David Brooks: Should You Live for Your Résumé … Or Your Eulogy?

David Brooks’ short talk at last month’s TED conference is quintessential David Brooks. If you read his column in the Times, you’ll recognize his themes and concerns right away. It’s a bit preachy, sure. But it will get you thinking, maybe for a few minutes, about which self is winning out in your life — the self who craves success, builds a great résumé, and almost invariably bruises others — family, friends and strangers — along the way. Or the self “who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy.” Just a little food for thought.


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Rare Audio: Albert Einstein Explains “Why I Am an American” on Day He Passes Citizenship Test (1940)

Most Americans by birth, myself included, have little reason to think about the process of attaining our highly sought-after nationality. But it only takes a moment’s reflection on the millions upon millions of immigrants who came to the United States in the twentieth century alone to get us pondering not just the how but the why of American citizenship. It’s become more relevant than ever today, when we need not look far to notice how many trans-national projects, careers, couples, and families have sprung up around us. Not only do a wider variety of people come to America today, but more Americans base themselves elsewhere than ever before. For some serious thoughts on changing nations, have a listen to the radio clip above, a brief interview with German-born theoretical physicist (and internationally known icon of science and intelligence) Albert Einstein. Last year, we featured footage of Einstein’s 1933 speech in praise of individual liberty at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He gave it not long after the Nazis took power in his homeland;  just four days later, he set sail for America and never looked back.

This broadcast went out in 1940, not long before the United States joined the Second World War, as part of I’m An American, a joint effort of the NBC network and the Immigration and Nationalization Service to invite “a number of naturalized citizens to talk about the American citizenship which they have recently acquired, a possession which we ourselves take for granted, but which is still new and thrilling to them.” Einstein, an articulate if still thickly accented speaker of English, calls this rare media appearance a “self-evident duty,” and praises the egalitarianism and cooperative spirit that inclines America toward “the development of the individual and his creative power.” The famed scientist’s interlocutor, Second Assistant Secretary of the Department of Labor Marshall E. Dimock, asks him about the reasons he appreciates his new citizenship, why he prefers to live in America given his “international outlook,” and whether he feels America still lives up to its grand promise of liberty. Whether you believe America has improved or gone downhill since that era, I think you’ll find in Einstein’s proud responses a reminder that it often takes a former outsider to clearly see the qualities that have given the country its place in history.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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The Rise of the Patent Troll: An Animated Primer by Kirby Ferguson

Recently, I’ve been spending time investigating copyrights, keen to find out if it’s cricket for me to impose my vision on certain authors’ long ago work. An author myself, I freely admit, I might not cotton to it were some stranger to have her way with my work, without permission, on a stage, for all to see! Either way, I’d prefer things to be settled without a lawsuit.

My head was so full of copyright implications and loopholes, I was unaware that a parallel situation was blowing up beyond all reason in the world of patents. Such ignorance is a luxury unavailable to legions of small software designers, podcasters, and small business owners, as artist and filmmaker Kirby Ferguson of “Everything is a Remix” fame makes clear in his animated primer, “Rise of the Patent Troll.”

The problem, he says, owes to a gap between centuries old patent law and a new technology that yields “inventions” whose parts can’t be attributed as easily as your average sewing machine’s or cotton gin’s.

Depicted here as hairy, pointy-eared storybook figures, the real life baddies are much more scary—newly formed corporate entities opportunistically seeking to enforce patents for digital innovations they don’t really own. Not surprisingly, they’re targeting the little guys, individuals who don’t have the resources to defend themselves when attacked. Yes, in this context, a fairly renowned comedian can be considered a little guy.

Ferguson joined forces with digital watchdogs Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and Engine to make the film, but the problem proves too slippery to fully explore in three animated minutes. I think the cartoon is actually bait, to get viewers like me to sit still for the next three minutes, in which the artist turns the camera on himself, to enumerate what citizens can do to make a proposed patent reform bill stick. If it all feels rather urgent, I’m guessing there’s a reason.

For more background on what patent trolls are all about, don’t miss this episode of This American Life.

