MIT’s Introduction to Economics: A Free Online Course

From MIT comes a free introductory undergraduate course on Microeconomics. Taught by Professor Jonathan Gruber, the 25-lecture course covers the fundamentals of microeconomics, including “supply and demand, market equilibrium, consumer theory, production and the behavior of firms, monopoly, oligopoly, welfare economics, public goods, and externalities.” Watch the lectures above (or on YouTube). Find the syllabus and lectures notes on MIT’s site. A MOOC version of the same course can be found on edX. Coursera also offers a host of other econ courses.

Principles of Microeconomics will be added to the Economics section of our meta list, 1,500 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Take a New Virtual Reality Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

You can go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today, and in real life at that. This isn’t true of all the world’s great art institutions, still shut down as many are by measures in response to the past year’s coronavirus pandemic. But then, none of them have offered a digital visiting experience quite like The Met Unframed, recently launched in partnership with cellphone service provider Verizon. For a period of five weeks, anyone can join and freely roam a virtual reconstruction, or rather reimagining, of the Met and its galleries. There they’ll encounter paintings by Pollock, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt, as well as work by current artists and majestic artifacts from antiquity.

“Upon entering the website, visitors are welcomed to the museum’s Great Hall with a view of Kent Monkman’s diptych mistikôsiwak: Wooden Boat People (2019),” writes Hyperallergic’s Hakim Bishara. “From there, banners offer broad thematic concepts — Power, Home, Nature, and Journey — through which visitors can explore the galleries.”

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Embedded in certain pieces of art, you’ll find not just historical details and audio-tour explanations but mini-games, which “include trivia questions and riddles that encourage close observation of the artworks and labels. A game called ‘Analysis’ uses the Met’s infrared and X-ray conservation scans of paintings to reveal underdrawings and other hidden details of well-known paintings.”

Win enough such games, and you’ll get the chance to “borrow” the artwork you’ve clicked to display, through augmented reality, in your space of choice — for fifteen minutes, at least. At Artnet, critic Ben Davis writes of placing here and there around his apartment Frederic Edwin Church’s Heart of the Andes, Jacob Lawrence’s The Photographer, and a Baby Yoda-scaled version of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait. He even makes a serious if ultimately frustrated effort to win digital borrowing rights to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Dendur, one of the Met’s pièces de résistance since the late 1970s.

To experience The Met Unframed for yourself, just head over to its web site and use your phone to scan the QR code that comes up (if you’re not browsing on your phone in the first place). You’ll then be taken straight to the virtual Great Hall, which you can navigate by swiping in any direction — or physically moving your phone around, if you’ve enabled gyroscope mode — and tapping the icons glowing along the ground or on the walls. The combination of high technology, historical reference, depopulated but elegantly designed settings, puzzle challenges, and a score in which synthesizers meet ambient noise will remind visitors of a certain age of nothing so much as the adventure games of the early 1990s, especially Myst and its clones. But then, what does a museum do if not unite the past and the present?

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, 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.

The Anti-Gluttony Door in Portugal’s Alcobaça Monastery Shamed Plump Monks to Start Fasting

Consider that you eat the sins of the people

—inscription carved above the entrance to the Monastery of Alcobaça‘s refectory

Apparently, the Monastery of Alcobaça‘s resident monks were eating plenty of other things, too.

Eventually their reputation for excessive plumpness became problematic.

A hefty physique may have signified prosperity and health in 1178 when construction began on the UNESCO World Heritage site, but by the 18th-century, those extra rolls of flesh were considered at odds with the Cistercian monks’ vows of obedience, poverty and chastity.

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Its larders were well stocked, thanks in part to the rich farmland surrounding the monastery.

18th-century traveler William Beckford described the kitchen in Recollections of an Excursion to the Monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha:

On one side, loads of game and venison were heaped up; on the other, vegetables and fruit in endless variety. Beyond a long line of stoves extended a row of ovens, and close to them hillocks of wheaten flour whiter than snow, rocks of sugar, jars of the purest oil, and pastry in vast abundance, which a numerous tribe of lay brothers and their attendants were rolling out and puffing up into a hundred different shapes, singing all the while as blithely as larks in a corn-field.

Later he has the opportunity to sample some of the dishes issuing from that kitchen:

The banquet itself consisted of not only the most excellent usual fare, but rarities and delicacies of past seasons and distant countries; exquisite sausages, potted lampreys, strange messes from the Brazils, and others still stranger from China (edible birds’ nests and sharks’ fins), dressed after the latest mode of Macao by a Chinese lay brother. Confectionery and fruits were out of the question here; they awaited us in an adjoining still more spacious and sumptuous apartment, to which we retired from the effluvia of viands and sauces.

Later in his travels, he is taken to meet a Spanish princess, who inquires, “How did you leave the fat waddling monks of Alcobaça? I hope you did not run races with them.”

