A Stunning, Chance Encounter With Nature

Sophie Wind­sor Clive and Lib­er­ty Smith were canoe­ing some­where in Ire­land when they had a chance encounter with one of nature’s great­est and most fleet­ing phe­nom­e­na — a mur­mu­ra­tion of star­lings. The spec­ta­cle is a mag­i­cal case of math­e­mat­i­cal chaos in action. And, it’s all dri­ven by the quest for sur­vival. The Tele­graph has more.…

via Dot Earth

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If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Peter Gabriel and His Big Orchestra Play Live at the Ed Sullivan Theater

On Wednes­day night, Peter Gabriel brought his 46-piece orches­tra to the Ed Sul­li­van The­ater in New York City and treat­ed the audi­ence to a 65-minute con­cert fea­tur­ing orches­tral ver­sions of some clas­sic Gabriel songs: Red Rain, Sols­bury Hill, Biko, Intrud­er, Mer­cy Street, Wall­flower, San Jac­in­to, Rhythm of The Heat, Sig­nal to Noise — they were all on the setlist, though not in that par­tic­u­lar order. The con­cert, pre­sent­ed as part of the Live on Let­ter­man web­cast series, fea­tures songs and musi­cians appear­ing on Gabriel’s lat­est LP, New Blood.…

via Stere­ogum

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Christopher Hitchens: No Deathbed Conversion for Me, Thanks, But it was Good of You to Ask

Athe­ist Christo­pher Hitchens was asked ear­li­er this year how his strug­gle with can­cer has affect­ed his views on the ques­tion of an after­life. “I would say it frac­tion­al­ly increas­es my con­tempt for the false con­so­la­tion ele­ment of reli­gion and my dis­like for the dic­ta­to­r­i­al and total­i­tar­i­an part of it,” he respond­ed. “It’s con­sid­ered per­fect­ly nor­mal in this soci­ety to approach dying peo­ple who you don’t know but who are unbe­liev­ers and say, ‘Now are you gonna change your mind?’ That is con­sid­ered almost a polite ques­tion.”

Hitchens spoke (see above) dur­ing a debate on the ques­tion, “Is there an after­life,” with Sam Har­ris and Rab­bis David Wolpe and Bradley Shav­it Art­son at the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Uni­ver­si­ty in Los Ange­les on Feb­ru­ary 15. (You can watch the entire event here.) Hitchens’ views on the sub­ject have remained con­sis­tent over the years. “It’s a reli­gious fal­si­fi­ca­tion that peo­ple like myself scream for a priest at the end,” Hitchens said before he was diag­nosed with stage four esophageal can­cer in the sum­mer of 2010. “Most of us go to our end with dig­ni­ty.”

Hitchens writes mem­o­rably of one such fig­ure in his 2006 book, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man: A Biog­ra­phy:

Paine’s clos­ing years, piti­ful as they were, con­tained one clos­ing tri­umph. He might have become a scare­crow-like fig­ure. He might have been forced to sub­sist on the char­i­ty of friends. He might have been denied the right to vote by a bul­ly­ing offi­cial, when pre­sent­ing him­self at the polling sta­tion, on the grounds that the author of Com­mon Sense was not a true Amer­i­can. But as the buz­zards began to cir­cle, he ral­lied one more time. It was wide­ly believed by the devout of those days that unbe­liev­ers would scream for a priest when their own death-beds loomed. Why this was thought to be valu­able pro­pa­gan­da it is impos­si­ble to say. Sure­ly the sob­bing of a human crea­ture in extrem­is is tes­ti­mo­ny not worth hav­ing, as well as tes­ti­mo­ny extract­ed by the most con­temptible means? Boswell had been to vis­it David Hume under these con­di­tions, because he had been reluc­tant to believe that the sto­icism of the old philoso­pher would hold up, and as a result we have one excel­lent account of the refusal of the intel­li­gence to yield to such moral black­mail. Our oth­er account comes from those who attend­ed Paine. Dying in ulcer­at­ed agony, he was imposed upon by two Pres­by­ter­ian min­is­ters who pushed past his house­keep­er and urged him to avoid damna­tion by accept­ing Jesus Christ. ‘Let me have none of your Popish stuff,’ Paine respond­ed. ‘Get away with you, good morn­ing, good morn­ing.’ The same demand was made of him as his eyes were clos­ing. ‘Do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God?’ He answered quite dis­tinct­ly: ‘I have no wish to believe on that sub­ject.’ Thus he expired with his rea­son, and his rights, both still staunch­ly defend­ed until the very last.