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Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson Explains How Apple’s iPhone Was A Remixed Creation

Ayun Halliday would freak worse than a goat if one of these trolls came after her. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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Download 35,000 Works of Art from the National Gallery, Including Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rembrandt & More

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As a young amateur painter and future art school dropout, I frequently found myself haunted by the faces of two artists, that famously odd couple from my favorite art history novelization—and Kirk Douglas role and Iggy Pop song—Lust for Life. Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, above and below respectively, the tormented Dutch fanatic and burly French bully—how, I still wonder, could such a pair have ever co-existed, however briefly? How could such beautifully skewed visions of life have existed at all?

Van Gogh and Gaugin’s several self-portraits still inspire wonder. My younger self had the luxury of seeing these particular two up close and in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC: Van Gogh’s gaunt and piercing visage, Gauguin’s sneering self-parody. Now, thanks to the wonders of digital technology, my older self, and yours, can view and download high-resolution photos of both paintings, and over 35,000 more from the museum’s vast holdings, through NGA Images, “a repository of digital images of the collections of the National Gallery of Art.”

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There you’ll find works by another obsessive Dutch self-portraitist, Rembrandt van Rijn, such as the lush 1659 painting below. You’ll find paintings from the heroes of the various Renaissances and French Impressionism, from movements modern and colonial, pastoral and urban. The collection is dizzying, and a lover of art could easily lose hours sorting through it, saving “open access digital images up to 3000 pixels each […] available free of charge for download and use.” The purpose of NGA Images is “to facilitate learning, enrichment, enjoyment, and exploration,” and there’s no doubt that it satisfies all of those goals and then some. You can peruse the Gallery’s most requested images here.

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Browse the various collections, including one devoted to self-portraits. Conduct advanced searches, if you’ve more knowledge of the Gallery’s many treasures. Use the “lightbox arranger” to sort, store, annotate, and save your own personalized collections for future viewing. You are the curator! And the lucky beneficiary of the National Gallery’s beneficence. While I can tell you from experience that it’s nothing like standing face to face with these paintings in their in-real-life dimensions, textures, lines, and colors—despite the throngs of disinterested tourists—it’s at least a close second. And for students and educators of the visual arts, NGA Images offers an opportunity like no other to view and share great works of art often hidden away from even the museum’s visitors. Enjoy!

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


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Watch Episode 1 of Years of Living Dangerously, The New Showtime Series on Climate Change

Ever since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out to critical accolades, Conservative scorn and a handful of Oscars, there has been no shortage of well meaning documentaries about the perils of climate change. Most feature a Hollywood celebrity or two, a liberal amount of liberal guilt, and a distinct sense of preaching to the converted.

The new Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously might have plenty of those first two elements but none of the third. In the first episode of the series –which has been released for free on YouTube (above) – Don Cheadle asks, “Is there a way to discuss climate change without politics or religion getting in the way?” Producers James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Weintraub try valiantly to answer that question in the affirmative.

The series features a variety of celebrities — Schwarzenegger, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba – and celebrity reporters – Lesley Stahl, Chris Hayes, Mark Bittman – who investigate different facets of the topic.

In Cheadle’s segment, he tracks down an unusual figure in the heated, tiresome climate change debate – an Evangelical climate scientist. In a fascinating scene, she talks to the devout denizens of Plainview TX, trying to convince them that the drought that caused the closing of the local meatpacking plant – the town’s biggest employer – was the result of something other than divine will.

Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traces the origins of the Syrian civil war to – you guessed it – climate change. He crosses into that war torn country (briefly) to discover that the seeds of the conflict were sown by the government’s indifferent response to a long-running drought.

But the most entertaining segment is Harrison Ford exploring the causes of Indonesia’s rapid deforestation. Apparently, palm oil – that anonymous ingredient in everything from cookies to chocolate bars – is such big business that it’s turning Borneo into a burn-scared moonscape. Who knew?

Ford’s charisma and gravelly baritone can turn the most inane line — “That’s a lot of cars” – into something with almost Talmudic profundity. It makes for some riveting viewing. The show ends with Ford chomping at the bit to interview Indonesia’s utterly corrupt Forestry Minister. That meeting, which occurs in a later episode, promises to be a 60 Minutes-style smackdown. You think Mike Wallace was daunting? Try Indiana Jones.

