Animations Show the Melting Arctic Sea Ice, and What the Earth Would Look Like When All of the Ice Melts

It’s no secret that climate change has been taking a toll on the Arctic. But it’s one thing to read about it, another thing to see it in action. Above you can watch an animation narrated by NASA’s cryospheric scientist Dr. Walt Meier. Documenting changes between 1984 and 2016, the animation lets you see the Arctic sea ice shrinking. As the important perennial sea ice diminishes, the remaining ice cover “almost looks gelatinous as it pulses through the seasons.” For anyone interested, an updated version of this visualization can be downloaded in HD here.

If you’re curious what this could all lead to–well, you can also watch a harrowing video that models what would happen when all the ice melts and the seas rise some 216 feet. It isn’t pretty. The video below is based on the 2013 National Geographic story, “What the World Would Look Like if All the Ice Melted.”

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Stanford Researchers Discover a Smarter Way to Prepare for Exams: Introducing MetaCognition, the Art of Thinking About Your Thinking

Early in the second season of Noah Hawley’s excellent Fargo series, one of the gruff, laconic Gerhardt brothers shakes his head during a tense crime family moment and mutters sagely, “know thyself.” Challenged to produce the quotation’s source, he says, with irritated self-assurance, “It’s in the Bible.” The quote does have an ancient origin—maybe the temple of Apollo at Delphi, maybe the temple court at Luxor—and it’s an idea that reappears in every philosophical system from age to age. Even if the self doesn’t really exist, some thinkers have reasoned, we should still study it.

These days, psychologists call a certain kind of self-knowledge “metacognition,” a new word for what they recognize, Jennifer Livingston notes, as a concept that has been around “for as long as humans have been able to reflect on their cognitive experiences.” Developmental psychologist John Flavell used the term in 1979 to refer specifically to “how human beings learn and process information, as well as individual knowledge of one’s own learning processes.” Often defined as “thinking about thinking,” megacognition involves knowing what conditions best enable concentration and memory retention, for example, and practicing it can immensely improve study skills and academic achievement.




A new study published in Psychological Science by Stanford psychology researchers has validated the idea with experimental data. In two different experiments, students in a control group studied for exams in their ordinary way. Those in another group received an exercise called “Strategic Resource Use.” “They were asked,” Stanford News reports, to think about what might be on the exam, “and then strategize what kinds of resources they would use to study most effectively.” Then they reflected on “why each resource they chose would be useful” and how they planned on using them. It may seem like seriously front-loading a study session, but the intervention paid off. Students who got it scored on average a third of a letter grade higher than those who didn’t.

Postdoctoral fellow Patricia Chen, the study’s main author, undertook the experiment when she noticed that many of her own students genuinely worked hard but felt frustrated by the results. “Describe to me how you studied for the exam,” she began asking them. After conducting the metacognition studies, Chen concluded that “actively self-reflecting on the approaches that you are taking fosters a strategic stance that is really important in life. Strategic thinking distinguishes between people of comparable ability and effort. This can make the difference between people who achieve and people who have the potential to achieve, but don’t.”

Thinking about your thinking can’t make all the difference, of course, but the effect is dramatic among groups in relatively similar circumstances. An Australian study of 2000 Ph.D. students discovered a close correlation between “how they thought about the learning process,” notes Big Think, and “their successes and failures in achieving their degrees.” A broader study in Britain that accounted for class differences evaluated Year 6 and 7 students in 23 primary schools. In eleven of these schools, students were instructed in something called “Self-Regulated Strategy Development”—a means of consciously monitoring the writing techniques they used in assignments: “Overall,” the authors write, “the project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes,” especially among “pupils eligible for free school meals.”

Each of these studies necessitated methods of teaching self-regulation and metacognition, and each one formulated its own pedagogy. The British study specially trained a group of Year 6 teachers. “Part of the appeal of Chen’s approach,” writes Jenny Anderson at Quartz, “is its simplicity: any student, teacher or even parent could use it.” And one might reasonably assume that anyone could teach it to themselves. For parents and teachers of struggling students, Chen offers some straightforward advice. Rather than suggesting more study time and resources, first “Look at the way they are doing things. Do you think they could have gone about it in a better way?” As nearly every ancient philosopher would affirm, we better ourselves not by acquiring more, but by understanding and using wisely what we already have to work with.

via Stanford News

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear 4+ Hours of Jazz Noir: A Soundtrack for Strolling Under Street Lights on Foggy Nights

