Every Harrowing Second of the Apollo 11 Landing Revisited in a New NASA Video: It Took Place 50 Years Ago Today (July 20, 1969)

The idea that human beings might not only fly to the moon, but land on its puckered surface and walk around, seemed like an absolute fantasy for nearly all of human history. In the exactly fifty years since that that very thing happened, "moon shot" has become an almost commonplace reference for grand, historic gestures. “Fifty years after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, planted an American flag, and flew home,” writes Alex Davies at Wired, “the term moon shot has become shorthand for trying to do something that’s really hard and maybe a bit crazy.”

The problem with this, Davies argues, is that the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach does not apply today's most pressing, yet most nebulous and global, problems. A “moon shot” climate initiative suffers from a lack of specificity. What exactly would it target? How would it measure success or failure in an unambiguous way when the problem permeates the economy, energy, agriculture, manufacturing, government...? A very different kind of thinking is required.




Maybe the dualisms of the Cold War made some things simpler, in a way. In 1961, John F. Kennedy’s famous articulation of “the goal,” as he put it, could not have been more clear: “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” You either achieve this, or you don’t. There are no half-measures, and no confusion about what constitutes success. Which brings us to another problem with turning “moon shot” into a cliché for doing something hard. We forget just how damned hard it actually was.

Landing Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and pilot Michael Collins on the moon required an expenditure unthinkable today: “NASA spent $25 billion on the Apollo program,” Davies points out, “more than $150 billion in today’s dollars.” The U.S. may spend almost seven times that on its military in a year, but it’s unthinkable that this nation, or any other, would invest Apollo dollars in a completely unsure thing, with no immediate potential for control or exploitation.

The same might be said of major corporations. The spacefaring ambitions of today’s titans seem conservative by 1961 standards: “More than 400,000 Americans worked on [Apollo 11] in some capacity, nearly all of them in private industry,” writes Davies. The project absolutely depended on this coordinated, collective level of human ingenuity and expertise because the total computing power of NASA was several millions of times less than that of a smartphone.

From the human “computers” who plotted Apollo 11’s course, to the astronauts who flew the craft, humans not only designed, monitored, and executed the mission, but they also had to improvise when things went wrong. And they did, in some terrifying, life-threatening ways. “The problems began immediately upon separation from the Command Module in which Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins had ridden to the moon,” explains Rod Pyle at Space.com—but, so too did the problem-solving.

To get a better sense of why the endeavor was so earthshaking, and how it almost didn’t happen, watch the video above, “Apollo 11: The Complete Descent.” Part of NASA’s Apollo Flight Journal collection, the 20-minute narrated documentary of the descent and landing provides a "detailed account of every second of the Apollo 11 descent and landing." It “combines data from the onboard computer for altitude and pitch angle, 16mm film that was shot throughout the descent at 6 frames per second,” and audio transmissions from the astronauts and mission control.

“Most people knew that going to the moon was risky,” Pyle writes, “but few, very few, knew the scope of the dangers that the crew faced.” Fifty years later, we can almost—with only the devices in our pockets—see and hear the original moon shot the way those first few did.

via Kottke

Related Content:

Apollo 11 in Real Time: A New Web Site Lets You Take a Real-Time Journey Through First Landing on the Moon

NASA Digitizes 20,000 Hours of Audio from the Historic Apollo 11 Mission: Stream Them Free Online

David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Turn 50 This Month: Celebrate Two Giant Leaps That Took Place 9 Days Apart

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

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Prediction of How American Democracy Could Lapse Into Despotism, Read by Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq's third novel Platform, which involves a terrorist bombing in southeast Asia, came out the year before a similar real-life incident occurred in Thailand. His seventh novel Submission, about the conversion of France into a Muslim country, came out the same day as the massacre at the offices of Islam-provoking satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. His most recent novel Serotonin, in which farmers violently revolt against the French state, happened to come out in the early stages of the populist "yellow vest" movement. Houellebecq has thus, even by some of his many detractors, been credited with a certain prescience about the social and political dangers of the world in which we live today.

