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Now Streaming - Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

For 35 years, activist and archivist Marion Stokes recorded television news coverage on VHS tapes, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. Matt Wolf has produced a documentary about Stokes called Recorder: The Marian Stokes Project.

For over 30 years, Marion Stokes obsessively and privately recorded American television news twenty-four hours a day. A civil rights-era radical who became fabulously wealthy and reclusive later in life, her obsession started with the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 — at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 as the Sandy Hook massacre played on television while Marion passed away. In between, Marion filled 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows and commercials that show us how television shaped the world of today and in the process tell us who we were.

A mystery in the form of a time capsule, Recorder delves into the strange life of a woman for whom home taping was a form of activism to protect the truth (the public didn’t know it, but the networks had been disposing their archives for decades into the trashcan of history) and though her visionary and maddening project nearly tore her family apart, her extraordinary legacy is as priceless as her story is remarkable.

The trailer is above and you can watch the whole thing for free on PBS for a limited time.

Palo Alto, a Previously Unreleased Thelonious Monk Live Album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

A Thelonious Monk live album that was recorded in 1968 is set to be released for the first time on July 31, 2020. You can hear the first single from the album on YouTube, Spotify, or several other places. (The song is now unavailable — see the update below.)

The story behind the performance is a little nutty — a student hired Monk to play at his high school and many folks didn’t buy tickets until the jazz great actually pulled into the parking lot.

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, racial tensions across the country rose. Palo Alto, a largely white college town in California, was not immune to the events of the day. Danny Scher, a rising junior at Palo Alto High School, had a dream to bring Thelonious Monk to Palo Alto to perform and help bring about racial unity in his community as well as raise funds for his school’s International Committee. After somehow securing Monk’s services to perform on Sunday, October 27, Scher initially had trouble selling tickets and convincing people that Monk was even going to show up. With many twists and turns along the way and several hundred people waiting in the school’s parking lot to await Monk’s arrival before purchasing tickets, the concert eventually happened and was a triumph in more ways that Monk or Scher could have imagined. This is a recording of that historic concert.

(via, who else?, @tedgioia)

Update: One of the high school’s custodians took charge of tuning Monk’s piano and recording the session. A crowdsourced effort is underway to identify and recognize his efforts.

Update: The album’s release has been “indefinitely delayed”.

“I received word that there was a dispute between the estate and Monk’s previous label,” Scher said during a phone conversation on Monday, July 27. So the release has been taken off of the schedule indefinitely “due to circumstances beyond the label’s control,” according to a statement by Impulse! Records. Co-producer Feldman was unable to provide any further information at this time.

The album’s first single has been scrubbed from all the streaming services as well.

Today Is Juneteenth, the USA’s Second Independence Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2020

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday that started in Texas that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. From Vox’s Juneteenth, explained:

A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; the Civil War was still going on, and when it ended, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas and issued an order stating that all enslaved people were free, establishing a new relationship between “former masters and slaves” as “employer and hired labor.” As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.

And freedom was further delayed, but the holiday stuck. From What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work, as historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner details in her comprehensive essay, “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas.

Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. As quoted in Litwack’s book, former slave Susan Merritt recalled, ” ‘You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ‘cause they cotch ‘em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ‘em.’ ” In one extreme case, according to Hayes Turner, a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years (She ” ‘whip me after the war jist like she did ‘fore,’ ” Darling said).

Hardly the recipe for a celebration — which is what makes the story of Juneteenth all the more remarkable. Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau (itself delayed from arriving until September 1865), now had a date to rally around. In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.

From the NY Times’ collection of articles to mark the Juneteenth holiday, Veronica Chambers writes:

“Recently, I heard Angela Davis talk about the radical imagination,” Ms. [Saidiya] Hartman said. “And a fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen. I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.”

I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has celebrated Juneteenth for a long time, I think we need it now — not in lieu of the freedom, justice and equality we are still fighting for — but in addition, because we have been fighting for so very long.

The elemental sermon embedded into the history and lore of Juneteenth has always been one of hope. The gifts of the holiday are the moments of connection, renewal and joy for a people who have had to endure so much, for so long.

Gina Cherelus shares how folks around the country celebrate, past and present — This Is How We Juneteenth:

Kenneth Timmons, who works for a federal government agency in Houston, said the first thing he usually does before every Juneteenth is take the day off work. Mr. Timmons usually invites friends over to cook and eat together.

“My co-workers know why I’m off, I tell them I don’t work Juneteenth,” Mr. Timmons, 47, said. “I don’t work on my Independence Day.”