Perhaps such tattle is what convinced the brass that something must be done.

The remedy took the form of a porta pega-gordo (or “fat catcher door”), 6′ 6″ high, but only 12.5” wide.

Keep in mind that David Bowie, at his most slender, had a 26” waist.

Allegedly, each monk was required to pass through it from the refectory to the kitchen to fetch his own meal. Those who couldn’t squeeze through were out of luck.

Did they have to sit in the refectory with their faces to the walls, silently eating the sins of the people (respicite quia peccata populi comeditis) while their slimmer brethren filled their bellies, also silently, face-to-the-wall, as a reader read religious texts aloud from a pulpit?

History is a bit unclear on this point, though Beckford’s enthusiasm waned when he got to the refectory:

…a square of seventy or eighty feet, begloomed by dark-coloured painted windows, and disgraced by tables covered with not the cleanest or least unctuous linen in the world.

According to a German Wikipedia entry, the monks passed through the porta pega-gordo monthly, rather than daily, a more manageable mortification of the flesh for those with healthy appetites.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you are assembling a bucket list of destinations for when we can travel freely again, consider adding this beautiful Gothic monastery (and the celebrated pastry shop across the street). Your choice whether or not to suck it in for a photo in front of the porta pega-gordo.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch’s Projection Instructions for Mulholland Drive (2001)

David Lynch is known for being persnickety about delivering the correct viewing experience to his audience, as he considers the cinema a sacred place. In a documentary short a few years back, he explained, “It’s so magical, I don’t know why, to go into a theater and have the lights go down. It’s very quiet and then the curtains start to open. And then you go into a world.”

However, the cinematheque is also the space where directors have the least control. They can hope that each print that goes out has been printed correctly (especially during the days of film), or that the sound is clear and/or loud enough, but, in a wide release, hope is all directors can do most of the time. There are exceptions: Stanley Kubrick oversaw the rerelease prints of his films. And Alfred Hitchcock demanded that there would be no late seating for Psycho-—a tactic that worked to the film’s advantage.

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This card (above) from David Lynch came with every print of Mulholland Drive that was sent out to theaters. “I understand this is an unusual request yet I do need your help,” he writes. Lynch asks that the volume be raised 3db and that the image be given a tad more headroom.

John Neff, in a post on the Facebook Lynchland group, explained the card: “The volume request was because when we heard it in the Director’s Guild Theater for the cast and crew screening, David thought it was too quiet. The picture headroom request was because of the original TV aspect ratio. These concerns have been addressed in all format releases since the original DVD release.”

Mulholland Drive was originally shot, or rather, the first half of the film was shot as a television pilot for ABC, so a 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio was expected. But when the studios passed on the pilot, Lynch finished the film as a standalone feature. Cinemas matt projections at 1.85:1, cutting down on the headroom. (None of this effects the original negative, which is standard 35mm.)

Lynch similarly cares about home viewers. The first director-approved box set of his short films came with a similar, Lynch-created calibration video so you could control the color and the white balance. And one of the reasons fans keep waiting for a proper Blu-Ray release of Lost Highway is that Lynch has yet to oversee a proper transfer. When Kino Lorber released theirs in 2019, Lynch took to Twitter to tell fans to skip it: “Dear Twitter Friends, A Blu-ray of LOST HIGHWAY will be released very soon. It was made from old elements and NOT from a restoration of the original negative. I hope that a version from the restoration of the original negative will happen as soon as possible.”

As far as I know, he has not weighed in on the current problems associated with HDTVs, but Tom Cruise has been taking care of that. And whatever you do, do not watch Mulholland Drive on your iPhone.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Why Should You Read Toni Morrison’s Beloved? An Animated Video Makes the Case

“Tell me,” said Beloved, smiling a wide happy smile. “Tell me your diamonds.”

The unforgettable portrayal of Beloved, the mysterious, 20-year-old woman (Thandie Newton)—who appears in Sethe’s (Oprah Winfrey) home mysteriously just as the infant ghost haunting the family disappears—leaves an indelible image in the mind’s eye in Jonathan Demme’s 1998 film. We may learn about the history of slavery in the U.S. through a wealth of recovered data and historical sources. But to understand its psychological horrors, and the lingering trauma of its survivors, we must turn to works of the imagination like Beloved.

So why not just watch the movie? It’s excellent, granted, but nothing can take the place of Toni Morrison’s prose. Her “versatility and technical and emotional range appear to know no bounds,” wrote Margaret Atwood in her 1987 review of the novel. “If there were any doubts about her stature as a pre-eminent American novelist, of her own or any other generation, Beloved will put them to rest.” The novel’s American gothic narrative recalls the “magnificent practicality” of haunting in Wuthering Heights. “All the main characters in the book believe in ghosts, so it’s merely natural for this one to be there.”

