Leon Trotsky: Love, Death and Exile in Mexico

Leon Trotsky, one of the fathers of the Russian Revolution, second only to to Lenin, was assassinated in Mexico 70 years ago today (August 21, 1940). During the early years of the Revolution, Trotsky headed up foreign affairs for Russia and founded the Red Army. Following Lenin’s death (1924), he looked primed to take control of the revolutionary state. But Stalin had other thoughts about the matter, and, before too long, Trotsky found himself in exile again. Previous exiles took him to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and the United States. This time, he went to France, Norway, Turkey (see the film Vanessa Redgrave narrates on his stint in Istanbul) and later Mexico (1936), where he lived with painter Diego Rivera and his wife/fellow painter, Frida Kahlo. Eventually, Kahlo and Trotsky would have a famous affair.

Above, we have some grainy footage of Trotsky from his Mexico years. The footage dates back to 1937, and it shows Trotsky, speaking in broken English, giving thanks to Mexico for providing sanctuary and defending himself against the show trials that Stalin orchestrated back in Russia. Trotsky was sentenced to death in absentia. Three years later, he would be assassinated by an undercover agent while still living in Mexico. YouTube has more on the assassination here. A big thanks goes to Mike S. for unearthing this great little cluster of videos.

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Download George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 as Free Audio Books

via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Writing in The Guardian in years past, Christopher Hitchens revisited Animal Farm, George Orwell’s “dystopian allegorical novella” that took aim at the corruption of the Soviet Union and its totalitarian rule. Published in 1945, the short book appears on the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th century, and Time Magazine’s own honors list. But, as Hitchens reminds us, Animal Farm was almost never published. The manuscript barely survived the Nazi bombing of London during World War II, and then initially TS Eliot (an important editor at Faber & Faber) and other publishers rejected the book. It eventually came to see the light of day, but, 65 years later, Animal Farm still can’t be legally read in China, Burma and North Korea, or across large parts of the Islamic world. But, no matter where you come from, you can listen to Animal Farm for free. That’s right, I said it – free. The Internet Archive offers free access to audio versions of Animal Farm and Orwell’s other major classic, 1984. Both texts appear in our collection of Free Audio Books, and you can download them directly from the Internet Archive here (Animal Farm) and here (1984), or stream them below:

Animal Farm


The text versions of these classics also appear in our collection of Free eBooks.

Finally, if you’re interested in downloading a free audio book from Audible.com (pretty much any book you want), you can get more details here.

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Bill Gates: Solving the World’s Problems Through Technology

Last week, we showed you a clip of Bill Gates speaking at the recent Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe. Our comments concentrated on a shorter segment where Gates talks about the coming transformation of education – about how the internet will start displacing the traditional university within five years. That clip figures into a larger talk, now fully available online, called “Reinventing Capitalism: How to Jumpstart What the Marketplace Can’t” (48 minutes). And it puts Gates’ views on education (not to mention his overall philanthropic work) into a larger context. What’s generally on display here is his limitless faith that science and technology can solve the world’s problems. It’s an approach that makes perfect sense for ridding the world of malaria. But it’s potentially a double-edge sword for education. You can watch the full talk above, or view it here. (His full comments on education & technology come around the 21 minute mark, and again later on.) You can also learn more about what Gates is reading, watching and listening to on his website.

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Stanford Online Writing Courses (Fall)

A quick fyi: Stanford Continuing Studies opened up registration this Monday for its fall lineup of online writing courses. Offered in partnership with the Stanford Creative Writing Program (one of the most distinguished writing programs in the country), these online courses give beginning and advanced writers, no matter where they live, the chance to refine their craft with gifted writing instructors.

Classes will start in late September. And many of these classes fill quickly. To get more information on these writing courses, click here, or separately check out this FAQ.

Caveat emptor: These classes are NOT free, and I helped set them up. So while I wholeheartedly believe in these courses, you can take my views with a proverbial grain of salt.


