Sartre, Heidegger, Nietzsche: Documentary Presents Three Philosophers in Three Hours

Human, All Too Human” is a three-hour BBC series from 1999, about the lives and work of Friedrich NietzscheMartin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The filmmakers focus heavily on politics and historical context — the Heidegger hour, for example, focuses almost exclusively on his troubling relationship with Nazism.

The most engaging chapter is “Jean-Paul Sartre: The Road to Freedom,” in part because the filmmakers had so much archival footage and interview material (Check out a still lovely Simone de Bouvoir at minute 9:00, giggling that Sartre was the ugliest, dirtiest, most unshaven student at the Sorbonne).

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Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

Tina Fey Brings Bossypants Tour to Google

A day after President Obama conducted his much publicized town hall meeting at Facebook, Tina Fey, the star of 30 Rock and the author of the new book Bossypants, headed to Google, just a few miles down the road.

Last May, Googlers had their riotous romp with Conan O’Brien. Now they get their 60 minutes with another comedian who came of age on NBC. The conversation led by Eric Schmidt teaches you the secrets of improv, how to take pictures like a model, the pros & cons of goofing on Sarah Palin, and why male and female comedy writers differ in fundamentally odd ways. Tina Fey is funny. But sometimes funnier is watching Schmidt trying to keep the conversation from going off the rails. Scroll to the 8:20 mark, and you’ll see what I mean.

Just an fyi: Tina Fey actually narrates the audiobook version of Bossypants, and you can snag it for free through this deal. Details here.

The Kitty Genovese Myth and the Popular Imagination

On Monday, April 18th a 22-year old woman named Chrissy Lee Polis was severely beaten by two teenagers at a McDonald’s in Baltimore, while several bystanders watched and a McDonald’s employee videotaped the whole incident. Late last week, the video went viral, and now the employee has been fired, the two girls (one of whom is only 14) are in custody, and Polis is considering a civil suit. The victim, who is transgendered, told the Baltimore Sun this weekend that she considers the beating a hate crime.

Meanwhile, the incident has elicited several comparisons to the famous 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was stabbed to death in the courtyard of her New York City apartment building while 38 neighbors watched and did nothing to help her. The widespread coverage of her case had a huge impact on both policy and the field of psychology: The NYPD reformed its telephone reporting system; researchers began studying the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility; and the dead woman became a symbol of the dire consequences of inaction.

One of the most elegant uses of that symbolism is the chapter (above) from the online motion comic based on the graphic novel Watchmen. Genovese figures prominently in the origin story of the superhero/antihero Walter Joseph Kovacs, aka “Rorschach.” Rorschach constructs both his identity and his costume as a direct response to the passivity and even cynical voyeurism embodied by the neighbors who heard and watched her die.

But the actual reactions of the witnesses to Kitty Genovese’s murder were more complicated than originally reported. It’s unlikely, for example, that any of the infamous 38 bystanders heard the entire crime, or realized its severity in the moment. For a fascinating account of the discrepancies between the facts and myths of the case, you can listen to this 2009 story on NPR, or read this 2007 article from American Psychologist (the link is to a PDF from the author’s website).

The Kitty Genovese parable is no less morally instructive for being not quite accurate. The bystander effect is still real, the McDonald’s worker’s decision to tape the beating last week rather than stop it is still reprehensible. And of course, Rorschach is still one of the most righteous dark avengers in popular culture. But it’s worth remembering that we’re more likely to learn from our mistakes when we dig for the truth, even — and perhaps especially — when the truth isn’t so simple.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

The Hourglass: A Short Film that Celebrates Time, Slowly

Marc Newson is one of the world’s most respected, exhibited and award-winning designers. According to his website, he’s also the most highly-valued. Newson’s pieces have set so many records at auction that his work now accounts for almost 25% of the total contemporary design market. It therefore comes as no surprise that the hourglasses he has designed for Ikepod’s reboot cost anywhere from 9,000 to 13,000 Euros.

It’s tempting to dismiss Ikepod’s new Hourglass video as a sleek ad for an overpriced product, especially since that’s exactly what it is. But the video is also an elegant, visually striking tribute to a vanishing world, in which time (and timepieces) seemed to move more slowly.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly

The Soundtrack of the Universe

We think of space as a silent movie, something we see but never hear. Yet space creates a soundtrack of sorts (even if sound waves can’t really travel through the cosmos), and now scientists and musicians want to play that soundtrack for you.

Earlier this year, Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College/Columbia University, described how we can mathematically model the sounds made by black holes. Fast forward to the 10:27 mark of her TED Talk above, and you will hear what it sounds like when a lighter black hole falls into a heavier black hole. The little guy bangs against space, kind of like a drumb playing faster and faster … which brings us to Mickey Hart, a former drummer for The Grateful Dead.

In 2010, Hart teamed up with George Smoot, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to reproduce the sound of The Big Bang and supernovas. (Berkeley Labs posted this supernova clip above.) You can read more about the unlikely pairing and the “Rhythms of the Universe” project here, then experience more celestial sounds recreated by Hart here.

A Perfect Springtime Animation: The Windmill Farmer by Joaquin Baldwin

April may be the cruelest month, mixing memory and desire, etc. But Mr. Eliot never depended on seasonal change for his livelihood, except perhaps in the vaguest metaphorical sense. For a more uplifting take on spring, here’s The Windmill Farmer, a charming short film by one of our favorite young animators.

Joaquin Baldwin, 27, earned his MFA at The UCLA Animation Workshop. He was born in Paraguay to an environmental activist mother and an artist father, and you can see the influence of both vocations in his shorts, which have already won over 100 awards, and often have an environmental theme. For more information about his work and background, check out our editor’s 2010 write-up over at Brainpickings. And enjoy those lilacs while they last.

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

Astrophysics Goes Extreme

You wouldn’t necessarily guess it, but astrophysics comes with occupational risks. Trying to unravel the mysteries of the universe, some physicists journey to inhospitable parts of the world (Siberia, the Antarctic, deep mine shafts, etc.), searching for ideal conditions to perform experiments into dark energy, dark matter, and beyond. This all gets detailed by Anil Ananthaswamy, a software writer turned science writer, who recently published a new book The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. The talk above was presented at the INK Conference last December. You can also watch him give a fuller 50 minute talk at Google here.

Kevin Spacey & Alec Baldwin Go to Bat for the Arts

Both Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey are longtime advocates for government funding of  the Arts. If you missed their testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommitee on the Interior earlier this month, you aren’t alone. They were kicked off the schedule because of preparations for a congressional shutdown. These speeches were delivered not to the subcommittee but to a crowd of advocates and fans.

Both are well worth watching. Spacey, who is also the artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre, has long been one of the most respected and articulate actors in Hollywood. (See his inspiring pep talk to a young actor on Inside the Actor’s Studio here.) He packs more wisdom in these 12 and a half minutes than some performers do in a lifetime.

As for Alec Baldwin, his speech is shorter, but equally compelling. If you’re in a rush, head straight to minute  4:00, which begins with this teaser: “I come from a business where we all know a great secret …”

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

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