence was declared by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, you are wrong.  And if you think that that was the day that members of the Congress signed the new Declaration of Independence, as depicted in a famous canvas painting by John Trumbull, (which now hangs in the Rotunda of the Capitol of the United States), you are wrong.

And if you think that Thomas Jefferson alone wrote the Declaration of Independence, or the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was made to ring to announce independence, or that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag at the request of George Washington, you are wrong, wrong and wrong. And if you never learned about George Washington’s own declaration, that’s another gap in your historical knowledge.  Here, adapted from George Mason University’s History News Network as well as from some other sources, including Joseph J. Ellis’s book titled “Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence,” here are some truths about July 4th that may be news to you. (Note: I’ve published some of this before for July 4th).

American independence from Great Britain was not decided on July 4th.
Actually, the Continental Congress voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence. On the night of July 2nd, the Pennsylvania Evening Post published the statement: “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.” John Adams thought July 2 was going to be the day future Americans celebrated, or so he said in a letter to his wife, Abigail Adams:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

In fact, Ellis makes the case that that Adams “liked to claim that the resolution of May 15 was the real declaration of independence and that Jefferson’s more famous declaration six weeks later was a merely ceremonial afterthought.” The resolution of May 15, which was actually approved on May 12, was a formal call for the colonies to write new state constitutions that would “replace the colonial constitutions. On May 15, Adams added a preface that placed the resolution in the context of the historical march to independence.

George Washington issued his own important declaration on July 2nd, Ellis wrote, without knowing what was happening in Philadelphia. In his General Orders on that day, he wrote:

“The time is now at hand which must probably determine, Whether Americans are to be, Freeman, or Slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their Houses and Farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they consigned to a State of Wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of the unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the conduct of this army…. Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world, that a Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”

So what happened on July 4th, 1776?
The Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, which was mostly written by Thomas Jefferson but subject to edits by the other members of the five-man team appointed to come up with the document (Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, John Adams and Roger Sherman) as well as the full Continental Congress. Franklin had first right of refusal to draft the document, and he took it; Adams also said he did not want to, so the job fell to Jefferson. He finished the first draft during the third week of June, Ellis wrote.

But Americans didn’t first celebrate independence until July 8, when Philadelphia threw a big party, including a parade and the firing of guns. The army under George Washington, then camped near New York City, heard the news July 9 and celebrated then. Georgia got the word August 10th. And the British in London found out on August 30th.  Though both Jefferson and Adams later claimed the signing ceremony took place on July 4th, David McCullough wrotes in his biography of John Adams:  “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”  In fact, most delegates signed the document on August 2nd, when a clean copy was finally produced by Timothy Matlack, assistant to the secretary of Congress; some waited even later to sign, and the names on the document were made public only in January 1777.

The Liberty Bell did not ring in American Independence, despite the famous story about how a boy with blond hair and blue eyes was posted next to Independence Hall to give a signal to an old man in the bell tower when independence was declared. The story was concocted in the middle of the 19th century by writer George Lippard in a book intended for children. The book was aptly titled, “Legends of the American Revolution.” There was no pretense that the story was genuine.  In fact, the bell was not even named in honor of American independence. It received the moniker in the early 19th century when abolitionists used it as a symbol of the antislavery movement. And the famous crack? The bell cracked because it was badly designed.

It is also true that Betsy Ross did not in fact sew the first American flag despite the story that George Washington himself asked her to. It is not known who actually sewed the first flag, but it was designed by Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration. Records show that in May 1780 he sent a bill to the Board of Admiralty for designing the “flag of the United States.” A small group of descendants works hard to keep his name alive.  You may have learned that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died on the Fourth of July. They did, but the well-known story isn’t all true.  On July 4, 1826, Adams, the second president, and Jefferson, the third president, both died, exactly 50 years after the adoption of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The country took it as a sign of American divinity.  But there is no proof to the long-told story that Adams, dying, uttered, “Jefferson survives,” which was said to be especially poignant, as Jefferson had died just hours before without Adams knowing it. Mark that as just another story we wished so hard were true we convinced ourselves it is.  By the way, James Monroe, our fifth president, died on July 4, 1831. And Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, was born on July 4, 1872.  Have a Happy Fourth!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yelp, Inc. – The Online Review Saga Continues

I found this summary of a local northern Virginia business suing Yelp for leaving up false and damaging user reviews to be fascinating and I would love to see what the outcome is.  It has big implications for the whole online review process.  I'd like to see "trolls" get their come-uppance.

