The Set List for the Band Playing at Trump’s Climate Retreat Speech: From “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” to “Burning Down the House”

Today the United States joined two other countries in refusing to take part in the Paris climate accord. Syria and Nicaragua. What great company to be in.

Before Trump made his announcement in the Rose Garden, the White House had a band warm up the crowd. Later, McSweeney's sarcastically published their setlist. Burning Down the House. It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine). I Melt With You. Coal Miner's Daughter. Find all 14 tracks below.

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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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“Calling Bullshit”: Watch Lectures for the College Course Designed to Combat the BS in our Information Age

This past January, we highlighted a syllabus for a tentative course called "Calling Bullshit," designed by two professors at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

The course--also sometimes called "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data"--ended up being offered this spring. And now you can see how it unfolded in the classroom. The 10 video lectures from the class are available online. Watch them above, or at this YouTube playlist. Also find them housed in our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

According to The Seattle Times, the course "achieved the academic version of a chart-topping pop single: At the UW [University of Washington], it reached its 160-student capacity shortly after registration opened this spring." And now colleges "in Canada, France, Portugal, England and Australia have contacted the professors about teaching a version of the course this fall."

The course itself was premised on this basic idea: "Bullshit is everywhere, and we've had enough. We want to teach people to detect and defuse bullshit wherever it may arise."

A longer overview of the course appears below. It was cited in our original post. And it's worth highlighting again:

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.

We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument.

What do we mean, exactly, by the term bullshit? As a first approximation, bullshit is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.

While bullshit may reach its apogee in the political domain, this is not a course on political bullshit. Instead, we will focus on bullshit that comes clad in the trappings of scholarly discourse. Traditionally, such highbrow nonsense has come couched in big words and fancy rhetoric, but more and more we see it presented instead in the guise of big data and fancy algorithms — and these quantitative, statistical, and computational forms of bullshit are those that we will be addressing in the present course….

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

If you're interested in watching the course, get started with Lecture 1: Introduction to Bullshit.

To learn more about the course, please visit this website.

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The First 100 Days of Fascist Germany: A New Online Project from Emory University

From Emory University comes The First 100 Days of Fascist Germany, an attempt to document online what happened on each day--from January 30, 1933 through May 9, 1933--when Hitler was named Reichskanzler of Germany.

As you can perhaps imagine, the motivation for the project isn't entirely divorced from current events. The grad students behind The First 100 Days explain:

During the highly contentious political climate in this country, the terms “fascism” and “Nazi Germany” have been tossed around quite freely by both sides of the political spectrum. As a response to this and in an effort to provide some clarity of what fascism in Nazi Germany actually looked like, we at the Emory University German Department initiated a research project that aims to document the first 100 days of National Socialism- from the day that Adolf Hitler was named Reichskanzler on January 30, 1933 until May 9, 1933.

They continue:

The general plan for our project is that our research team will work its way through the 100 days, investigating and documenting the events of each day and then posting the findings on a daily basis for public consumption.

As the daily calendar shows, Hitler didn't waste a lot of time. By Day 51, Dachau--one of the first concentration camps--opened and received its first prisoners, notes Emory News. By Day 60, all new stories critical of the government were censored. And, by Day 88, the press expelled from its ranks all Marxists and Jews. That was just the beginning.

Meanwhile, on Day 88 over here, Trump's initiatives (some relatively innocuous, some alarming) have met civil, judicial and political resistance, or collapsed under their own weight. The concern of January has given way to comedy in April. So far, it's more farce than fascism:

But don't get complacent, terror might be the operative word in May.

You can learn more about Emory's historical project here.

via John McMurtrie

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Artist is Creating a Parthenon Made of 100,000 Banned Books: A Monument to Democracy & Intellectual Freedom

With the rise of Far Right candidates in Europe and in America, along with creeping dictatorship in Turkey and authoritarianism in the Philippines, the idea of democracy and freedom of speech feels under threat more than ever. While we don’t talk about political solutions here on Open Culture, we do believe in the power of art to illuminate.