Image from The Big Combo, via Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays few crowds seem less likely to harbor criminal intent than the ones gathered to listen to jazz, but seventy, eighty years ago, American culture certainly didn’t see it that way. Back then, jazz accompanied the life of urban outsiders: those who dabbled in forbidden substances and forbidden activities, those influenced by the alien morality of Europe or even farther-away lands, those belonging to feared and mistreated social groups. That image stuck as much or even more firmly to jazz musicians as it did to jazz listeners, and when a new cinematic genre arose specifically to tell stories of urban outsiders — the lowlifes, the anti heroes, the femmes fatales — jazz provided the ideal soundtrack.

“Jazz dominates assumptions about the music used in film noir,” write Andre Spicer and Helen Hanson in A Companion to Film Noir, “and it is particularly prevalent in contemporary references to and recreations of film noir.”




And “although the number of films noir to employ jazz in their scores was relatively small, it was still notable in terms of the overall use of jazz in Hollywood films of the era — if jazz was an integral part of a film’s score then those productions tended to be films noir or social problem films.” The music first crept in diegetically, in the 1940s, by way of “club scenes, illicit jazz sessions, or on record players and jukeboxes,” and later, in the 50s, continued its “established association of sex and violence” even as changing attitudes “contributed to jazz being more acceptable in Hollywood films.”

A few years ago we featured classic works of “crime jazz” by Miles Davis, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and others, all meant to set the scene for the lawless worlds of films and television shows like Anatomy of a Murder, Elevator to the Gallows, Peter Gunn, and The M Squad. The two playlists we have for you today take a wider view, collecting more than four hours of “jazz noir” on Spotify (if you don’t have Spotify’s software, you can download it here). It features tracks by Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Benny Golson, Tom Waits and more. While listening — maybe with the lights dimmed, maybe with your preferred highball in hand — you might consider browsing the r/jazznoir, an entire subreddit dedicated to this “mysterious, melancholy and menacing music by swingin’ sax men and sultry sirens for hardboiled hepcats and leggy lookers,” this “late-night listening for luckless losers, and the soundtrack to strolls under street lights on foggy nights.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

“A Brief History of Goths”: From the Goths, to Gothic Literature, to Goth Music

The history of the word ‘Gothic,’” argues Dan Adams in the short, animated TED-Ed video above,” is embedded in thousands of years’ worth of countercultural movements.” It’s a provocative, if not entirely accurate, idea. We would hardly call an invading army of Germanic tribes a “counterculture.” In fact, when the Goths sacked Rome and deposed the Western Emperor, they did, at first, retain the dominant culture. But the Gothic has always referred to an oppositional force, a Dionysian counterweight to a rational, classical order.

We know the various versions: the Germanic instigators of the “Dark Ages,” early Christian architectural marvels, Romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, horror films, and gloomy, black-clad post punks and their moody teenage fans. Aside from obvious references like Bauhaus’ tongue-in-cheek ode, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” the connective tissue between all the uses of Gothic isn’t especially evident. “What do fans of atmospheric post-punk music,” asks Adams, “have in common with ancient barbarians?” The answer: not much. But the story that joins them involves some strange convergences, all of them having to do with the idea of “darkness.”




Two significant figures in the evolution of the Gothic as a consciously-defined aesthetic were both art historians. The first, Giorgio Vasari—considered the first art historian—wrote biographies of great Renaissance artists, and first used the term Gothic to refer to medieval cathedrals, which he saw as barbarous next to the neoclassical revival of the 14th-16th centuries. (Vasari was also the first to use the term “Renaissance” to describe his own period.) Two hundred years after Vasari’s Lives, art historian, antiquarian, and Whig politician Horace Walpole appropriated the term Gothic to describe The Castle of Otranto, his 1765 novel that started a literary trend.