Years of Living Dangerously premieres on Showtime on April 13.

For a more academic introduction to this subject, see Global Warming: A Free Course from UChicago.

via Kottke

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.


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Your Body During Adolescence: A Nakedly Unashamed Sex Ed Film from 1955

A straight shooting sex ed film from 1955? That’s hard to imagine. In my experience, the films of that period tend to beat around the bush.

The reticence of those sharing its playing field makes Your Body During Adolescence all the more remarkable. It doesn’t seem so at first. The first minute is devoted to observing a group of coed, clean cut, and unsurprisingly Caucasian teens, posing for a yearbook photo. The narrator seems destined to soft peddle things, mildly taking note of differences in height and weight.

I freely admit that I underestimated him. The teens in whose classrooms this work was screened may have audibly squirmed at the mention of certain words, but our narrator is undaunted by penises, scrota and labia… Shout out to the educational consultants, Dr. Harold S. Diehl, Dean of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School and Anita Laton, an author and professor of Health and Hygiene at San Jose State. Alfred Kinsey would’ve approved.

The diagrams are less straightforward, but I kind of liked that. They look like Mid Century Dinnerware patterns, which is to say, a lot sexier than most of the sex organs one can find on the Internet.

For fun and comparison, have a look at Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You Know What, the Simpsons’ infamous “sex eductation” film.

I’d say they both get it right.

via The Atlantic

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, and creator of the award winning East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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Philosophize This!: The Popular, Entertaining Philosophy Podcast from an Unconventional Teacher

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Podcasting has treated few fields of human inquiry as well as it has philosophy. You’ll already know that if you’ve subscribed to the philosophy podcasts we’ve featured before, like Philosophy BitesThe History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, and The Partially Examined Life. Perhaps we can chalk this up to what anyone who has taken a course under an astute philosophy professor has felt (see our list of 100 Free Philosophy Courses): the subject simply lends itself better to conveyance through the spoken words of living, breathing people, especially those with an enthusiasm for the subject. And those who’ve dedicated their lives to philosophy, given the field’s famously persistent lack of both financial rewards and concrete answers, tend to have more pure enthusiasm for their subject itself than do many other intellectual professionals. Stephen West, host of the newer Philosophize This! podcast [iTunes - Web - RSS - Libsyn), doesn't move among intellectual professionals. He never even took a philosophy course himself, with an astute professor or without one. Yet he can teach you about philosophy with greater clarity and engagement than most podcasters can muster even about their favorite television shows.

West begins the series, which has come to eighteen episodes since last June, with a two-part talk on the very origins of philosophy (Ionian and Italian), telling us what, exactly, the so-called "presocratic" thinkers thought about the human race and whether it had developed sufficiently advanced survival mechanics to begin thinking about things at all. He then continues through history and across the globe, explaining the ideas of the best-known philosophers from Socrates to Aristotle (a two-parter) to the Buddha to (most recently) Avicenna, breaking down how they came to those ideas, and connecting them to the broader philosophical experience in their historical context and ours today (which means references to, among other touchstones of modern life, The Walking Dead). And lest you doubt the un-degree'd West's qualifications, do read his brief autobiography, which tells the story of how he rose from the worst childhood I've read about in quite some time, guided during his all-day shifts driving a pallet jack by the great philosophers: "Hume, Kant, Hegel — these men were my fathers. They were the people who made me ask questions and strive to constantly improve myself." You might place West in the tradition, now somewhat withered, of the robust "blue-collar" thinking man, drawing his needed strength from ideas. But given the way he's harnessed our era's technology to become a philosophy teacher to thousands — hundreds of whom have left five-star reviews on iTunes, leading to an astonishing #32 ranking in its Top 100 podcast chart — I'd say he embodies a brand new type of homo philosophicus altogether.

You can listen to the first first episode of Philosophize This! above.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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The Coffee Pot That Fueled Honoré de Balzac’s Coffee Addiction

9 Cafetière de BalzacLast fall, Ayun Halliday revisited Honoré de Balzac’s Humorous Essay, “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” and His Epic Coffee Addiction. Last night, one of our friends on Twitter — @thegliterati — sent this our way: A snapshot of Balzac’s coffee pot. It bears his initials and currently resides at the Maison de Balzac museum in Paris. If you ever find yourself in the 16 arrondissement, pay it a visit and pay it some thanks.