via 3 Quarks Dai­ly

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Steve Mar­tin Writes Song for Hymn-Deprived Athe­ists

Christo­pher Hitchens Revis­es the Ten Com­mand­ments

The Van Doos in Afghanistan (Free Until Monday)

A quick fyi: To mark Remem­brance Day, the Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da (NFB) has made Claude Guilmain’s doc­u­men­tary The Van Doos in Afghanistan avail­able online for a lim­it­ed time. You can watch it free until Mon­day. The NFB writes:

In this doc­u­men­tary, we hear direct­ly from fran­coph­o­ne sol­diers serv­ing in the Roy­al 22e Rég­i­ment (known in Eng­lish as “Van Doos”) who were filmed in the field in March 2011, dur­ing their deploy­ment to Afghanistan. They speak sim­ply and direct­ly about their work, whether on patrol or per­form­ing their duties at the base. The film’s images and inter­views bring home the com­plex­i­ty of the issues on the ground and shed light on the lit­tle-under­stood expe­ri­ences of the men and women who served in Afghanistan.

You’ll find oth­er free films by the NFB in our big col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online. It now has north of 435 films on the list.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Stars in New Symphony of Science

Elec­tron­ic musi­cian John Boswell has just released the 12th install­ment in his “Sym­pho­ny of Sci­ence” series. Onward to the Edge cel­e­brates the adven­ture of space explo­ration and fea­tures the auto-tuned voic­es of astro­physi­cist Neil deGrasse Tyson, par­ti­cle physi­cist Bri­an Cox and plan­e­tary sci­en­tist Car­olyn Por­co. It’s a mashup of mate­r­i­al from four sources: Tyson’s My Favorite Uni­verse video course, Cox’s BBC series Won­ders of the Solar Sys­tem, a TED talk by Por­co and scenes from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s A Trav­el­er’s Guide to the Plan­ets.

The “Sym­pho­ny of Sci­ence” grew out of Boswell’s 2009 video, A Glo­ri­ous Dawn, which stitch­es togeth­er scenes from Carl Sagan’s Cos­mos and Stephen Hawk­ing’s Uni­verse and has been viewed over six mil­lion times on YouTube. You can down­load a free dig­i­tal album of all 12 songs from the series, along with a bonus track, here. H/T Boing­Bo­ing

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It’s the Tax Code, Stupid: Niall Ferguson Solves Our Economic Mess

Don’t blame the lamestream media for this one. When it comes to our pro­tract­ed eco­nom­ic stag­na­tion, there is ulti­mate­ly one place to point the fin­ger: It’s those pesky main­stream econ­o­mists.

That’s the con­clu­sion of Niall Fer­gu­son, his­to­ry pro­fes­sor at Har­vard and author of The Ascent of Mon­ey: A Finan­cial His­to­ry of the World. Fer­gu­son makes his point in the first install­ment of a new ani­mat­ed series of “Op-Vids” from The Dai­ly Beast. “What is an Op-Vid,” writes The Dai­ly Beast on Vimeo? “Opin­ion, with­out the pun­dits yelling. Hand­made ani­ma­tion, with­out the car­i­ca­tures. Essays with­out the text. Com­plex top­ics, with­out the bor­ing.” With­out the bor­ing what? Com­plex­i­ty?

Fer­gu­son makes some curi­ous claims. He admits that stim­u­lus spend­ing has worked up to a point: It helped avoid anoth­er Great Depres­sion. But it didn’t cre­ate a sus­tained recov­ery. Why? Because there wasn’t enough of it? No. Because it leaks. In a glob­al econ­o­my, Fer­gu­son argues, you would need chaos the­o­ry to under­stand where the stim­u­lus actu­al­ly ends up. Even more curi­ous­ly, Fer­gu­son argues that ris­ing income inequal­i­ty in Amer­i­ca “lim­its the effec­tive­ness of Key­ne­sian poli­cies, because they need aver­age house­holds to boost their spend­ing.” (So you can for­get about hir­ing teach­ers, fire­fight­ers or con­struc­tion work­ers; that wouldn’t help “aver­age” house­holds spend more.)