So too has a countryman of Houellebecq's who did his writing more than 150 years earlier: Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, the enduring study of that then-new country and its daringly experimental political system. And what does perhaps France's best-known living man of letters think of Tocqueville, one of his best-known predecessors? "I read him for the first time long ago and really found it a bit boring," Houellebecq says in the interview clip above, with a flatness reminiscent of his novels' disaffected narrators. "Then I tried again two years ago and I was thunderstruck."




As an example of Tocqueville's clear-eyed assessment of democracy, Houellebecq reads aloud this passage about its potential to turn into despotism:

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Being a writer, Houellebecq naturally points out the deftness of Tocqueville's style: "It's magnificently punctuated. The distribution of colons and semicolons in the sections is magnificent." But he also has comments on the passage's philosophy, pronouncing that it "contains Nietzsche, only better." The operative Nietzschean concept here is the "last man," described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as the presumable end point of modern society. If conditions continue to progress in the way they have been, each and every human being will become this last man, a weak, comfortable, complacent individual with nothing left to fight for, who desires nothing more than his small pleasure for the day, his small pleasure for the night, and a good sleep.

Safe to say that neither Nietzsche nor Tocqueville looked forward, nor does Houellebecq look forward, to the world of enervated last men into which democracy could deliver us. Houellebecq also reads aloud another passage from Democracy in America, one that now appears on the Wikipedia page for soft despotism, describing how a democratic government might gain absolute power over its people without the people even noticing:

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

"A lot of what I've written could be situated within this scenario," Houellebecq says, adding that in his generation the "definitive transformation of society into individuals" has been more complete than Tocqueville or Nietzsche would have imagined.

In addition to lacking a family, Houellebecq (whose second novel was titled Atomized) also mentions having "the impression of being caught up in a network of complicated, minute, and stupid rules" as well as "of being herded toward a uniform kind of happiness, toward a happiness which doesn't really make me happy." In the end, adds Houellebecq, the aristocratic Tocqueville "is in favor of the development of democracy and equality, while being more aware than anyone else of its dangers." That the 19th-century America Tocqueville knew avoided them he credited to the "habits of the heart" of the American people. We citizens of democratic countries, whichever democratic country we live in, would do well to ask where the habits of our own hearts will lead us next.

Related Content:

Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: An Animated Introduction to the Most Insightful Study of American Democracy

How to Know if Your Country Is Heading Toward Despotism: An Educational Film from 1946

George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

Is Modern Society Stealing What Makes Us Human?: A Glimpse Into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra by The Partially Examined Life

The History of Western Social Theory, by Alan MacFarlane, Cambridge University

Hunter S. Thompson Gets in a Gunfight with His Neighbor & Dispenses Political Wisdom: “In a Democracy, You Have to Be a Player”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Songs by Joni Mitchell Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers & Vintage Movie Posters

I wish I had more sense of humor

Keeping the sadness at bay

Throwing the lightness on these things

Laughing it all away 

                           - Joni Mitchell, “People's Parties”

Joni Mitchell has been showered with tributes of late, many of them connected to her all-star 75th birthday concert last November.

The silky voiced Seal, who credits Mitchell with inspiring him to become a musician, soaring toward heaven on "Both Sides Now"…

"A Case Of You" as a duet for fellow Newport Folk Festival alums Kris Kristofferson and Brandi Carlile….

Chaka Khan injecting a bit of funk into "Help Me," a tune she’s been covering for 20 some years...




They’re moving and beautiful and sensitive, but given that Mitchell's the one behind the immortal lyric “laughing and crying, you know it's the same release…,” shouldn’t someone aim for the funny bone? Mix things up a little?

Enter Todd Alcott, who’s been delighting us all year with his “mid-century mashups,” an irresistible combination of vintage paperback covers, celebrity personae, and iconic lyrics from the annals of rock and pop.

His homage to "Help Me," above, is decidedly on brand. The lurid 1950s EC horror comic-style graphics confer a dishy naughtiness that was—no disrespect—rather lacking in the original.

Perhaps Mitchell would approve of these monkeyshines?

