Free: Hear 24 Hours of Noam Chomsky’s Lectures & Talks on the Powers That Subvert Our Democracies

Noam Chomsky is optimistic. Yes, the world seems to teeter on the brink of… well, name your dystopian scenario, but Noam Chomsky is optimistic. The same Chomsky who, for decades, has sought to show the myriad ways our most revered institutions are largely sham operations behind which powerful elites conduct secret wars, propaganda campaigns, environmental destruction, and concerted efforts to defraud the people and disable democratic processes… well, he tells us, in a recent interview with James Resnick, that we too “can be very optimistic. Things like this have happened before and they’ve been overcome.”

By “things like this,” the renowned linguist and anarchist political philosopher specifically means astounding levels of wealth inequality and the ascendency, once again, of far-right extremism in Europe and the U.S., a phenomenon he first observed in the years prior to World War II. Chomsky began his career of social and political critique in 1938 at the age of 10, “writing articles for the school newspaper on the rise of fascism in Europe and the threats to the world as I saw them.”

He went on to completely revolutionize the field of linguistics, an achievement that, stunningly, can seem secondary to his political writing and activism, given the sheer number of his books, essays, interviews, and speeches critical of state power, war, and media manipulation over the past several decades. (Some of his books you can read free online here.) I suppose if Chomsky weren’t something of an optimist, he would have given up a long time ago. He tells Resnik what keeps him going:

The things I consider inspiring is seeing people struggling: poor suffering people, with limited resources, struggling to really achieve anything. Some of them are very inspiring. For example, a remote very poor village in southern Colombia organizing to try to prevent a Canadian gold-mining operation from destroying their water supply and the environment; meanwhile, fending off para-military and military violence and so on. That kind of thing which you see all over the world is very inspiring.

Are you inspired? Maybe it depends on how many of these grassroots struggles you’ve witnessed. The worldwide, ground-level resistance Chomsky describes—and refers to again and again in his political work—is largely hidden from us, by a mass media that sees no dollar value in it, or perhaps obscures it for more sinister reasons. As Chomsky has argued since the sixties—most comprehensively in his 1988 Manufacturing Consent with Edward S. Herman—the campaigns of war and economic depredation conducted by the West against minorities, indigenous people, and small nations around the world mostly occur with the consent of Western people: a consent manufactured by a massive propaganda operation called the Free Press.

His position should not sound especially controversial to anyone who has paid the least bit of attention in the last few years. The seeming collusion of respected news organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times in the push for the second Iraq War led to well over a decade of post-hoc introspection by journalists. Recent months have seen those same organs—for perhaps more baldly profit-seeking motives—provide a couple of billion dollars-worth of free PR for Donald Trump, a candidate who has on multiple occasions threatened to retaliate against the press for any criticism, and who recently revoked the Post’s credentials to cover his events. (A recent Harvard study concluded that during this protracted, ugly primary season, "the press became [Trump's] dependable if unwitting ally.")

As in these examples, the role of the British press in spreading fear and misinformation prior to this month’s Brexit vote has become its own significant story. We constantly see the press turning in agonized circles, trying to come to grips with its complicity in pushing various agendas. Whether or not mainstream media organizations take direct orders from government bodies or economic elites, they accede to the interests of the powerful all the same, and they wield enormous influence over a voting public who depend upon them for information. The situation presents a serious problem for the health of a functioning democracy, which itself depends upon an informed and educated electorate.

But as Chomsky has often argued---drawing as always on primary sources and directly quoting the West’s most influential political philosophers, policy architects, and business leaders---elites since the 17th and 18th centuries have intentionally thwarted the ability of the public to make informed decisions, and have shut the populace out of the most important decision-making processes. As he wrote in his 1999 critique of Neoliberalism, Profit Over People, "the general population must be excluded entirely from the economic arena, where what happens in the society is largely determined. Here the public is to have no role, according to prevailing democratic theory."