Walpole also used the term to refer to art of the distant past, particularly the ruins of castles and cathedrals, with an eye toward the supposedly exotic, menacing aspects (for Protestant English readers at least) of the Catholic church and Continental European nobility. But for him, the associations were positive, and constituted a kitschy escape from Enlightenment rationalism. We have Walpole to thank, in some sense, for ersatz celebrations like Renaissance Fairs and Medieval Times restaurants, and for later Gothic novels like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the weird tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

We can see that it’s a rather short leap from classic horror stories and films to the dark makeup, teased hair, fog machines, and swirling atmospherics of The Cure and Siouxsie Sioux. In the history of the Gothic, especially between Vasari and Walpole, the word moves from a term of abuse—describing art thought to be “crude and inferior”—to one that describes art forms considered mysterious, and darkly Romantic. For another take on the subject, see Pitchfork’s  music-focused, animated, and  “surprisingly light-hearted” short, “A Brief History of Goth,” above, a presentation on the subculture’s rise, fall, and undead rise again.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Library of Congress Makes 25 Million Records From Its Catalog Free to Download

Image by Carol Highsmith, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick fyi: According to Fortune, The Library of Congress announced that it “will make 25 million records from its catalog available for the public to download.” They add:

Prior to this, the records—which include books and serials, music and manuscripts, and maps and visual materials spanning from 1968 to 2014—have only been accessible through a paid subscription. These files will be available for free download on [the Library of Congress site] and are also available on data.gov.

This move helps free up the library’s digital assets, allowing social scientists, data analysts, developers, statisticians and everyone else to work with the data “to enhance learning and the formation of new knowledge.” The huge data sets will be available here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you’d like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Fortune

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A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube

It may seem like a dubious honor to belong to a select group that includes some of my favorite creative people: art school dropouts. But while a failed endeavor can be painful, many a dropout learns that the experience is valuable not only because failures can fuel future success, but also because the skills, techniques, and ways of thinking one picks up in the first, “boot camp,” year of art school are widely applicable to every creative endeavor.

My favorite art school class was simply called “Foundations.” As the name implies, it dealt exclusively with basic materials and techniques—for joining, painting, sculpting, building, etc. One learns to think of large, complicated, potentially overwhelming projects of as reducible in some sense to materials and techniques. What am I working with? What is the nature of this material and what are the best ways to shape it? What does it want to become?




These are practical, fundamental questions artists ask themselves, no matter how big or high concept their ideas. These days, the materials are likely to be more virtual than physical, or some creative mixture of the two. Still, similar considerations apply, as well as the basic skills of using color, perspective, shadow, and line effectively. In the free video tutorials here, you can learn many of those skills without attending, or dropping out, of art school. They may not provide a complete arts education, but they offer high quality lessons for artists needing to supplement or refresh their skill sets.

At the top, Ahmed Aldoori explains the color wheel and color palettes in Photoshop. In other videos on his YouTube channel, he gives tips on drawing hands (a particular challenge for every artist), artist anatomy, digital painting, and more. Another channel, Draw with Chris, offers free and premium content for both digital and traditional artists, such as the long video on shading technique above. He also has a popular two part series on life drawing (part 1part 2).

For artists and animators interested in “semi realistic, manga, and anime style characters, environments, and concept art,” the Lapuka channel features many free short videos on the basics, such as their short intro to “1,2, and 3 point perspective” above. Other videos teach “Multiplying and scaling in 1 point perspective,” “Cutting in 1 point perspective,” “Drawing with a mouse,” and rendering certain popular anime characters.

All of these tutorials come from a list compiled by Deviantart user DamaiMikaz, who has helpfully divided several dozen YouTube instructional series into categories like “Art Fundamentals,” “Tutorial & How to,” “Digital art software,” “Traditional Art,” and others. Whether you’re an aspiring artist, dabbling amateur, working professional, or an art school dropout picking the craft back up, you’ll find what you need here. Know of any other free video resources not listed in this archive? Let us and our readers know in the comments and we’ll add the primo picks to the list.

Below find the list created by DamaiMikaz:

Art fundamentals

People that teach you the fundamentals of art. Anatomy, color, perspective, etc
Ahmed Aldoori
CG Cookie Concept

Tutorial & How to

How to’s and tutorials on various subjects
Ahmed Aldoori
Art of Wei
Art Prof

Brushboost
CG Cookie Concept
DRAW with Chris
Draw with Jazza
Drawing Tutorials Online
FZDSCHOOL
Happy D. Artist
Imagine FX
Istebrak
Javi can draw!
Jesus Conde
Kienan Lafferty
LevelUp
My Drawing Tutorials
Proko
Sinix Design
Sycra
The Art of Aaron Blaise
The Drawfee Channel
Tyler Edlin
Will Terrell
Xia Taptara

Digital art software

Channels geared towards creating effects in digital art software
digitalfxcube
PHLEARN
Photoshop Training Channel