A 1991 interview with Rolling Stone’s David Wild suggests that she would have at some point in her life:

When I was a kid, I was a real good-time Charlie. As a matter of fact, that was my nickname. So when I first started making all this sensitive music, my old friends back home could not believe it. They didn’t know – where did this depressed person come from? Along the way, I had gone through some pretty hard deals, and it did introvert me. But it just so happened that my most introverted period coincided with the peak of my success.

Alcott honors the introvert by rendering "Both Sides Now" as an angsty-looking volume of 60s-era poetry from the imaginary publishing house Clouds.

"Big Yellow Taxi" carries Alcott from the bookshelf to the realm of the movie poster.

The lyrics are definitely the star here, but it's fun to note just how much mileage he gets out of the floating text boxes that were a strangely random-feeling feature of the original.

Also "Ladies of the Canyon" is a great producer's credit. Given Alcott’s own screenwriting credits on IMDB, perhaps we could convince him to mash a bit of Joni’s sensibility into some of Paul Schrader’s grimmest Taxi Driver scenes…

That said, it's worth remembering that Alcott's creations are loving tributes to the artists who matter most to him. As he told Open Culture:

Joni Mitchell is one of the most criminally undervalued American songwriters of the 20th century, and that now that I live in LA, every time I drive through Laurel Canyon I think about her and that whole absurdly fertile scene in the late 1960s, when artists could afford to live in Laurel Canyon and Joni Mitchell was hanging out with Neil Young and Charles Manson.

See all of Todd Alcott’s work here. (Please note that this is his official sales site… beware of imposters selling quickie knock-offs of his designs on eBay and Facebook.) Find other posts featuring his work in the Relateds below.

Related Content:

See Classic Performances of Joni Mitchell from the Very Early Years–Before She Was Even Named Joni Mitchell (1965/66)

Beatles Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers and Magazine Pages: “Drive My Car,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” & More

Classic Songs by Bob Dylan Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” & More

Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads & More Re-Imagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for a new season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

Richard Feynman’s Technique for Learning Something New: An Animated Introduction

I sometimes wonder: why do people post amateur repair videos, made with smartphones in kitchens and garages, with no obvious commercial value and, often, a level of expertise just minimally above that of their viewers? Then I remember Richard Feynman’s practical advice for how to learn something new—prepare to teach it to somebody else.

The extra accountability of making a public record might provide added motivation, though not nearly to the degree of making teaching one's profession. Nobel-winning physicist Feynman spent the first half of his academic career working on the Manhattan Project, dodging J. Edgar Hoover's FBI at the beginning of the Cold War, and making major breakthroughs in quantum mechanics.




But he has become as well-known for his teaching as for his historic scientific role, thanks to the enormously popular series of physics lectures he developed at Caltech; his funny, accessible, best-selling books of essays and memoirs; and his willingness to be an avuncular public face for science, with a knack for explaining things in terms anyone can grasp.

Feynman revealed that he himself learned through what he called a "notebook technique," an exercise conducted primarily on paper. Yet the method came out of his pedagogy, essentially a means of preparing lecture notes for an audience who know about as much about the subject as you did when you started studying it. In order to explain it to another, you must both understand the subject yourself, and understand what it's like not to understand it.

Learn Feynman’s method for learning in the short animated video above. You do not actually need to teach, only pretend as if you're going to—though preparing for an actual audience will keep you on your toes. In brief, the video summarizes Feynman’s method in a three-step process:

  1. Choose a topic you want to understand and start studying it.
  2. Pretend you’re teaching the idea to someone else. Write out an explanation on the paper…. Whenever you get stuck, go back and study.
  3. Finally do it again, but now simplify your language or use an analogy to make the point.

Get ready to start your YouTube channel with homemade language lessons, restoration projects, and/or cooking videos. You may not—nor should you, perhaps—become an online authority, but according to Feyman, who learned more in his lifetime than most of us could in two, you’ll come away greatly enriched in other ways.

Related Content:

Richard Feynman’s “Notebook Technique” Will Help You Learn Any Subject–at School, at Work, or in Life

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Is Now Completely Online

The Drawings & Paintings of Richard Feynman: Art Expresses a Dramatic “Feeling of Awe”

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

Buckminster Fuller Tells the World “Everything He Knows” in a 42-Hour Lecture Series (1975)

History seems to have settled Buckminster’s Fuller’s reputation as a man ahead of his time. He inspires short, witty popular videos like YouTuber Joe Scott’s “The Man Who Saw The Future,” and the ongoing legacy of the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI), who note that “Fuller’s ideas and work continue to influence new generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a sustainable planet.”