Chomsky follows this line of reasoning in his talk “When Elites Fail,” at the top of the post, delivered as the keynote address for the Ecoconvergence Conference in Portland, Oregon in 2009. You can also hear this talk, along with 19 others, in the Spotify playlist just above---a total of 24 hours of Chomskyan social, political, and economic analysis, delivered by the man himself in his calm, measured, understated way. (If you need Spotify's free software, download it here.) Chomsky addresses "The Tyranny of Corporations," the "U.S. Media as Propaganda System," "Politics and Language," "Iraq: The Forever War," and more---levying criticisms against the systems of power, whether Republican, Democratic, or international, that doggedly seek to increase their domains and, in the approving words of James Madison, to "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority."

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

And Now for Some Culinary Weirdness: Christopher Walken Shows You How to Cook Chicken & Pears

I don’t need to be made to look evil. I can do that on my own. 

- Christopher Walken

Five years ago, actor Christopher Walken casually shared a simple recipe for roast chicken with pears, above. The lighting was amateur, his implements fairly utilitarian, and, much to my gratification, he couldn't keep his cat off the counter, either.

His improvised patter was as nonchalant as his handling of his ingredients. Undeterred, legions of fans still found plenty of Walken-esque quotes with which to spice up the video's comments section.

Chalk it up to the dozens of soft spoken, seriously unhinged characters on which this actor's reputation rests. It’s painfully easy to imagine a rival gang member or law enforcement official lashed to a chair just off camera, squirming in terror as Walken pauses to appreciate the “little cookies” the caramelized pears leave behind on the bottom of his pan.

Whatever he's planning to do to this imaginary unfortunate, one hopes it won't involve flaps of skin and a vertical poultry roaster.

As to the recipe, it’s as delicious as it is innocuous. Try it!

If you're feeling less than adventurous, you can decrease the creep factor by replicating the shoot with a grandfatherly gent of your choosing prior to serving. (Anyone who’s not Christopher Walken will do.)

If you’re looking for further serving suggestions, the comedy channel Funny or Die revisited the dish in 2012, pairing it with salad, seafood melange, red wine, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Richard Belzer, and two heavily made up assistants who appear to be on loan from Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video.

Things get cooking with a visit to the Byzantine Stew Leonard’s supermarket, and end with a cell phone pic of Walken’s nose. There’s a live mandolin serenade and the kitchen seems vastly more expensive, but I found myself missing the homey sense of foreboding created by the original.

Still, one can never go wrong with poultry and pears.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

What Does “Kafkaesque” Really Mean? A Short Animated Video Explains

We derive adjectives from great writers’ names meant to encapsulate entire philosophies or modes of expression. We have the Homeric, the Shakespearean, the Joycean, etc. Two such adjectives that seem to apply most to our contemporary condition sadly express much darker, more cramped visions than these: “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque.” These adjectives also---suggests writer Noah Tavlin---name two of the most misunderstood of authorial visions. In a TEDEd video last year, Tavlin attempted to clear up confusion about the “Orwellian,” a term that’s tossed around by pundits like a political Frisbee.

Tavlin returns in the video above to explain the meaning of “Kafkaesque,” a less-abused descriptor but one we still may not fully appreciate. He begins with a brief summary of Kafka’s novel The Trial, in which “K, the protagonist, is arrested out of nowhere and made to go through a bewildering process where neither the cause of his arrest nor the nature of the judicial proceedings are made clear to him.” The scenario is “considered so characteristic of Kafka’s work” that scholars use the term "Kafkaesque" to describe it. Kafkaesque has become evocative of all “unnecessarily complicated and frustrating experiences, like being forced to navigate labyrinths of bureaucracy.”

But the word is much richer than such casual usage as describing a trip to the DMV.

Tavlin references Kafka’s short story “Poseiden,” in which the god of the sea can neither explore nor enjoy his realm because he is buried under mountains of paperwork. In truth, he is “a prisoner of his own ego,” unwilling to delegate because he sees his underlings as unworthy of the task. This story, Tavlin argues, “contains all of the elements that make for a truly Kafkaesque scenario."