Argentine artist Marta Minujín is creating a large-scale artwork called The Parthenon of Books that will be constructed on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, Germany, and will be constructed from as many as 100,000 banned books from all over the world.

The location has been chosen for its historical importance. In 1933, the Nazis burned two-thousand books there during the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit), destroying books by Communists, Jews, and pacifists, along with any others deemed un-German.

Minujín chose the Parthenon—one of the great structures of Ancient Greece—for its continuing symbolism of the enduring power of democracy throughout the ages.

When it comes to materials, she using a list of 100,000 books that have been, or still are, banned in countries across the world, going all the way back to the year 1500. You can browse that list here, but for less eye-strain, try this shorter list of 170 or so titles. New titles can be suggested for the project here.

Some of the books that have been banned over the years include Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (banned in Argentina), Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (banned in China), and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (banned in Canada).

Minujín constructed a similar Parthenon in 1983 after the fall of her country’s dictatorship. The original El Partenón de libros featured the books that the former government had banned, and, at the end of the installation, Minujín let the public take what they wanted home. (She will be allowing the same thing to happen this time.)

Her people, as she says in the video above, didn’t know what democracy was after years of military rule. We might be on the opposite side of the spectrum: we won’t know what democracy is until we lose it.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Harvard Students Launch a Free Course on How to Resist Trump: Now You Can Watch the Lectures

NOTE: As of July 22, we updated this post to include the videos from the class sessions. Watch the playlist of lectures above.

I have my doubts about whether we should call regular acts of civic duty “resistance,” rather than Constitutionally-protected democratic freedoms.  Yesterday we remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 49th anniversary of his assassination (and the 50th anniversary of his speech opposing the Vietnam War). As King and countless other civil rights and anti-war campaigners have demonstrated---some at the cost of their lives---civil disobedience is very often required and morally justified when legal appeals for justice fail. But for better or worse, “The Resistance” has become a catch-all media term for a loose and very often fractious collection of mainstream Democrats, progressives, and radicals of all stripes, whose tactics range from polite phone lobbying to brawling with white supremacists in the streets.

Millions of people who formerly had little to no involvement in politics have thrown themselves into activism, and veteran organizers have been overwhelmed with new recruits. Just as quickly, those organizers have met the challenge by disseminating guides for lobbying representativesrunning for office, and participating in more direct forms of action.

James Patterson Teaches You To Writer A Bestseller. Learn More.

Every movement has its resident scholars and educators, whether they be erudite laypeople, professional academics, or enterprising college students. A group from the latter category, “progressive students,” writes CNN, from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, begin today what they’re calling “Resistance School,” a “4-week course in anti-Trump activism… open to people across the country and the world.” (You can watch the video from the course above.)

At their site, the students bill “Resistance School” as a series of “practical skills for taking back America” and open their online syllabus with a quote spuriously attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” It’s possible that whoever said it had bloodier things in mind. Resistance School sticks to peaceful means, with four sessions that teach, in order, “How to Communicate our Values in Political Advocacy,” “How to Mobilize and Organize our Communities,” “How to Structure and Build Capacity for Action,” and “How to Sustain the Resistance Long-Term.” Instructors are drawn from the ranks of academia, labor organizing, and the Obama administration, and you can stream the sessions on the school’s site or on Facebook, or attend in person.

The Resistance School is sure to attract criticism, not only from the expected sources but from more anti-establishment factions on the left. But that may be unlikely to deter the more than 10,000 people who have registered for the first class. Organizers have encouraged people to attend in groups, and currently have about 3,000 groups enrolled. “Some are coming with groups of 700 people,” says co-founder Shanoor Seervai, “some are smaller groups, potlucks, gathering in people’s kitchens.”