Born and raised in Lufkin, Texas, a town more than 100 miles northeast of Houston, Mr. Timmons remembers attending community Juneteenth celebrations as a child, where he would watch rodeo shows, pageants, eat barbecue and participate in calf chasing contests.

“Even though the United States celebrates July 4 as their independence, we were still considered slaves,” said Mr. Timmons. “So for us, that is the day that our ancestors were finally released from servitude and slavery and could escape the South.”

Calls for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday have grown over the past few years. Here’s the case from the staff of The Root and Danielle Young — Juneteenth Is Finally Entering the Mainstream American Consciousness. Now Make It An Official Federal Holiday.

Forget the 4th of July! Juneteenth is the day that should be celebrated by all as a pivotal point in America’s freedom story.

93-year-old Texas resident Opal Lee is working to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday. You can follow her efforts here and sign her petition.

And finally, here are some ways to get involved in the movement for Juneteenth, including educational resources, events & protests, suggestions for how to invest in the Black community, places to donate, volunteer opportunities, etc.

The 1850s Map that Made Modern Epidemiology

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In 1854, Dr. John Snow produced a map of a London cholera outbreak which showed deaths from the disease concentrated around a water pump on Broad Street. The prevailing view at the time was that cholera spread through dirty air, but Snow hypothesized that it was actually spread through water and constructed this early medical data visualization to help prove it.

John Snow Cholera Map

Through a mix of personal interviews, clever detective work, and data analysis that included tables and a famous map, Snow managed to stop the outbreak and convince local public health officials, eventually, that cholera could be transmitted through water, not a miasma. Since his breakthrough study, the map has become an iconic piece of epidemiological history, as an illustration of keen detective work, analysis, and visual representation with a map that, even today, tells a story.

Aside from the cluster of deaths around the pump (which could be argued were the result of a miasma cloud and not contaminated water), stories of nearby people who didn’t get sick (brewers who drank the beer they produced rather than well water, people in buildings with their own wells) and far away people who died because they had drunk water from the well were also essential in proving his theory:

I was informed by this lady’s son that she had not been in the neighbourhood of Broad Street for many months. A cart went from broad Street to West End every day and it was the custom to take out a large bottle of the water from the pump in Broad Street, as she preferred it. The water was taken on Thursday 31st August., and she drank of it in the evening, and also on Friday. She was seized with cholera on the evening of the latter day, and died on Saturday

You can read more about John Snow and how his map changed science and medicine in Steven Johnson’s excellent Ghost Map.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

For Slate’s 2015 podcast series The History of American Slavery, Andrew Kahn created an interactive visualization of the 20,000+ voyages that made up the Atlantic slave trade that lasted 315 years. A video of the interactive map is embedded above.

As we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747 — less than 4 percent of the total — came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

Roughly 400,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the United States before the practice was banned in 1808. The ban was mostly (but not entirely) enforced and yet in 1860, the population of enslaved persons was almost 4 million in the South. That’s because the 1808 ban, according to Ned & Constance Sublette’s book The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, was a form of trade protectionism that protected the forced breeding of enslaved peoples by American slaveowners. From a review of the book:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? “The South,” the Sublettes write, “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.” Slavers called slave-breeding “natural increase,” but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, “most of it in the North,” the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South’s total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

You can read more about the economics of slavery in this post from 2016, including how American banks sold bonds that used enslaved persons as collateral to international investors. (via open culture)

Twist, Spin, Tuck, Jump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

In the second video in his Concatenation series (check out the first one), Donato Sansone edited a bunch of footage of Olympic divers, gymnasts, and track & field athletes together to make a single twisting, jumping, tucking, spinning routine that’s both seamless and completely disorienting. (via colossal)

John Cleese on Extremism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

In a clip from a TV advertisement for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, John Cleese entertainingly talks about the benefits of extremism.

The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good — because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.

Even if you don’t believe that moderate politics is the way forward (and I wonder if anyone does anymore), you can appreciate the truth that having external enemies can prevent you from discovering and addressing your views and practices that are harming others and that you need to work on.