Traditional art

Channels doing traditional art
agnescecile
Baylee Jae
Happy D. Artist
James Gurney
Lachri Fine Art
Michael James Smith
Robin Clonts
Sara Tepes
Stanley Artgerm Lau
Super Ani
Zimou Tan

Manga / Anime

Channels geared towards drawing manga/anime style 
markcrilley
Nuei Neko
Sycra
Whyt Manga

Timelapse paintings

Just stare in awe
agnescecile
Alice X. Zhang
Apterus Graphics
Asuka111 Art
Atey Ghailan
axel torvenius
BrotherBaston
Brushboost
Chris Cold
Concept Art Sessions
Daniel Wachter
Draw With Rydi
FZDSCHOOL
Ilya Kuvshinov
Ilya Tyljakov
James Gurney
Jesus Conde
Jordan Grimmer
Kienan Lafferty
Kim-Seang Hong
Kiwa
LevelUp
Lina Sidorova
Nuei Neko
Peixel
saejinoh
Sara Tepes
Scott Robertson
SpoonfishLee
Stanley Artgerm Lau
Super Ani
Xia Taptara
zephyo
Zimou Tan

Critique’s & Overpaints

People painting over other people’s painting. Great to get insight
Ahmed Aldoori
Art Prof
BORODANTE
CG Cookie Concept
FZDSCHOOL
Istebrak

via Metafilter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Visit a New Digital Archive of 2.2 Million Images from the First Hundred Years of Photography

Interested in photography? You’re in the right place. Over the years, we’ve compiled free classes on digital photography, hundreds of photography lectures, courses on photography appreciation, and documentaries on famous greats like Alfred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. You can learn the history of photography in “five animated minutes,” see the venerable art of tintype recreated, and visit archives from the Soviet Union, the collection of George Eastman, and the work of pioneering motion photographer Eadweard Muybridge (animated in 93 GIFs).

Still not enough? How about a digital library of 2.2 million images from the history of photography? Europeana Collections just launched its “latest thematic collection,” Europeana Photography, which, notes Douglas McCarthy at the site’s blog, “includes images and documents from 50 European institutions in 34 different countries.”




Stunning landscapes like that of Muybridge’s Loya: Valley of the Yosemite, above, and work from other innovators like Julia Margaret Cameron, below, represent highlights of the archive’s digital scans from the first 100 years of photography.

The collection promises, “future exhibitions on specific themes… telling compelling stories with stunning images.” Currently, you’ll find there themed “expositions” like “Industrial Photography in the Machine Age” and “Vintage Postcards of Southeastern Europe,” among others. A gallery on “The Magic Lantern” offers a tour of a pre-cinema entertainment technology. One on photographer Johan Wilhelm Weimar introduces viewers to incredibly striking work from his 1901 Herbarium.

The collection is searchable, downloadable, shareable, and you can choose from 23 different languages, including English. Its mission is international, but also very much built on the idea—some might say political fiction—of a culturally unified Europe, allowing people to “connect with their past, with fellow European citizens, explore remote eras and locations, and better appreciate the value of their continental, national and local cultural heritage.”

Lofty goals, but one need no such larger purpose to simply enjoy casually browsing, and making the kind of odd discoveries one might on a continental walking tour, with no particular destination in mind.

Visit the Europeana Photography archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Famous Paintings Inspired Cinematic Shots in the Films of Tarantino, Gilliam, Hitchcock & More: A Big Supercut

It’s no accident that one of the best-known series of cinema-analyzing video essays bears the title Every Frame a Painting. When describing the height of film’s visual potential, we often draw metaphors from art history, but the relationship also goes in another direction: more often than we might think, the filmmakers and their collaborators looked to the canvases of the masters for inspiration in the first place. In this trilogy of short video essays, “Film Meets Art,” “Film Meets Art II,” and “Film Meets Art III,” Vugar Efendi highlights some of the most striking paintings-turned-shots in the work of, among other auteurs, Alfred Hitchcock, Terry Gilliam, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Efendi, writes Slate’s Madeline Raynor in a post on the second installment, “places shots from films side by side with the paintings that inspired them. And once you see the pairings, you won’t be able to unsee them. Some of these are unmistakable references — like Jean-Luc Godard’s ode to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres — while others are more subtle.