It’s not the absurdity of bureaucracy alone, but the irony of the character’s circular reasoning in reaction to it, that is emblematic of Kafka’s writing. His tragicomic stories act as a form of mythology for the modern industrial age, employing dream logic to explore the relationships between systems of arbitrary power and the individuals caught up in them.

Tavlin refers to The Metamorphosis and “A Hunger Artist” as further examples of how Kafka’s characters overcomplicate their own lives through their fanatical, singular devotion to absurd conditions.

But as Tavlin admits later in the video, the bewildering mechanisms of power in stories such as The Trial also “point to something much more sinister”---the idea that arcane bureaucracies become self-perpetuating and operate independently of the people supposedly in power, who are themselves reduced to functionaries of mysterious, unaccountable forces. Tavlin quotes Hannah Arendt, who studied the totalitarian nightmares Kafka presciently foresaw, and wrote of “tyranny without a tyrant.” More recently, philosopher Manuel De Landa has theorized increasingly complex, impersonal systems operating with little need for human intervention. His War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, for example, imagines modern warfare as the evolving operations of more-or-less self-organizing weapons systems. Theorists frequently observe that the speed of technological advancement now proceeds at such a dizzyingly exponential rate that it will soon surpass our ability to control or understand it at all. Perhaps, as Tesla’s Elon Musk suggests, we ourselves are no more than operations in a complex system, simulated beings inside a computer program.

But scenarios like De Landa’s and Musk’s are also not the Kafkaesque, for these theorists of modern technocracy lack a key feature of Kafka’s vision—his dark, tragicomic, absurdist sense of humor, which permeates even his bleakest visions. On the one hand, Tavlin says, we “rely on increasingly convoluted systems of administration” and find ourselves judged and ruled over “by people we can’t see according to rules we don’t know”---a situation bound to provoke profound anxiety and psychological distress. On the other hand, Kafka’s attention to the absurd, “reflects our shortcomings back at ourselves,” reminding us that “the world we live in is one we created.” I’m not so sure, as Tavlin concludes, that Kafka believed we have the “power to change for the better” the overcomplicated systems we barely understand. Kafka’s comic vision, I think, ultimately partakes in what Miguel de Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life.” But he does not fully deny his characters all freedom of choice, even if they frequently have no idea what it is they’re choosing between or why.

Note: You can download essential works by Franz Kafka as free audiobooks if you sign up for a 30-Day Free Trial with Audible. You get two free audiobooks with each trial. Find more information on that program here.

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

A Wonderful Archive of Historic Transit Maps: Expressive Art Meets Precise Graphic Design

transit 1

Anyone who loves cities almost certainly loves transit maps: for well over a century, they've not only played an essential role in the navigation of urban spaces but developed into their very own distinctive form at the intersection of utility and aesthetics. The finest examples simultaneously possess the clarity and information-richness of the best graphic design and hold out promises of excitement and modernity that require a true artistic sensibility to properly express. None of this is lost on Cameron Booth, the Australian graphic designer living in Portland, Oregon who runs the site Transit Maps.

Transit 2

"A well designed transit map conveys a lot of information in a very small space," writes Booth on the site's About page. "In an instant, we learn how to get from 'A' to 'B', simply by following some coloured lines. The very best maps become symbols of their city, admired and loved by all." None have become quite so symbolic as the map of the London Underground, the oldest subway system in the world, and Transit Maps' posts filed under the London Underground tag, such as the 1929 cutaway diagram of its Piccadilly Circus station by Italian architect and urban designer Renzo Picasso just above provide plenty of good reading — and even better viewing — for its many enthusiasts.

Transit 3

Among American cities, no subway system has a more respected map than Washington, DC's, the work of graphic designer Lance Wyman, for whom it has remained a work in progress: he oversaw a redesign just five years ago, almost forty years after the system went into service and his original map made its debut. Here we have one of Wyman's original working sketches for the map straight from his notebook. "Interestingly, it looks like Wyman was experimenting with textural treatments for the route lines at this time," adds Booth, "an idea I’m ever so glad he abandoned, because it would have looked so busy and hideous."