Dave Chappelle. 8:46.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2020

Comedian Dave Chappelle has released the video of a set he did recently near Dayton, Ohio. In it, he addresses the death of George Floyd and the resulting protests. From Slate:

Chappelle opens with a thank-you to young protesters — “You all are excellent drivers. I am comfortable in the back seat” — and keeps circling back to his ambivalence about taking a piece of their spotlight, even as he’s heard the calls for people with platforms the size of his to speak out. “This is the streets talking now,” he says. “They don’t need me right now.” But he also keeps coming back to the number that gives the special its title, the eight minutes and 46 seconds during which Derek Chauvin watched George Floyd’s life ebb away while three other police officers stood by “with their hands in their pockets.” “Who are you talking to?” he asks them. “What are you signifying — that you can kneel on a man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds and feel like you wouldn’t get the wrath of God? That’s what is happening right now. It’s not for a single cop. It’s for all of it. Fucking all of it.”

This very much is worth watching. Even though this isn’t a comedy set, Chappelle demonstrates that he and comedians like him are often the most keen observers and skilled translators of culture that we have.

Jesus Christ, Just Wear a Face Mask!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

The conclusion from a recent paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A:

We conclude that facemask use by the public, when used in combination with physical distancing or periods of lock-down, may provide an acceptable way of managing the COVID-19 pandemic and re-opening economic activity. These results are relevant to the developed as well as the developing world, where large numbers of people are resource poor, but fabrication of home-made, effective facemasks is possible. A key message from our analyses to aid the widespread adoption of facemasks would be: ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’.

From a Reuters report on the paper:

The research, led by scientists at the Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities, suggests lockdowns alone will not stop the resurgence of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, but that even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmission rates if enough people wear them in public.

“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” said Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge.

A pair of recent papers used the geographic differences in mask usage in Germany to gauge the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of Covid-19. Face Masks Considerably Reduce COVID-19 Cases in Germany:

We use the synthetic control method to analyze the effect of face masks on the spread of Covid-19 in Germany. Our identification approach exploits regional variation in the point in time when face masks became compulsory. Depending on the region we analyse, we find that face masks reduced the cumulative number of registered Covid-19 cases between 2.3% and 13% over a period of 10 days after they became compulsory. Assessing the credibility of the various estimates, we conclude that face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%.

And Compulsory face mask policies do not affect community mobility in Germany suggests that people don’t go out more or “feel invincible” when they’re wearing masks:

We use anonymised GPS data from Google’s Location History feature to measure daily mobility in public spaces (groceries and pharmacies, transport hubs and workplaces). We find no evidence that compulsory face mask policies affect community mobility in public spaces in Germany. The evidence provided in this paper makes a crucial contribution to ongoing debates about how to best manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

And these are just from the last few days. Why WHY WHY!!!! are we still talking about this? There’s no credible evidence that wearing a mask is harmful, so at worse it’s harmless. If there’s like a 1-in-10 chance that masks are somewhat helpful — and the growing amount of research suggests that both 1-in-10 and “somewhat helpful” are both understatements — isn’t it worth the tiny bit of effort to wear one and help keep our neighbors safe from potential fucking death? Just in case?

I mean, look at where we are as a country right now. Most of the US is reopening while the number of infections continue to rise. Testing is still not where it needs to be in many areas. Tracing and isolation are mostly not happening. According to epidemiologists, those are the minimum things you need to do to properly contain a pandemic like this. Maybe if you’re Iceland you can pooh pooh the efficacy of masks because you test/trace/isolated to near-perfection, but if you’re going to half-ass it like the US has chosen to do, then wearing masks under semi-lockdown conditions is all we have left! Can we do the bare minimum that is asked of us?

Update: And some anecdotal evidence from Missouri: two hairstylists saw 140 clients while symptomatic last month and it resulted in zero infections. Both the hairstylists and their clients wore masks and took other precautions (staggered appointments, chairs spaced apart).

Update: I deleted a reference to this paper that many epidemiologists et al. have flagged as problematic (see here, here, and here for instance). (via @harrislapiroff)

The Masks Masquerade by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is worth a read.

“Libertarians” (in brackets) are resisting mask wearing on grounds that it constrains their freedom. Yet the entire concept of liberty lies in the Non-Aggression Principle, the equivalent of the Silver Rule: do not harm others; they in turn should not harm you. Even more insulting is the demand by pseudolibertarians that Costco should banned from forcing customers to wear mask — but libertarianism allows you to set the rules on your own property. Costco should be able to force visitors to wear pink shirts and purple glasses if they wished.

Note that by infecting another person you are not infecting just another person. You are infecting many many more and causing systemic risk.

Wear a mask. For the Sake of Others.