Servaai and fellow Kennedy School students have been taken aback and are now, writes CNN, “grappling with questions of scale.” How, they wonder, will such large numbers of people coordinate; how to measure the impact of the program?.... questions, perhaps, they will resolve by the fourth session, “How to Sustain the Resistance Long-Term.” But they’re certainly not alone in trying to steer a massive surge of new interest in activism and electoral politics. As the millions now planning and participating in civil actions across the country attest, people have begun to take to heart sentiments recently expressed by organizer Alice Marshall: “If we wait for some great leader to save us we are lost. We have to save ourselves.”

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

An Animated Introduction to Roland Barthes’s Mythologies and How He Used Semiotics to Decode Popular Culture

In 1979, French theorist Jean-François Lyotard declared the end of all “grand narratives”—every “theory or intellectual system,” as Blackwell’s dictionary defines the term, “which attempts to provide a comprehensive explanation of human experience and knowledge.” The announcement arrived with all the rhetorical bombast of Nietzsche’s “God is Dead,” sweeping not only theology into the dustbin but also overarching scientific theories, Freudian psychology, Marxism, and every other “totalizing” explanation. But as Lyotard himself explained in his book The Postmodern Condition, the loss of universal coherence—or the illusion of coherence—had taken decades, a “transition,” he wrote, “under way since at least the end of the 1950s.”

We might date the onset of Postmodernism and the end of “master narratives” even earlier—to the devastation at the end of World War II and the appearance of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and of Roland Barthes’ slim volume Mythologies, a collection of essays written between 1954 and 56 in which the French literary theorist and cultural critic put to work his understanding of Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotics.

As a result of reading the Swiss linguist, Barthes wrote in a preface to the 1970 edition of his book, he had “acquired the conviction that by treating ‘collective representations’ as a sign-systems, one might hope to go further than the pious show of unmasking them and account in detail for the mystification which transforms petit-bourgeois culture into a universal nature.”

While generally lumped into the category of “structuralist” thinkers, as opposed to “post-structuralists” like Lyotard, Barthes nonetheless paved the way for a particularly French mistrust of “petit-bourgeois culture” and its populist spectacles and all-knowing talking heads. He was an opponent of totalizing narratives just as he was “an unrelenting opponent of French imperialism,” writes Richard Brody at The New Yorker. Like Adorno and many other post-war European intellectuals, Barthes riffed on Marx’s notion of “false consciousness”—the mental fog produced by dogmatic education, mass media, and popular culture—and applied the idea relentlessly to his analysis of the post-industrial West.

“Barthes’s work on myths,” writes Andrew Robinson at Ceasefire Magazine, “prefigures discourse-analysis in media studies.” He directed his focus to “certain insidious myths… particularly typical of right-wing populism and of the tabloid press." Barthes though of populist mythology as a "metalanguage” that “removes history from language,” making “particular signs appear natural, eternal, absolute, or frozen” and transforming “history into nature.” Through its normalization, we lose sight of the artifice of cable news, for example, and take for granted its formatting as a universal standard for high seriousness and credibility (as in the portentous signification of "Breaking News"), even when we know we’re being lied to.

The Al Jazeera video at the top of the post asks us to consider the “rhetorical motifs” of such media, which construct “the biggest myth of all: that what we are watching is unmediated reality.” The observation may seem elementary, but Barthes sought to go further than “the pious show of unmasking,” as he wrote. He “would have seen,” the video’s narrator says, “the TV screen as a cultural text, and he would have unveiled its myths,” as he did the myths proffered by wrestling, advertising, popular film and novels, tourism, photography, dining, and other seemingly mundane popular phenomena.

The video above from educational company Macat offers a more formal summary of Barthes’ Mythologies. The French critic and semiotician made significant contributions to literary and critical theory, demonstrating---with the wide-ranging wit and erudition of his humanist countryman Michel de Montaigne---how “dominant ideologies successfully present themselves as simply the way the world should be.” Looking back on his book over twenty years later, after the events in Paris of May 1968, Barthes remarked that the need for “ideological criticism” had been “again made brutally evident.” Indeed, we have ample reason to think that, over sixty years since Barthes published his classic analysis, the need for a rigorously critical view of mass media, advertising, and political spectacle has become more pressing than ever.

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

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