Yelp, Inc. – The Online Review Saga Continues
(By Matthew A. Lafferman, Alexandria Chamber Of Commerce newsletter)

In our March issue, we reported on two recent Virginia court cases dealing with false and damaging online reviews. There has been an important development in one of these cases, as of the parties, the online review website Yelp, has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Hadeed’s Defamation Suit
In Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning Inc., a carpet cleaning business based in Alexandria, Virginia, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning (“Hadeed”), filed a defamation lawsuit against seven anonymous individuals who posted on Yelp negative reviews about Hadeed. A day after filing suit, Hadeed issued a subpoena to Yelp to require it to identify those persons who posted the allegedly false statements. After Yelp refused, the trial court ordered Yelp to identify the individuals.

Court of Appeals Decision
Subsequently, Yelp appealed the ruling to the Virginia Court of Appeals on the grounds that permitting subpoenas requesting the identity of anonymous online posters violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In January 2014, however, the appeals court upheld the trial court and ordered Yelp to identify the individuals to Hadeed. In doing so, the court explained that anonymous speech is not entitled to First Amendment protection when the speech is false or defamatory.  

Furthermore, the court of appeals found that Hadeed had met the standard for issuing the subpoena by showing it had a legitimate, good faith basis for believing that the reviews were false. The court relied upon the fact that Hadeed had submitted evidence to the court that the persons who had posted the reviews had not even been Hadeed’s customers. 

Appeal to Virginia Supreme Court 
Yelp has now filed a petition for appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeals’ order. Yelp contends that allowing the appellate court’s order to stand would allow a company to discover an anonymous online poster merely by telling a court that the business’ “critics are not customers.” Yelp further argues that in many other states where courts have considered the issue, the state courts have protected the identity of anonymous posters unless the party seeking the information can produce evidence that the online posting is false, which Hadeed has failed to satisfy.

In opposing Yelp’s appeal, Hadeed argues that Virginia law correctly balances the interests of anonymous speakers with the interests of a person or business responding to false online postings.  Requiring a party to prove falsity before learning the identity of those who posted the reviews, Hadeed argues, would give anonymous online posters a “license to defame.”

Impact of the Appeal
Either way, a Supreme Court decision will shape how businesses keep customer records and utilize online review platforms. If the Supreme Court overturns the Court of Appeals’ decision and requires greater proof of falsity before a business can learn the identity of online posters, many businesses may require more detailed information from customers in an effort to more effectively identify and respond to false reviews. On the other hand, if the court upholds the decision, some former customers may be discouraged from posting negative reviews on websites out of fear of potential lawsuits. This could substantially reduce the usefulness of these online review websites for businesses to promote their products and services. Accordingly, all Virginia businesses need to keep abreast of further developments in the case.

Matthew Lafferman is an associate attorney in the Alexandria law firm of DiMuroGinsberg, P.C. 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Quiz

Bookday Quiz Inspired By The Borough Press But With Major Alterations By Me
What book have you read that that fits each of these descriptions?

1.       Favorite Book From Childhood- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  Adventure, romance, intrigue, and swordfights.  What boy doesn’t love the Musketeers? 

2.       Favorite Series From Childhood- Tie: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon, The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur, Jr.  Long before binge-TV-watching came long, there were binge-reading sessions and these are the top series that I did that with.

3.       Favorite Children’s or Young Adult Book/Series Read As An Adult- Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  I would have said Harry Potter but there were enough things that bugged me in that series that I can’t put it first.  I hated the death of Dumbledore, the overall lack of extended battle scenes and confrontations, how petulant Harry was at times and the excruciating first half of the “Order Of the Phoenix” book where Harry was a whiny teenager.  I think I was also influenced by how mediocre some of the Harry Potter movies were, while the first two Hunger Games movies have been very good.

4.       One With A Blue Cover- Tie: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle

5.       Least Favorite Book By A Favorite Author- Tie: Desperation or Tommyknockers by Stephen King

6.       The One I Always Give People To Read- On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony.  Wildly inventive and emotional science fiction.

7.       It Changed My Way Of Thinking- A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving.  Self-sacrifice, compassion, humility, straight-forwardness and an absolute lack of cynicism.  Owen Meany is a much better person than I am and I should learn more from him.