And finally, obviously, if wearing a mask is not advisable for you — for a genuine medical reason or if it makes you look dangerous to a racist policing system for instance — then you shouldn’t wear one! But the vast majority of us should be able to manage it.

Update: A study in Health Affairs analyzing the infection rates in US states with face mask mandates versus those without finds that a mandate was associated with a decline in the Covid-19 growth rate (italics mine).

Mandating face mask use in public is associated with a decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate by 0.9, 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, and 2.0 percentage points in 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, and 21+ days after signing, respectively. Estimates suggest as many as 230,000-450,000 COVID-19 cases possibly averted By May 22, 2020 by these mandates. The findings suggest that requiring face mask use in public might help in mitigating COVID-19 spread.

In a comparison among countries, those where people wore masks early fared much better than those where people didn’t. This is a pretty stark difference:

Mask vs. non-mask mortality

And this study noted that Google search volume of people searching for masks in various countries correlated with the infection rate — in general, the earlier the search volume increased in a given country, the fewer infections recorded in that country.

Update: A list of 70 scientific studies, dating all the way back to 2003, that support the wearing of face masks to prevent disease spread.

Bill Nye recently did a quick mask demonstration featuring a candle to show how effective homemade cloth masks are at blocking exhaled breath. He calls wearing a mask in public to protect other people “literally a matter of life and death”.

Stewart Reynolds shares some reasons to not wear a face mask, including selfish syndrome and chronic dickishness.

And this is a sad and all-too-typical American story in four parts. April: I’m not buying a mask; June: crowded pool party; July: complaining about being sick followed by an obituary. We need to fix this, now. People should not be dying like this — this is a 100% preventable death.

Update: The most recent version of an ongoing review of scientific studies about face mask efficacy was recently published online. From the abstract:

We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas HBO Series Is Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas was an HBO documentary series created and hosted by writer and comedian Wyatt Cenac. The entire run of the show is available for free on YouTube (and on the HBO website) for the next month, but of particular interest is the first season, which was dedicated to the problem of policing in America. The first episode of season one, embedded above, explores police training (specifically “warrior training”) and how it contributed to the death of Philando Castile in Minneapolis. The season’s other episodes cover community policing, police abolition, use of force, and abuse of power.

Cenac says of the show:

The show’s not perfect. You can see when my eyes are reading a teleprompter because HBO’s legal team needed me to say something very specifically so they didn’t get sued. But the show wasn’t about being perfect or even about being right. It was about trying to have a dialogue.

When the smoke clears, we’re still going to need to find a way forward. And we’re going to have to find a way to do it together because this country is a dingy apartment and we’re all just a bunch of Craigslist roommates that have to find a way not to eat each other’s cheese.

See also Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th Available to Watch Online for Free.

Meet the Real Rosa Parks

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

From motion graphics studio Eido, director Joash Berkeley, and educator Riché Richardson, an animated short film about civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

Many people only know of Parks through sanitized stories in school textbooks, documentaries, and the top results on Google: that she was a tired old seamstress who quietly (and almost accidentally) ignited the Montgomery bus boycott by not wanting to move from her seat. But Parks was a political radical who had a long history of fighting for civil rights. Here is Parks’ great niece Urana McCauley on how involved and passionate she was:

One of the things that people don’t understand about my aunt is that she was an activist her whole life and she started questioning things at a young age. I think part of it was her upbringing with her grandfather, Sylvester Edwards. He would sit up at night with a shotgun — in case the KKK might come by and try to kill them — and talk to her about black resistance and the key figures in it: Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey. That laid the foundation for my aunt to feel like, “This isn’t right. I should be doing something and becoming an activist.” Her whole life became dedicated to change.

In 2013, political science professor Jeanne Theoharis published a biography called The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks about Parks’ decades of activism.

Presenting a powerful corrective to the popular iconography of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who with a single act birthed the modern civil rights movement, scholar Jeanne Theoharis excavates Parks’s political philosophy and six decades of activism. Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting American inequality and, in the process, resurrects a civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.

Theoharis wrote an article a couple of years later after the Library of Congress opened their Rosa Parks Collection to the public.

Her “life history of being rebellious,” as she put it, comes through decisively in the recently opened Rosa Parks Collection at the Library of Congress. It features previously unseen personal writings, letters, speech notes, financial and medical records, political documents, and decades of photographs.

There, we see a lifelong activist who had been challenging white supremacy for decades before she became the famous catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott. We see a woman who, from her youth, didn’t hesitate to indict the system of oppression around her. As she once wrote, “I talked and talked of everything I know about the white man’s inhuman treatment of the negro.”