Filmmakers have been recreating paintings since the days of silent film: the video’s earliest example is 1927’s Metropolis.” More recent instances include Alex Colville’s To Prince Edward Island in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. While perhaps too obvious for inclusion into these essays, Wim Wenders once satirized this process with a movie-within-a-movie recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in The End of Violence.

Which painters do filmmakers most often turn to for material? Efendi’s visual essays show us a fair few memorable and varied uses of Hopper, whose paintings possess a cinematic atmosphere of their own, and also Magritte, possibly because his dreamlike sensibility aligns well with that of cinema itself: L’empire des lumières in William Friedkin’s The ExorcistLa Robe du soir in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (winner of last year’s Best Picture Oscar), and Architecture au clair de Lune in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Weir’s work makes another appearance in the essays in the form of Picnic at Hanging Rock, a haunting film based on a haunting novel written in part out of fascination with a haunting painting, William Ford’s At the Hanging Rock — whose imagery then made it back into the screen adaptation. It seems that art, be it on canvas, film, or some medium yet unimagined, tells the story of civilization in more ways than one.

via Slate and h/t Natalie

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Lou Reed Creates a List of the 10 Best Records of All Time

If you want to write, most every writer will tell you, you’ve got to read, read, read, and read. “Read more than you write,” advises Teju Cole. Even great filmmakers like Werner Herzog and Akira Kurasawa cite copious reading as a prerequisite for their primarily visual medium. But what about music? What advice might we hope to receive about the art of writing memorable, culturally significant songs? Listen, listen, listen, and listen, perhaps.

One of the greatest of rock and roll greats, Lou Reed, had overt literary ambitions, formed during his years as an English major at Syracuse University, where he studied under poet Delmore Schwartz. “Hubert Selby, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Delmore Schwartz,” he once told Spin, “To be able to achieve what they did, in such little space, using such simple words. I thought if you could do what those writers did and put it to drums and guitar, you’d have the greatest thing on earth.”




Thematically, Reed accomplished this, bringing the same violence, tenderness, and streetwise decadence to his work as his literary heroes did to theirs. But formally, he drew on another battery of influences: classic soul, doo wop, rhythm and blues, folk, jazz, and early rock and roll. Cribbing from all these genres during his long career, Reed displayed a seemingly effortless mastery of archetypal American pop music.

Unlike Leonard Cohen—another literary songwriter drawn to life’s darker themes—Reed did not leave college and start publishing poetry. In 1964, he moved to New York to begin work as an in-house songwriter for Pickwick Records, soaking up the music around him through his pores, transmuting it into his own warped take on early hits like his dance craze, “The Ostrich,” which included the line “put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it.”

As weird as Reed was even then, he wrote immensely catchy tunes and eventually inspired several thousand punk, post-punk, alternative, and indie songwriters with the novel idea that one could make dangerous, shocking music with simple, catchy—even bubblegum—melodies. Perhaps no one had as great an effect on post-60s rock, but Reed’s own influences drew solidly from the fifties and before, as partially evidenced in his own hand, in a scrawled list of “best albums of all time,” which he submitted for a 1999 magazine interview.

1. Change of the Century—Ornette Coleman
2. Tilt—Scott Walker / Belle—Al Green / Anything by Jimmy Scott
3. Blood on the Tracks—Bob Dylan
4. Little Richard’s Specialty Series
5. Hank Williams’ Singles
6. Harry Smith Anthology
7. Does Your House Have Lions—Roland Kirk
8. “Stay with Me Baby”—Lorraine Ellison
9. “Mother“—John Lennon
10.”Oh Superman“—Laurie Anderson & United States

The list, transcribed above, includes the three-volume Specialty Sessions at number 4, a comprehensive omnibus of Little Richard hits. Below it is Hank Williams’ 3-disc singles collection, and further down, at twice the size, Harry Smith’s enormous Anthology of American Folk Music. By far, the bulk of Reed’s suggestions saw release before he ever put pen to paper and came up with “The Ostrich.” We’re just peeking into the sixties with Ornette Colemans’ Change of the Century, at number one.

But you’ll also note that, tied at number two with Al Green’s Belle and “Anything by Jimmy Scott” (making his list of ten come out to 13), we have Scott Walker’s bizarre, experimental 1995 masterpiece Tilt (hear “Farmer in the City” further up), a return from oblivion for the reclusive sixties crooner and an album, writes Allmusic, “on a plateau somewhere between Nico’s Marble Index and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.” Ever modest (he once claimed, “my bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds”), Reed was acutely aware of his own pivotal place in 20th century music, though he does refrain from listing one of his own records. He ends instead with the pulsing, trance-like single “Oh Superman,” by his romantic and musical partner, Laurie Anderson.