8.       Own More Than One Edition- Every book in the Modesty Blaise series.  I got into this series way before e-Bay or Kindle, back when out of print books were hard to come by, so every time I saw a copy of a book in this series, I bought it.  Plus, I got to see different covers on the different editions and sometimes that along was worth the purchase.  I did the same thing with the James Bond series.

9.       Film Or TV Tie-In- Mr. Monk And The Two Assistants by Lee Goldberg.  While watching the Monk television series, I always wondered which assistant Monk would pick as his favorite and this book answered the question perfectly.

10.   Favorite Film Adapted From A Book- Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  The movie is different enough that it’s almost like there are two versions of this story to enjoy. The movie not only did it right, they might even have done it better than the book.

11.   Reminds Me Of Someone I Love- A Taste For Death by Peter Collins.  Willie’s attitude toward Modesty Blaise is one that I sometimes feel for Julie.  I worship her at the same time as I try to be worthy of her.

12.   Second Hand Bookshop Gem- The Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner.  I really got into the
Beatles in high school and read lots of Beatles books.  This was the most fascinating, informative one.

13.   I Pretend To Have Read It- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.  I’ll get to it one day but it isn’t high on my list. When people reference it, I don’t offer up that I haven’t read it.  I just nod knowingly.

14.   Couldn’t Make Myself Finish It- Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  After my high school English teacher chewed out the entire class for not doing the reading assignment for that day (and we hadn’t), I just figured I might as well read the Cliff’s Notes instead and not bother with the book since I’d already got the stern lecture.  For a different reason, I also couldn’t finish The Bachman Books by Stephen King.  I loved the stories so much, I didn’t want the book to be over so 20 years ago I stopped halfway through reading the last story in the collection (“The Running Man”).

15.   Makes Me Laugh- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin

16.   Make Me Cry Every Time I Read It- Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares.  There are four characters and four different storylines.  Some are fun fluff but then there’s the one that involves Bailey.  I think the more you like a character, the more they can affect you, and I really liked Bailey.

17.   It Inspires Me- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin.  Every story in this collection is clever, intelligent, funny and slightly absurd or offbeat.  It’s the way I think when I write even though I am nowhere close to matching the quality of Steve Martin’s writing.

18.   Favorite Fictional Father or Mother- Keith Mars in Veronica Mars: Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas.  Yes, this is a bit of a stretch but it is a book.  The author wrote it as a folowup to the Veronica Mars movie because he had more ideas to explore.  Since Keith Mars is one of my favorite television fathers, I picked him for the book version too.  Plus, I am at a loss to think of many more literary parents.  Most books seem to have either absent or despicable parents so I don’t have many options to sift through. 

19.   Can’t Believe More People Haven’t Read This- Where The Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes.  This is written by the same guy who wrote and performed the song “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and is every bit as intricate and touching as the song is.

20.   Future Classic- The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  This is what my teen-hood was like.  It wasn’t “Sweet Valley High” or “Catcher In The Rye”.

21.   Bought On A Personal Recommendation- I don’t think I have ever bought something solely because it was recommended to me.  Also, there are not that many people I know who have similar enough taste to mine that I would buy a book “blind” just because they suggested it.  For example, John reads lots of “urban fiction”, i.e. vampire/werewolf characters and those mostly leave me cold.  If I want fantasy, I want it to be science fiction or alternate realm fantasy but not the kind where every person and locations has some ridiculous name and I have to spend the whole book keeping track of what’s what.  (Which is why I don’t think I’ll read any Games Of Thrones books.) The Thomas Covenant series or the Hobbit or the Childe Cycle are the types of books that appeal to me in that genre.  Now, back in junior high school, John did loan me Superfolks by Robert Mayer and I liked that.  It had superheroes and sex so that made it a perfect book for a junior high school kid.  Years later, the book came back into print and I bought it for the sake of nostalgia.

22.   Still Can’t Stop Talking About It- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin.  C’mon folks, this is genius work here.  I’ve never read a better collection of short works.

23.   Favorite Cover- Man Of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson.  The James Bama cover summed up everything that was awesome about the Doc Savage stories.

24.   Favorite Illustrated Edition- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, illustrated by Norman Price

25.   Current Summer Read- The Death Cure by James Dashner.  The third book in the Maze Runner trilogy.

26.   Favorite Love Story- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  It captures the frustration, torment, joy and  heartbreak that is possible when you find your true love and try to win her heart.