Parks was a seasoned freedom fighter who had grown up in a family that supported Marcus Garvey and who married an activist for the Scottsboro boys. She joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943, becoming branch secretary. She spent the next decade pushing for voter registration, seeking justice for black victims of white brutality and sexual violence, supporting wrongfully accused black men, and pressing for desegregation of schools and public spaces. Committed to both the power of organized nonviolent direct action and the moral right of self defense, she called Malcolm X her personal hero.

(video via print)

A Short History of Housing Segregation in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

In this video for NPR, Gene Demby summarizes the history of housing segregation in America and how it’s a factor for current differences in health (poorer), wealth (much less), education (underfunded), and policing (much more aggressive) for Black communities in US cities.

If you look at the way housing segregation works in America, you can see how things ended up this way. Once you see it, you won’t be able to unsee it.

When you’re talking about housing policy in America, Kimberly Jones’ Monopoly analogy starts to sound a lot less metaphorical and more literal: if Black people cannot buy houses or can only buy houses on certain streets, they will not be able to build wealth like others can.

For more on housing segregation, check out historian Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. From a 2017 interview with Rothstein:

The federal government pursued two important policies in the mid-20th century that segregated metropolitan areas. One was the first civilian public housing program which frequently demolished integrated neighborhoods in order to create segregated public housing.

The second program that the federal government pursued was to subsidize the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans. These two policies worked together to segregate metropolitan areas in ways that they otherwise would never have been segregated.

Rothstein talked about the book with Ta-Nehisi Coates during a conversation at Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Update: This is excellent: you can explore the maps created by the federal government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation at Mapping Inequality by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

These grades were a tool for redlining: making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners. Redlining directed both public and private capital to native-born white families and away from African American and immigrant families. As homeownership was arguably the most significant means of intergenerational wealth building in the United States in the twentieth century, these redlining practices from eight decades ago had long-term effects in creating wealth inequalities that we still see today.

(via @masonadams)

Ava DuVernay’s Selma and 13th Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Last month, Netflix posted a number of their educational programs on YouTube for free, including Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary 13th on race, justice, and mass incarceration in America. Here’s the full-length film (discussion guide):

On Friday, Paramount Pictures started offering DuVernay’s Selma for free rental on a variety of platforms (Apple, Amazon, etc.). Selma is an historical drama about Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. If you haven’t seen it, it’s excellent — here’s a trailer:

As DuVernay said of the film on Twitter:

We’ve gotta understand where we’ve been to strategize where we’re going. History helps us create the blueprint.

In addition, legal drama Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jaime Foxx is available online for free until the end of the month and The Criterion Channel is making movies that “focus on Black lives” available to non-subscribers. (via open culture)

“The Game Is Fixed” Against Black People in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

Do me a favor and take about 7 minutes to watch author Kimberly Jones’ off-the-cuff “rant” (her words) about how rioting and looting fit within the larger narrative of the economic oppression of Black people in America. I’ve never heard the long, shameful, and deadly history of white supremacy in America summed up any better or more succinctly than Jones does here. The Monopoly analogy in particular is fantastic.

When they say “Why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours! We don’t own anything! We don’t own anything! Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night: There’s a social contract that we all have — that if you steal or if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us! So the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken, why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking Football Hall of Fame, about burning the fucking Target? You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn’t give a fuck! You broke the contract when for 400 years we played your game and built your wealth!

Update: Jones has signed a deal with Henry Holt and Company to write two books, one of which will be called “How We Can Win” and will be based on the video above.

John Oliver on Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2020

For the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dedicated his entire show to policing in America. It is worth watching as a summary of how we got here, what the obstacles to reform have been, and where we can go from here.

We’re actually not going to focus on Trump tonight nor are we — unlike some in cable news — going to dwell on the incidents of looting that occurred, except to say if you said the name “Macy’s” more than you’ve said the name “Breonna Taylor” this week you can very much fuck off.

Likewise if you asking why spontaneous decentralized protests can’t control every one of its participants more than you are asking the same about a taxpayer-funded heavily regimented paid workforce, you can also — in the words of this generation’s Robert Frost — suck my dick and choke on it.

A Powerful Lesson in Discrimination

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2020

Calling it one of their most requested videos, PBS’s Frontline has uploaded to YouTube their 1985 program on schoolteacher Jane Elliott’s powerful lesson in discrimination. The video shows how, in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Elliott divided her third-grade class into those with blue eyes and those with non-blue eyes and then instructed the non-blue-eyed group to treat the blue-eyed group as inferior. The resulting behavior is fascinating, upsetting, and illuminating.