Brilliant futurist though he was, Fuller might also be called the man who saw the present and the past—as much as a single individual could seemingly hold in their mind at once. He was “a man who is intensely interested in almost everything,” wrote Calvin Tomkins at The New Yorker in 1965, the year of Fuller’s 70th birthday. Fuller was as eager to pass on as much knowledge as he could collect in his long, productive career, spanning his early epiphanies in the 1920s to his final public talks in the early 80s.

“The somewhat overwhelming effect of a Fuller monologue,” wrote Tomkins, “is well known today in many parts of the world.” His lectures leapt from subject to subject, incorporating ancient and modern history, mathematics, linguistics, architecture, archaeology, philosophy, religion, and—in the example Tomkins gives—“irrefutable data on tides, prevailing winds,” and “boat design.” His discourses issue forth in wave after wave of information.




Fuller could talk at length and with authority about virtually anything—especially about himself and his own work, in his own special jargon of “unique Bucky-isms: special phrases, terminology, unusual sentence structures, etc.,” writes BFI. He may not always have been particularly humble, yet he spoke and wrote with a lack of prejudice and an open curiosity and that is the opposite of arrogance. Such is the impression we get of Fuller in the series of talks he recorded ten years after Tomkin’s New Yorker portrait.

Made in January of 1975, Buckminster Fuller: Everything I Know captured Fuller’s “entire life’s work” in 42 hours of “thinking out loud lectures [that examine] in depth all of Fuller’s major inventions and discoveries from the 1927 Dymaxion house, car and bathroom, through the Wichita House, geodesic domes, and tensegrity structures, as well as the contents of Synergetics. Autobiographical in parts, Fuller recounts his own personal history in the context of the history of science and industrialization.”

He begins, however, in his first lecture at the top, not with himself, but with his primary subject of concern: “all humanity,” a species that begins always in nakedness and ignorance and manages to figure it out “entirely by trial and error,” he says. Fuller marvels at the advances of “early Hindu and Chinese” civilizations—as he had at the Maori in Tomkin’s anecdote, who “had been among the first peoples to discover the principles of celestial navigation” and “found a way of sailing around the world… at least ten thousand years ago.”

The leap from ancient civilizations to “what is called World War I” is “just a little jump in information,” he says in his first lecture, but when Fuller comes to his own lifetime, he shows how many “little jumps” one human being could witness in a lifetime in the 20th century. “The year I was born Marconi invented the wireless,” says Fuller. “When I was 14 man did get to the North Pole, and when I was 16 he got to the South Pole.”

When Fuller was 7, “the Wright brothers suddenly flew,” he says, “and my memory is vivid enough of seven to remember that for about a year the engineering societies were trying to prove it was a hoax because it was absolutely impossible for man to do that.” What it showed young Bucky Fuller was that “impossibles are happening.” If Fuller was a visionary, he redefined the word—as a term for those with an expansive, infinitely curious vision of a possible world that already exists all around us.

See Fuller’s complete lecture series, Everything I Know, at the Internet Archive, and read edited transcripts of his talks at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

Everything I Know will be added to our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Related Content:

A Three-Minute Introduction to Buckminster Fuller, One of the 20th Century’s Most Productive Design Visionaries

Buckminster Fuller Rails Against the “Nonsense of Earning a Living”: Why Work Useless Jobs When Technology & Automation Can Let Us Live More Meaningful Lives

Buckminster Fuller Creates Striking Posters of His Own Inventions

Buckminster Fuller Documented His Life Every 15 Minutes, from 1920 Until 1983

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

Introducing Pretty Much Pop (A Culture Podcast): Episode 1 – Pop Culture vs. High Culture

What is pop culture? Does it make sense to distinguish it from high culture, or can something be both?