Transit 4

Having seen many more transit maps than most, and even having designed some of his own (including a reworking of the DC Metro map), Booth doesn't hesitate to point out both the virtues and the flaws of the ones he posts. He even grades them on a star rating system (with, of course, circular London Underground logos substituting for actual stars), collecting the very best under the five-star tag. One such passage with flying colors, the 1950s Yorkshire coast train map at the top of the post, has Booth exclaiming that "they don’t make ‘em like this any more. The 1908 bird's-eye view of Chicago, source of the legend above, scores its own five stars by "minute attention to detail," down to the inclusion of "smoke curls from factory chimneys" and "almost every tree in the city’s parks."

Transit 5

Few cities have attracted as much attention from mapmakers as New York, possibly due to all its wonders — or at least those are what IBM graphic designer Nils Hansell emphasizes in his mid-1950s map "Wonders of New York" which, despite not looking far past Manhattan, does include transit and much else besides: Booth mentions its depiction of "300-odd numbered points of interest" as well as "the last vestiges of New York’s once-extensive elevated railway lines." You need quite a high-definition scan to really appreciate all this, and Booth found one in the David Rumsey Map Collection, which we've previously featured here on Open Culture.

Transit 6

Scroll through the pages and pages of Transit Maps' historical tag, and you'll find a wealth of fascinating showpieces of the transit mapper's art, not just from the Londons and New Yorks of the world, but also from times and places like Berlin in 1931Madison, Wisconsin in 1975, and Booth's own old hometown of Sydney in 1950 and new hometown of Portland in 1978. The archive even includes transit maps from unusual places, such as a delightful one printed on the back of a Japanese matchbox in the 1920s, and maps for transit systems never completed, such as the one for the Baghdad Metro from the early 1980s just above. Iraq's capital may still await a full-service subway system — and much else besides — but at least its map earns top marks.

tokyo subway

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. 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.

Brexit 101: The UK’s Stunning Vote Explained in 4 Minutes

The Brexit votes have been counted. The Brits have decided to leave the European Union. And the financial markets are taking it hard. Right now, futures on the London stock exchange are down 8%. The pound is down 9.8 percent, more than double its previous record decline of 4.1 percent. We're living in interesting times.

No doubt, some of you are suddenly wondering, what exactly is Brexit? And what's at stake? Up top, you can watch a four-minute primer created by The Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg has its own two-minute version here (or view below). The Toronto Star breaks down Brexit in 13 points. And The Guardian went so far as to create a guide just for Americans. (For anyone who wants to dissect the propaganda for leaving Brexit, you can watch the feature-length documentary film, Brexit: The Moviereleased last month.) Please feel free to add other primers in the comments below.

For Americans reading this, I'd point out that Brexit and Trump share some important things in common: they're both about putting up walls, placing blame on immigrants and minorities; exploiting the resentments of the economically disadvantaged; dismissing experts and establishment figures; and risking upending a fragile world order. How England looks on June 24th is perhaps a small preview of how America might look on November 9th. Only there will be trillions more at stake.

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1930s Fashion Designers Predict How People Would Dress in the Year 2000

From 1930 to 1941, Pathetone Weekly ran film clips that highlighted ‘the novel, the amusing and the strange.’ At some point during the 1930s (the exact date isn’t clear), Pathetone asked American designers to look roughly 70 years into the future and hazard a guess about how women might dress in Year 2000. Apparently, fashion designers don’t make great futurists, and the designs fell rather wide of the mark — unless you want to count Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, in which case they didn’t do a half bad job. Or, for that matter, the male connected 24/7 to his phone and sundry gadgets…

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Download Issues of “Weird Tales” (1923-1954): The Pioneering Pulp Horror Magazine Features Original Stories by Lovecraft, Bradbury & Many More

We live in an era of genre. Browse through TV shows of the last decade to see what I mean: Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes, futuristic dystopias…. Take a casual glance at the burgeoning global film franchises or merchandising empires. Where in earlier decades, horror and fantasy inhabited the teenage domain of B-movies and comic books, they’ve now become dominant forms of popular narrative for adults. Telling the story of how this came about might involve the kind of lengthy sociological analysis on which people stake academic careers. And finding a convenient beginning for that story wouldn’t be easy.