Who knows how seriously Reed took this assignment, given how much he could be “circumspect about the materials and methods of his art” in his often confrontational public statements. That same year, VH1 polled several journalists and “esteemed musicians,” writes the music channel, on their choice of the 100 greatest songs of rock and roll. “Naturally we approached Reed, who sent his choices back via fax. In true iconoclast form, instead of listing out his 100 favorite songs, he picked just eight.” Only two of the artists from his top ten appear here: Lorraine Ellison and Al Green. See his hand-written ballot above, and the eight songs listed below.

1. “Stay With Me” by Lorraine Ellison
2.“Outcast” by Eddie and Ernie
3. “Lovin’ You Too Long” by Otis Redding
4. “River Deep Mountain High” by Ike & Tina Turner
5. + 6. “Georgia Boy” and “Belle” by Al Green
7. “That’s Alright Mama” by Elvis Presley
8. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Peebles

via @LouReed

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meet Yasuke, Japan’s First Black Samurai Warrior

“His name was Yasuke. His height was 6 shaku 2 sun” — roughly six feet, two inches — “he was black, and his skin was like charcoal.” Those words come from the 16th-century samurai Matsudaira Ietada, and they describe one of his colleagues. Though we don’t know much detail about his life itself, we do know that there once lived a black samurai called Yasuke, a version of the name he had in Africa, probably the then Portuguese Mozambique. Brought to Japan in 1579 by an Italian Jesuit named Alessandro Valignano on a mission-inspection tour, Yasuke’s appearance in the capital drew so much attention that thrilled onlookers clambered over one another to get so much as a glimpse at this strange visitor with his unfathomable stature and skin tone.

“His celebrity status soon piqued the curiosity of Oda Nobunaga, a medieval Japanese warlord who was striving to unify Japan and bring peace to a country racked by civil war,” writes Ozy’s Leslie Nguyen-Okwu. “Nobunaga praised Yasuke’s strength and stature, describing ‘his might as that of 10 men,’ and brought him on as his feudal bodyguard.”




As many foreigners in Japan still discover today, the foreigner’s outsider status there also has its benefits: “Nobunaga grew fond of Yasuke and treated him like family as he earned his worth on the battlefield and on patrol at Azuchi Castle. In less than a year, Yasuke went from being a lowly page to joining the upper echelons of Japan’s warrior class, the samurai. Before long, Yasuke was speaking Japanese fluently and riding alongside Nobunaga in battle.”

The legend of Yasuke ends soon after, in 1582, with Nobunaga’s fall at the hands of one of his own generals. That resulted in the first and only black samurai’s exile, probably to a Jesuit mission in Kyoto, but Yasuke has lived on in the imaginations of the last few generations of Japanese readers, all of whom grew up with the award-winning children’s book Kuro-suke (kuro meaning “black” in Japanese) by Kurusu Yoshio. This illustrated version of Yasuke’s life story, though told with humor, ends, according to a site about the book, on a bittersweet note: the defeated “Nobunaga kills himself, and Kuro-suke is saved and sent to Namban temple. When he sleeps that night, he dreams of his parents in Africa. Kuro-suke cries silently.”

What the story of Yasuke lacks in thorough historical documentation (though you can see a fair few pieces briefly cited on the site of this documentary project) it more than makes up in fascination, and somehow Hollywood, nearly fifteen years after Tom Cruise’s high-profile turn as a white samurai, has only just awoken to its potential. In March,  Hollywood Reporter announced that the film studio Lionsgate “has tapped Highlander creator Gregory Widen to script Black Samurai,” a “period action drama” based on the Yasuke legend. Widen’s considerable experience in the outsider-with-sword genre makes him an understandable choice, but one has to wonder — shouldn’t Quentin Tarantino’s phone be ringing off the hook right about now?

via Ozy

Related Content:

Female Samurai Warriors Immortalized in 19th Century Japanese Photos

Hand-Colored 1860s Photographs Reveal the Last Days of Samurai Japan

Legendary Japanese Author Yukio Mishima Muses About the Samurai Code (Which Inspired His Hapless 1970 Coup Attempt)

A Hypnotic Look at How Japanese Samurai Swords Are Made

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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