Open Culture is pleased to curate a new podcast covering all things entertainment: TV, movies, music, novels, video games, comics, novels, comedy, theater, podcasts, and more. Pretty Much Pop is the invention of Mark Linsenmayer (aka musician Mark Lint), creator of The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast and Nakedly Examined Music. Mark is joined by co-hosts Erica Spyres, an actor and musician who's appeared on Broadway and plays classical and bluegrass violin, and Brian Hirt, a science-fiction writer/linguistics major who collaborates with his brother on the Constellary Tales magazine and podcast. For this introductory discussion touching on opera, The Beatles, Fortnite, 50 Shades of Grey, reality TV, and more, our hosts are joined by the podcast's audio editor Tyler Hislop, aka Sacrifice MC.

Some of the articles brought in the discussion are:

"The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow" by Noah Berlatsky from the Pacific Standard (2017)

"Pop Culture's Progress Toward Tragedy" by Titus Techera from the National Review (2019)

Read more about the 1895 silent film that featured a train coming right out of the screen, sending people screaming in terror. Here's more about the opening of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" at which spectators rioted. You may also enjoy episode 137 of The Partially Examined Life about the tastes of social classes that analyzes Pierre Bourdieu. Also see episode 193 on liberal education and the idea of a "canon" of essential, high-culture works. The opening music is by Mark (guitars, cellos, djembe) and Erica (violins). The podcast logo is by Ken Gerber.

The ending song was written by Mark just for this episode. It's called "High Rollin' Cult," and features Erica on violin and harmonies.

For more information on the podcast, visit prettymuchpop.com or look for the podcast soon on Apple Podcasts. To support this effort (and immediately get access to four episodes plus bonus content), make a small, recurring donation at patreon.com/prettymuchpop

An Animated Introduction to the Magical Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges

"Reading the work of Jorge Luis Borges for the first time is like discovering a new letter in the alphabet, or a new note in the musical scale," writes the BBC's Jane Ciabattari. Borges' essay-like works of fiction are "filled with private jokes and esoterica, historiography and sardonic footnotes. They are brief, often with abrupt beginnings." His "use of labyrinths, mirrors, chess games and detective stories creates a complex intellectual landscape, yet his language is clear, with ironic undertones. He presents the most fantastic of scenes in simple terms, seducing us into the forking pathway of his seemingly infinite imagination."

If that sounds like your idea of good read, look a little deeper into the work of Argentina's most famous literary figure through the animated TED-Ed lesson above. Mexican writer and critic Ilan Stavans, the lesson's creator, begins his introduction to Borges by describing a man who "not only remembers everything he has ever seen, but every time he has seen it in perfect detail." Many of you will immediately recognize Funes the Memorious, the star of Borges' 1942 story of the same name — and those who don't will surely want to know more about him.




Stavans goes on to describe a library "built out of countless identical rooms, each containing the same number of books of the same length," that as a whole "contains every possible variation of text." He also mentions a rumored "lost labyrinth" that turns out to be "not a physical maze but a novel," and a novel that reveals the identity of the real labyrinth: time itself. Borges enthusiasts know which places Stavans is talking about, meaning they know in which of Borges' stories — which their author, sticking to a word from his native Spanish, referred to as ficciones — they originate.

But though "The Library of Babel" (which in recent years has taken a digital form online) and "The Garden Forking Paths" count as two particularly notable examples of what Stavans calls "Borges' many explorations of infinity," he found so many ways to explore that subject throughout his writing career that his literary output functions as a consciousness-altering substance. It does to the right readers, that is, a group that includes such other mind-bending writers as Umberto Eco, Roberto Bolaño, and William Gibson, none of whom were quite the same after they discovered the ficciones. Behold Borges' mirrors, mazes, tigers, and chess games yourself — thereby catching a glimpse of infinity — and you, too, will never be able to return to the reader you once were. Not that you'd want to.

Related Content:

Jorge Luis Borges Explains The Task of Art

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

An Animated Introduction to H.P. Lovecraft and How He Invented a New Gothic Horror

Why Should You Read James Joyce’s Ulysses?: A New TED-ED Animation Makes the Case

Why You Should Read The Master and Margarita: An Animated Introduction to Bulgakov’s Rollicking Soviet Satire

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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