Elliott went on to become a noted antiracism activist and has done blue eyes/brown eyes workshops with groups of adults and teens. And she goes hard at them — see this video and this video for instance.

I’m trying to get the people who participate in this exercise the opportunity to find out how it feels like to be something other than white in this society. ‘Alright people, I’m Jane Elliott and I’m your resident bitch for the day and make no mistake about that, that is exactly what this is about.’ I do this in a mean, nasty way because racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, ethnocentrism are mean and nasty.

I would also highly recommend watching this brief clip of a talk by Elliott. In less than a minute, she deftly skewers the idea that racial discrimination doesn’t exist in America and calls out White Americans’ complicity in allowing it to persist.

I want every white person in this room who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our black citizens — if you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society, please stand.

[Nobody stands.]

You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society, stand. Nobody’s standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening, you know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others.

Freedom for some is not freedom.

Update: Alisha Haridasani Gupta recently interviewed Elliott for the NY Times. In it, she reveals that she doesn’t do her workshops anymore because people are increasingly close-minded.

I’ve been doing the exercise with adults for about 35 years. But in the last few years, I’ve only been doing speeches about it because we now live in a situation where people turn off immediately if they think they’re going to learn something counter to their beliefs, and I don’t want to be threatened with death anymore. I’m tired of receiving death threats.

Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike Delivers an Emotional Plea

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

If you haven’t had a chance to watch this, it’s really worth your time. Rapper and activist Michael Render, aka Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, spoke at a press conference in Atlanta about the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the history of policing in the city, and his outrage, delivering a plea for the city’s residents to not “burn your own house down for anger with an enemy”.

I’m. Mad. As Hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday, because I’m tired of seeing black men die. He casually put his knee on a human being’s neck for nine minutes as he died, like a zebra in the clutch of a lion’s jaw. And we watch like murder porn, over and over again.

So that’s why children are burning it to the ground. They don’t know what else to do. And it is the responsibility of us to make this better — right now. We don’t want to see one officer charged, we want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burning, we want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground.

Update: Although Killer Mike’s remarks have been widely praised (including by prominent members of the Black community like Lebron James), others in the Black community have condemned them. See Devyn Springer’s article in the Independent:

This weekend, as I watched T.I. share a stage with fellow rapper and landlord, Killer Mike, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, in an attempt to disparage the righteous Black rage in response to the police killing of George Floyd, I instantly knew we’ve entered a new era of Black sellouts that we must reckon with.

It’s interesting that the underlying message of Barack Obama’s recent post How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change is not substantially different than Killer Mike’s comments. That post was also widely shared and praised (though, conspicuously, not by many prominent Black activists), especially by White people. One of the reasons I shared the video of Killer Mike is that there is disagreement — real, non-cynical disagreement — within the Black community about how to best address and protest racism & oppression in the United States, and you can plainly hear that his feelings and motivations are complicated.

Tonight’s Classic Radiohead Concert Is From 1994

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2020

Since early April, Radiohead has been putting video of one classic concert a week up on YouTube (playlist here). Tonight’s show, which starts streaming at 5pm ET, is from a really interesting point in the band’s evolution. In May 1994, Radiohead had released only one album (Pablo Honey) and no one knew whether they were going to be anything more than a one-hit wonder. At the time, the group was in the midst of recording The Bends and the setlist contains several songs from that album, including Fake Plastic Trees, The Bends, My Iron Lungs, and Just.

The release of The Bends and the reception to it established Radiohead as a group to be taken seriously and set the stage for OK Computer launching them into the critical stratosphere. As Jonny Greenwood later recounted: “That’s when it started to feel like we made the right choice about being a band”. Really excited to watch this one.

NASA & SpaceX Scheduled to Launch Astronauts Into Orbit From US Soil for First Time in 9 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

NASA and SpaceX are scheduled to launch two astronauts into orbit this afternoon from the United States for the first time in nine years. The launch is scheduled to take place at 4:33 p.m. EDT. We’ll be watching for sure!

SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, May 27 for Falcon 9’s launch of Crew Dragon’s second demonstration (Demo-2) mission from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This test flight with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the Dragon spacecraft will return human spaceflight to the United States.