Good Capitalist Karma: Zizek Animated

Slavoj Zizek, one of today’s most influential philosophers/theorists, spoke earlier this year at the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA). And now RSA has posted the video online with their patented animated treatment. Like other recent RSA speakers, Zizek makes modern capitalism his focus. This time, we see how contemporary capitalism has essentially reworked Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic, or that strange relationship between money making and personal redemption. Zizek’s critique isn’t utterly damning. (No one will run to the barricades.) Nor do I think he intends it to be. But the observations hold a certain amount of interest, especially when placed alongside Barbara Ehrenreich and David Harvey’s related RSA talks.

You can find the full 30 minute lecture (sans cartoons) here, or download the video as an mp4 here.

Christopher Walken: Radio Host for a Day

The Leonard Lopate Show hits the airwaves every weekday in New York City, typically presenting four interviews with cultural figures. If you tuned in this Monday, you found Leonard on vacation and actor Christopher Walken filling in. We know Walken can act. But can he carry a radio show? Listen in on the web, iTunes, or stream below…

via @slate

Why the World Needs WikiLeaks (According to Julian Assange)

After yesterday’s post, I’ll never get a sniff of a TED conference. But even so, we’ll keep featuring Ted Talks from time to time, and so why not today? Above, we have TED’s Chris Anderson interviewing Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website that made headlines last month when it released the Afghan War Diaries, all 92,000 pages worth. During the 19 minute interview, Assange talks a little more about the philosophy behind WikiLeaks, how the organization decides when to release information (or not), how the site has changed world events, and what some more ordinary leaks look like. No matter what stance you take on WikiLeaks, the interview is worth a watch. You’ll only hear more about them down the line.

Is TED the New Harvard?

Next month’s edition of Fast Company (available online now) brings you a big, glowing tribute to TED and its TED Talks. It’s a lovefest in print, the kind that sells magazines. And, along the way, Anya Kamenetz (author of DIY U) makes some big claims for TED. Let me start with this one:

I would go so far as to argue that [TED’s] creating a new Harvard — the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.

Of course TED doesn’t look like a regular Ivy League college. It doesn’t have any buildings; it doesn’t grant degrees. It doesn’t have singing groups or secret societies, and as far as I know it hasn’t inspired any strange drinking games.

Still, if you were starting a top university today, what would it look like? You would start by gathering the very best minds from around the world, from every discipline. Since we’re living in an age of abundant, not scarce, information, you’d curate the lectures carefully, with a focus on the new and original, rather than offer a course on every possible topic. You’d create a sustainable economic model by focusing on technological rather than physical infrastructure, and by getting people of means to pay for a specialized experience. You’d also construct a robust network so people could access resources whenever and from wherever they like, and you’d give them the tools to collaborate beyond the lecture hall. Why not fulfill the university’s millennium-old mission by sharing ideas as freely and as widely as possible?

TED, the new Harvard. The new university. It’s a nice idea … until you think about it for a few moments. Will watching 18 minute lectures – ones that barely scratch the surface of an expert’s knowledge – really teach you much? And when the 18 minutes are over, will the experts stick around and help you become a critical thinker, which is the main undertaking of the modern university after all? (Will they assign the papers where you grapple with the difficult ideas? Will they make sure your arguments are sound? That your writing is lucid? Or will they even expand on their brief lectures and teach you something in-depth?) Nope, you’ll get none of that. The experts will give their 18 minute talks, and then they’re gone. Ultimately, Kamenetz seems to know she’s overreaching. She eventually circles around to say, “Sure, these talks have their limits as an educational medium. An 18-minute presentation, no matter how expert, can’t accommodate anything overly theoretical or technical — the format is more congenial to Freakonomics than economics.” And so the whole initial, catchy premise falls apart. (Maura Johnston rightly makes this point too, among other good ones, in her must-read reaction to the “breathless” Fast Company article.)

I have no beef with TED. Quite the contrary, I’m a big fan of their open lectures. (Get the full list here.) And you can’t blame TED when others read too much into what they do. But, echoing points made last week, I do have an issue with commentators reducing education to watching TV. So a quick request to the “edupunks” and “edupreneurs” out there. As you’re democratizing education and lowering tuition through technology, could you make sure that whatever you’re finally offering is an education in more than mere name? You feel me?

NOTE: Anya Kamenetz, the author of the Fast Company article, offers a response in the comments below. In fairness to her, please give them a read. We also have a little follow up.

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