You can find Balzac’s coffee-fueled classics in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Very First Published Stories, Free as an eBook

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“I like the early stuff”: the classic masculine comment to make about the work of a well-known creator, demonstrating as it does the cultural consumer’s dedication, purism, judgmental rigor, and even endurance (given the relative accessibility, in the intellectual as well as the collector’s senses, of most “early stuff”). Now you have a chance to say it about that most ostensibly masculine of all 20th-century American writers, Ernest Hemingway. Above, see the cover of a coveted edition of the then-young “Papa”‘s very first book, 1923′s Three Stories & Ten Poems. The print run numbered only “300 copies, put out by friend and fellow expatriate, the writer- publisher Robert McAlmon,” writes Steve King at Today in Literature. “Both had arrived in Paris in 1921, Hemingway an unpublished twenty-two-year-old journalist with a recent bride, a handful of letters of introduction provided by Sherwood Anderson, and a clear imperative: ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence.’”

Instead of shelling out to a rare-book dealer for Three Stories & Ten Poems — admire the sacrifice involved though a true Hemingwayite may — you can read even more of the Old Man and the Sea author’s early stuff in the free e-book embedded just above: 1946′s The First Forty Nine Stories. It contains not just “Up in Michigan,” “Out of Season,” and “My Old Man,” those three stories of Hemingway’s bound debut, but, yes, 46 more of his earliest published pieces of short-form fiction. Today in Literature quotes one notable contemporary reaction to Three Stories & Ten Poems, from a time before Hemingway had become Hemingway, much less Papa: “I should say that Hemingway should stick to poetry and intelligence and eschew the hotter emotions and the more turgid vision. Intelligence and a great deal of it is a good thing to use when you have it, it’s all for the best.” And who could have written such an astute early assessment of the ultimate literary man’s man? A certain Gertrude Stein.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Before The Simpsons, Matt Groening Illustrated a “Student’s Guide” for Apple Computers (1989)

A friend once told me of his older cousin who, for the freakish act of installing a computer in his college dorm room, found himself immediately and irrevocably dubbed “computer Jon.” This happened in the early 1980s, and boy, have times changed. They’d even changed by the late 1980s, by which time Apple’s college marketing efforts had become sufficiently advanced to require the talents of Matt Groening, best known as the man who created The Simpsons. But that prime-time animated sitcom wouldn’t begin its record-breaking run (still without an end in sight) until Christmas 1989, while the Groening-illustrated Who Needs a Computer Anyway? (which you can flip through above) appeared earlier that year. Back then, readers might well have known him first and foremost as the creator of the satirical alternative-weekly comic strip Life in Hell, which had debuted in 1977. One of its stars, the hapless but good-hearted young one-eared rabbit Bongo, even made his way to Apple brochure’s cover. Though computers themselves had long since come to dominate America’s campuses by the time I entered college, he and Groening’s other now-lesser-known characters did do their part to prepare me for academia.

I refer, of course, to School is Hell, his 1987 Life in Hell book offering sardonic primers on each and every phase of modern education from kindergarten to grad school (“when you haven’t had enough punishment”). Groening’s pages in Who Needs a Computer Anyway? read like a less sharp-edged version of those cartoons, following Life in Hell’s signature “The 9 Types of…” format to present the reader with their nine types of future college classmates, from “the stressed” to “the technoid” to “the unemployed.” Between these, you can read Apple’s pitch for why you’ll find a piece of equipment still somewhat outlandish and expensive so essential to every aspect of your college career. Though dated technically — the text mentions nothing of the internet, for instance, which this generation of college students would sooner drop out than do without — it nevertheless underscores the design virtues of Apple computers — an intuitive interface, application interoperability, “everything you need in one small, transportable case” — that remain design virtues today. It also displays an impressive prescience of the personal computer’s coming indispensability, a confident prediction that, if not for the slacker’s levity lent by Groening’s hand, might, at the time, actually have sounded implausible.

via Retronaut/Dangerous Minds

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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