The mission is also the first time a private company will carry humans into orbit. You can watch the launch in the stream above with commentary (the coverage has already started — the astronauts just suited up and are on their way to launchpad 39A and now Kelly Clarkson is singing the National Anthem from her house) or with just the audio feed from Mission Control. And you can read more about the mission here.

Update: The launch got scrubbed for today — poor weather conditions. The next launch window is Saturday, May 30 at 3:22pm ET.

Full-Day Rotation of the Earth Around a Stationary Sky

posted by Jason Kottke   May 27, 2020

Last year I posted a pair of videos showing a sky-stabilized rotation of the Earth around the starry sky. Because the Earth is our vantage point, we’re not used to seeing this view and it’s pretty trippy.

Now Bartosz Wojczyński has created a video showing full-day rotation of the Earth with footage shot in Namibia. The rotation is sped up to take only 24 seconds and is repeated 60 times to simulate about 2 months of rotation. I find this very relaxing to watch, like I’m riding in a very slow clothes dryer.

See also The Entire Plane of the Milky Way Captured in a Single Photo.

Errol Morris’s Next Documentary Is About Psychedelic Guru Timothy Leary

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

The next documentary film from Errol Morris is about LSD advocate Timothy Leary and will debut on Showtime later in the year. The film is still untitled but is based on a memoir by Joanna Harcourt-Smith called Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story.

A FILM BY ERROL MORRIS (w/t) asks the question why Leary, the High Priest of LSD, became a narc in 1974 and seemingly abandoned the millions he urged to turn on, tune in and drop out. Was his “perfect love” Joanna Harcourt-Smith a government pawn, as suggested by Allen Ginsberg? Or was she simply a rich, beautiful, young woman out for the adventure of a lifetime? Morris and Harcourt-Smith will reexamine this chaotic period of her life and explore the mystery of the Leary saga: his period of exile, reimprisonment and subsequent cooperation with the authorities. Devotion or selfishness? Perfect love or outright betrayal? Destiny or manipulation?

This is Morris’s second foray into the topic of LSD — his 2017 Netflix series Wormwood explored the use of the drug by the CIA.

“New” Philip Glass Music, Rediscovered After 50 Years

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts

In 1970, right in the middle of his minimalist period, Philip Glass composed a work called Music in Eight Parts. It was performed a few times and then lost to the sands of time.

It’s theorized that after Glass’s 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach landed the composer in a fair amount of debt, Glass was forced to sell a number of scores. In Glass’s archive, only fragmentary sketches of MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS remained as evidence of the piece’s existence. Glass “never intended this early music to last” and yet these pieces have ended up being some of his most appreciated. MUSIC IN EIGHT PARTS is immediately recognizable as being of Glass’s minimalist musical language in full stride and it is played with absolute mastery by the specialists of this repertoire.

The manuscript was rediscovered in 2017 and plans were made to perform the work in a series of European concerts. The pandemic intervened, so several members of the Philip Glass Ensemble each recorded their parts at home and they’ve released a recording online (Spotify, Apple Music).

You can see some of the individual recordings in the middle part of this video:

The cover art is by Sol LeWitt, who used to send Glass random $1000 checks. See also a writeup of the music in the NY Times, listen to a snippet of an archival performance of the piece from the 70s, and the manuscript itself, which sold at auction in 2017 for $43,750.

Philip Glass: Music In Eight Parts score

Knight Rider for 8 Cellos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2020

This is a video of the Knight Rider theme song arranged for 8 cellos by Samara Ginsberg. You’re either the type of person who can’t wait to click on a link that says “Knight Rider for 8 cellos” or you are not. When I was in college, a friend who DJ’d campus parties used to throw the Knight Rider theme on and people always went nuts for it. Because it BANGS.

Bill Gates’ Pandemic Summer Reading List

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

As he does every year, Bill Gates has shared his reading list for this summer. This time around, he’s included more than his usual five picks and many of the recommendations have a connection to the ongoing pandemic.

Of The Choice by Edith Eva Eger, he says:

This book is partly a memoir and partly a guide to processing trauma. Eger was only sixteen years old when she and her family got sent to Auschwitz. After surviving unbelievable horrors, she moved to the United States and became a therapist. Her unique background gives her amazing insight, and I think many people will find comfort right now from her suggestions on how to handle difficult situations.

He also recommends The Great Influenza by John Barry, Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, and The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe.

For years, I was a skeptic about meditation. Now I do it as often as I can — three times a week, if time allows. Andy’s book and the app he created, Headspace, are what made me a convert. Andy, a former Buddhist monk, offers lots of helpful metaphors to explain potentially tricky concepts in meditation. At a time when we all could use a few minutes to de-stress and re-focus each day, this is a great place to start.