Do we start with The Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel, which opened the door for such books as Dracula and Frankenstein? Or do we open with Edgar Allan Poe, whose macabre short stories and poems captivated the public’s imagination and inspired a million imitators? Maybe. But if we really want to know when the most populist, mass-market horror and fantasy began—the kind that inspired television shows from the Twilight Zone to the X-Files to Supernatural to The Walking Dead—we need to start with H.P. Lovecraft, and with the pulpy magazine that published his bizarre stories, Weird Tales.

08_wtcover_1949_07

Debuting in 1923, Weird Tales, writes The Pulp Magazines Project, provided “a venue for fiction, poetry and non-fiction on topics ranging from ghost stories to alien invasions to the occult.” The magazine introduced its readers to past masters like Poe, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells, and to the latest weirdness from Lovecraft and contemporaries like August Derleth, Ashton Smith, Catherine L. Moore, Robert Bloch, and Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian).

In the magazine’s first few decades, you wouldn’t have thought it very influential. Founder Jacob Clark Hennenberger struggled to turn a profit, and the magazine “never had a large circulation.” But no magazine is perhaps better representative of the explosion of pulp genre fiction that swept through the early twentieth century and eventually gave birth to the juggernauts of Marvel and DC.

Weird_Tales_1934-09_-_The_People_of_the_Black_Circle

Weird Tales is widely accepted by cultural historians as “the first pulp magazine to specialize in supernatural and occult fiction,” points out The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (though, as we noted a few days ago, an obscure German title, Der Orchideengarten, technically got there earlier). And while the magazine may not have been widely popular, as the Velvet Underground was to the rapid spread of various subgenera of rock in the seventies, so was Weird Tales to horror and fantasy fandom. Everyone who read it either started their own magazine or fanclub, or began writing their own “weird fiction”---Lovecraft’s term for the kind of supernatural horror he churned out for several decades.

Fans of Lovecraft can read and download scans of his stories and letters to the editor published in Weird Tales at the links below, brought to us by The Lovecraft eZine (via SFFaudio).

Letter to the editor of Weird Tales, September 1923 – September 1923

Letter to the editor of Weird Tales, October 1923 – October 1923

Letter to the editor of Weird Tales, January 1924 – January 1924

Letter to the editor of Weird Tales, March 1924 – March 1924

Imprisoned With The Pharaohs – May/June/July 1924

Hypnos – May/June/July 1924

The Tomb – January 1926

The Terrible Old Man – August 1926

Yule Horror – December 1926

The White Ship – March 1927

Letter to the editor of Weird Tales, February 1928 – February 1928

The Dunwich Horror – April 1929

The Tree – August 1938

Fungi From Yuggoth Part XIII: The Port – September 1946

Fungi From Yuggoth Part X: The Pigeon-Flyers – January 1947

Fungi From Yuggoth Part XXVI: The Familiars – January 1947

The City – July 1950

Hallowe’en In A Suburb – September 1952

Fans of early pulp horror and fantasy—--or grad students writing their thesis on the evolution of genre fiction---can view and download dozens of issues of Weird Tales, from the 20s to the 50s, at the links below:

The Pulp Magazine Project hosts HTML, FlipBook, and PDF versions of Weird Tales issues from 1936 to 1939

UNZ.org has PDF scans of individual Weird Tales stories from the 40s and 50s, including work by Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Dorothy Quick, Robert Bloch, and Theodor Sturgeon.

SFFaudio’s Public Domain PDF page contains many scans of full Weird Tales issues, from the 20s to the 50s, tucked in amongst several other genre magazines and a few issues of 19th century title Argosy, the first pulp fiction magazine.

Finally, head over to Melt for more scans of Weird Tales' lurid covers, like those you see here.

And to learn much more about the history of the magazine, you may wish to beg, borrow, or steal a copy of the pricy collection of essays, The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror.

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

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