27.   Favorite Sexy Book-  Tie: Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan and The Coffee Tea Or Me Girls by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones.  Serious, meaningful/meaningless sex balanced by lighthearted, mostly “off-camera” sex.  Both have their virtues.

28.   Unfortunately Out Of Print- Just Another Day In Paradise by A.E. Maxwell.  One of my favorite mystery series.  I’m so sad that the series is over even though the writer (Ann Maxwell / Elizabeth Lowell and her husband Evan) is still writing to this day.  This was a sort of hardboiled, sort of romantic, sort of thriller hybrid.

29.   Had To Read It At School- Least Favorite- Light In August by William Faulkner.  Ugh, I don’t care what it “means”.

30.   Had To Read It At School- Most Favorite- The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.  I want to know what it means but the author won’t tell me, not even after repeated readings.  Worse, that’s what he intended to do.

31.   Got Me To Start Reading- Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.  My dad read this to me as a kid and I was hooked on books.  I wanted to hear stories for more than 15 minutes a night so I learned to read. 

32.   Want To Be One Of The Characters (& Which One)- Melrose Plant in The Old Silent by Martha Grimes.  He’s just so laid back, unknowingly charming and slightly sarcastic and he helps the main character solve mysteries in his free time.

33.   Favorite I Received As A Gift- Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book by Phil Gordon.  It’s a poker book that Mike gave me and several of the tips and lessons have been invaluable.  The rule of 4 and 2 have guided me through a countless number of deliberations when playing poker.

34.   The One I Have Re-Read Most Often- The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Everything I said about The Three Musketeers has been magnified here.  This isn’t really about adventure and swashbuckling, it’s about life choices and the consequences of one’s actions.

35.   Would Save If My House Was Burning Down- Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.  Because of how I acquired it and where it came from:

36.   Wished I Had Written It- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I enjoyed the story and I would be mega-rich if I was the author.  Plus, Brown had already written several books by then and wasn’t overwhelmed by the fame.  Unfortunately, he seems to have gotten into a rut.  His latest, Inferno, was a bit lame.  At least he is still rich.

37.   I Don’t Understand The Hype- 50 Shades Of Grey by E.L. James.  The protagonist is a sadistic, right?  The sex is steamy but there is no real love to be found, is there?  Why does everyone read this book?

38.   Traumatized Me As A Child- The Voyages Of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting.  When Dr. Doolittle travelled under the sea inside a giant snail’s shell and discussed with him the great flood that God sent down on earth, killing almost everyone on earth, I felt a massive existential angst.  I became aware of death and sorrow and helplessness in the face of the universe.  I couldn’t believe a kid’s book would put these ideas and feelings in my heart.  To this day, it still crushes me when I contemplate this storyline.

39.   Favorite Science Fiction Book- Adventures Of The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison.  Like the three Musketeers meets Star Wars but the protagonist is not virtuous.  He’s a thief and a rebel.  This is the “heist movie” of the book world.  Anarchy is the main subtext.

40.   Favorite Historical Fiction- Lincoln by Gore Vidal.  Shows why Lincoln is a titan in American history.

41.   Favorite Non-Fiction- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  You are there and scared to death.

42.   Favorite Classic Book- Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen.  So much fun to read, unlike Art Of War by Sun Tzo or Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton or Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Now Dracula by Bram Stoker would make a good second choice.

43.   Favorite Modern Classic- Tie: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and World According To Garp by John Irving,  Both will break your heart and put them back together again in an entirely new configuration.

44.   Book Written By Someone You Know- Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere.  Someone I went to college with has written a mystery.  Several of them in fact, and they are all fun reads.  I picked this one because I was actually made into a minor character in the story.   

45.   Favorite Memoir/Autobiography- Tie: Life Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield and Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman.  They both show how music and love seem to go together so naturally.

46.   Favorite Non-Memoir Book By A Celebrity- Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak. 

47.   Your Recommendation That No One Appreciates- The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams by Laurence Block.  One person liked this book and read more in the series, one person never read it and a third gave me back the book I loaned them and said “I didn’t like it and stopped halfway through.” I give up.

48.   Favorite Collection Of Poetry- William Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Everything poets try to say, Shakespeare already said hundreds of years ago.

49.   Favorite Genre Defying Book- A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.  Young Adult?  Sci-fi?  Family drama?  Pseudo-religion?  I don’t know but it is so good that it doesn’t matter that it is unclassifiable.

50.   Favorite Collection Of Comic Strips Or Comics- The Essential Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson.  The best comic strip ever created.