Gates also recommended some TV shows and movies — Netflix’s Pandemic but also Ozark. He read Cloud Atlas recently — I wonder if he’s seen the movie by the Wachowskis (which is underrated IMO)?

Carly Rae Jepsen Uses My Silkscreen Font in a Promo Video

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

This morning, Carly Rae Jepsen released a new album called Dedicated Side B (stream here). Amidst rumors of fresh music, the pop star had been teasing fans with its release all week, including this video of a simulated chat posted to Twitter and Instagram yesterday.

Long-time readers will recognize that the chat text is displayed with typeface called Silkscreen, which I designed back in 1999, an era of small monitors and even smaller fonts.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Silkscreen Font

Back in the day, Britney Spears used Silkscreen on her website, and now it’s come (sorta) full circle with Jepsen. Silkscreen pops up here and there every few months, and I’m glad to see people are still getting some use out of it. It was retro when I made it and now its retro-ness is retro. Culture is fun! (thx to @desdakon for spotting this)

Dad, How Do I…?

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

When he was a kid, Rob Kenney had a rough family life and grew up without stable parents around to teach him how to do common household chores. He and his wife successfully raised two children and Kenney decided to use his parenting experience to help those who may be lacking parental guidance. He’s started a YouTube channel called “Dad, how do I?” that offers “practical ‘dadvice’ for every day tasks” like how to fix a running toilet, how to check the oil in your car, and how to shave your face.

My god, the dad joke he tells at the beginning of the running toilet video is just *chef’s kiss* perfect.

Nature By Numbers

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2020

This lovely short film by Cristóbal Vila shows how the simple Fibonacci sequence manifests itself in natural forms like sunflowers, nautilus shells, and dragonfly wings.

See also Arthur Benjamin’s TED Talk on the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio and the Fibonacci Shelf. (via @stevenstrogatz)

Beastie Boys Videos Remastered in HD

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

In celebration of the documentary Beastie Boys Story coming out, the Beastie Boys and their record label have remastered dozens of the group’s music videos in HD and uploaded them to YouTube. The videos include heavy-hitters like Sabotage and (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!) but also some more obscure stuff as well. Check out the entire remastered playlist here.

Solving the “The Miracle Sudoku”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

Every once in a while during my internet travels, I run across something like this video: something impossibly mundane and niche (a ~26-minute video of someone solving a sudoku puzzle) that turns out to be ludicrously entertaining. I cannot improve upon Ben Orlin’s description:

You’re about to spend the next 25 minutes watching a guy solve a Sudoku. Not only that, but it’s going to be the highlight of your day.

The solver himself calls it “a work of sublime genius” and “one of the most extraordinary puzzles we’ve ever seen”. It’s fascinating listening to him slowly uncover different aspects of the puzzle — watching him methodically figure out the 3s was genuinely thrilling. And the symmetry thing at the end…

If you fancy yourself a sudoku master, you can try solving the puzzle yourself here (keeping in mind the special chess-related rules laid out in the video). (via @robinsloan)

A Very Short Guide to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2020

In this charming little film (that feels very Wes Andersonian), we get to visit the Union Glacier Camp in West Antarctica, see what life is like there, and meet the people who run it. The camp is situated next to a blue-ice runway (which makes the area accessible to large aircraft) and serves as the jumping-off point for many kinds of activities, projects, and expeditions.

Union Glacier Camp is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. Our full-service private camp operates during the Antarctic summer (November through January) and is dismantled at the end of each season. Our camp not only provides accommodations to guests on guided experiences but also serves as a logistics hub, supporting private expeditions and National Antarctic Programs.

I love the grid of tents for guests.

We can house up to 70 guests in our dual occupancy Clam Tents. These double-walled sleeping tents are designed to withstand Antarctic conditions with a high-tech nylon covering and durable aluminum frame that opens up like a clam shell. They are also incredibly comfortable to live in with large doors and a tall interior that allows you to stand upright and move around easily (16 ft x 8 ft or 5 m x 2.4 m). Tents are naturally heated by the 24-hour sunlight up to 60^0-70^0F (15^0-21^0C) but also have a wooden floor underneath to provide insulation from the snow and solid footing. Each guest is provided with a cot, mattress, pillow, linens, towels, and wash basin.

Tourist trips to Union Glacier start at $26,000 for six days.