“Everyone at 124 Bluestone Road,” the Ted-Ed video lesson by Yen Pham begins, “knows their house is haunted. But there’s no mystery about the spirit tormenting them. This ghost is the product of an unspeakable trauma.” Demme’s film dramatizes the horrors Sethe endured, and committed, and tells the story of the Sweet Home plantation and its aftermath upon her family. What it cannot convey is the novel’s treatment of “a barbaric history that hangs over much more than this homestead.”

For this greater resonance, we must turn to Morrison’s book, written, Atwood says, “in an antiminimalist prose that is by turns rich, graceful, eccentric, rough, lyrical, sinuous, colloquial and very much to the point.” The novel brings us into contact with the human experience of enslavement:

Through the different voices and memories of the book, including that of Sethe’s mother, a survivor of the infamous slave-ship crossing, we experience American slavery as it was lived by those who were its objects of exchange, both at its best—which wasn’t very good—and at its worst, which was as bad as can be imagined. Above all, it is seen as one of the most viciously antifamily institutions humans ever devised…. It is a world in which people suddenly vanish and are never seen again, not through accident or covert operation or terrorism, but as a matter of everyday legal policy.”

Morrison’s fictionalizing of the true story of Margaret Garner, an enslaved mother who killed her child rather than let the infant become enslaved to such a future, “points to history on the largest scale, to the global and world-historical,” Pelagia Goulimari writes in a monograph on Morrison. Morrison uses “Garner’s 1856 infanticide—a cause célèbre—as point of access to the ‘Sixty Million and more’: the victims of the Middle Passage and of slavery.”

Perhaps only the novel, and especially the novels of Toni Morrison, can tell world-historical stories through the actions of a few characters: Sethe, Denver, Baby Suggs, Paul D., and Beloved, the angry ghost of a murdered daughter and a desperate mother’s trauma and the traumatic psychic wounds of slavery, returned. Learn more about why you should read Beloved in the animated lesson above, directed by Héloïse Dorsan Rachet, and discover more at the TED-Ed lesson’s additional resources page.

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

The CIA Has Declassified 2,780 Pages of UFO-Related Documents, and They’re Now Free to Download

Everybody knows that UFO stands for “unidentified flying object.” Coined by the United States Air Force in 1953, the term has come to stand for a wide range of phenomena that suggest we’ve been contacted by alien civilizations — and in fact has even spawned the field of ufology, dedicated to the investigation of such phenomena. But times change, and with them the approved terminology. These days the U.S. government seems to prefer the abbreviation UAP, which stands for “unidentified aerial phenomenon.” Those three words may sound more precisely descriptive, but they also provide some distance from the decades of not entirely desirable cultural associations built up around the concept of the UFO.

Yet this is hardly a bad time to be a ufologist. “Buried in the latest federal omnibus spending bill signed into law on December 27, 2020 — notable for its inclusion of coronavirus relief — is a mandate that may bring UFO watchers one step closer to finding out whether the government has been watching the skies,” writes Mental Floss’ Jake Rossen.

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That same site’s Ellen Gutoskey followed up with an announcement that the CIA’s entire collection of declassified UFO documents is now available to download. You can do so at The Black Vault, a clearing house for UFO related-information run by ufologist John Greenewald Jr. These documents come to 2,780 pages in total, the release of which necessitated the filing of more than 10,000 Freedom of Information Act reports.

Samir Ferdowsi at Vice’s Motherboard quotes Greenewald describing the process as “like pulling teeth,” with results more impressive in quantity than quality. “The CIA has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to use their records in a reasonable manner,” Greenewals writes. “They offer a format that is very outdated (multi page .tif) and offer text file outputs, largely unusable,” all of which “makes it very difficult for people to see the documents, and use them, for any research purpose.” He’s thus also made available a version of the CIA’s declassified UFO documents converted into 713 PDFs. The Black Vault advises downloaders to bear in mind that “many of these documents are poorly photocopied, so the computer can only ‘see’ so much to convert for searching.”

But even with these difficulties, UFO enthusiasts have already turned up material of interest: “From a dispute with a Bosnian fugitive with alleged E.T. contact to mysterious midnight explosions in a small Russian town, the reports definitely take readers for a wild ride,” writes Ferdowsi. “One of the most interesting documents in the drop, Greenewald said, involved the Assistant Deputy Director for Science & Technology being hand-delivered some piece of information on a UFO in the 1970s.” This document, like most of the others, comes with many parts blacked out, but as Greenewald recently tweeted, “I have an open ‘Mandatory Declassification Review’ request to HOPEFULLY get some of these redactions lifted, so we can see what was hand delivered, and what his advice may be.” Ufology demands a great deal of curiosity, but an even greater deal of patience. Enter the Black Vault here.

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Carl Jung’s Fascinating 1957 Letter on UFOs

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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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