Hav­ing thus defeat­ed Key­ne­sian­ism, Fer­gu­son moves on to offer a solu­tion: Sim­pli­fy the tax code. Nev­er mind the short­fall in aggre­gate demand for goods and ser­vices. Nev­er mind that corporations–sitting on $2 tril­lion in unin­vest­ed cash reserves–have main­tained near-record prof­its despite the short­fall by cut­ting pro­duc­tion and lay­ing off work­ers. Sim­pli­fy the tax code, says Fer­gu­son, and Amer­i­can com­pa­nies will hire more Amer­i­can work­ers. Prob­lem solved.

As a foot­note, it’s worth point­ing out that in ear­ly 2009 Fer­gu­son was involved in a very pub­lic debate with Prince­ton econ­o­mist Paul Krug­man over the effec­tive­ness of fis­cal expan­sion. Fer­gu­son argued that gov­ern­ment bor­row­ing would dam­age the econ­o­my by dri­ving up inter­est rates. Near­ly three years lat­er, inter­est rates have remained very low. Look­ing back on the debate, Krug­man said of Fer­gu­son, “He does­n’t under­stand Macro­eco­nom­ics 101.”

Steve Jobs Muses on What’s Wrong with American Education, 1995

In late Octo­ber, Com­put­er­world unearthed a lengthy inter­view with Steve Jobs orig­i­nal­ly record­ed back in 1995, when Jobs was at NeXT Com­put­er, and still two years away from his tri­umphant return to Apple. Filmed as part of an oral his­to­ry project, the wide-rang­ing inter­view begins with Jobs’ child­hood and his ear­ly school days, and it all sets the stage for Jobs to muse on the state of pub­lic edu­ca­tion in Amer­i­ca. He began:

I’d like the peo­ple teach­ing my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the com­pa­ny I work for, mak­ing a hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars a year. Why should they work at a school for thir­ty-five to forty thou­sand dol­lars if they could get a job here at a hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars a year? Is that an intel­li­gence test? The prob­lem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever hap­pened to edu­ca­tion because it’s not a mer­i­toc­ra­cy. It turns into a bureau­cra­cy, which is exact­ly what has hap­pened. The teach­ers can’t teach and admin­is­tra­tors run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s ter­ri­ble.

Asked what changes he would make, Jobs con­tin­ued:

I’ve been a very strong believ­er in that what we need to do in edu­ca­tion is to go to the full vouch­er sys­tem. I know this isn’t what the inter­view was sup­posed to be about but it is what I care about a great deal.… The prob­lem that we have in this coun­try is that [par­ents] went away. [They] stopped pay­ing atten­tion to their schools, for the most part. What hap­pened was that moth­ers start­ed work­ing and they did­n’t have time to spend at PTA meet­ings and watch­ing their kids’ school. Schools became much more insti­tu­tion­al­ized and par­ents spent less and less and less time involved in their kids’ edu­ca­tion. What hap­pens when a cus­tomer goes away and a monop­oly gets con­trol … is that the ser­vice lev­el almost always goes down.

And so the answer. Vouch­ers, entre­pre­neur­ship and mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion:

I’ve sug­gest­ed as an exam­ple, if you go to Stan­ford Busi­ness School, they have a pub­lic pol­i­cy track; they could start a school admin­is­tra­tor track. You could get a bunch of peo­ple com­ing out of col­lege tying up with some­one out of the busi­ness school, they could be start­ing their own school. You could have twen­ty-five year old stu­dents out of col­lege, very ide­al­is­tic, full of ener­gy instead of start­ing a Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­ny, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far bet­ter than any of our pub­lic schools would. The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the qual­i­ty of schools again, just in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the pub­lic schools would go broke. There’s no ques­tion about it. It would be rather painful for the first sev­er­al years.… The biggest com­plaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wal­low togeth­er in either a pri­vate school or rem­nants of a pub­lic school sys­tem. To me that’s like say­ing “Well, all the car man­u­fac­tur­ers are going to make BMWs and Mer­cedes and nobody’s going to make a ten thou­sand dol­lar car.” I think the most hot­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket right now is the ten thou­sand dol­lar car area. You’ve got all the Japan­ese play­ing in it. You’ve got Gen­er­al Motors who spent five mil­lion dol­lars sub­si­diz­ing Sat­urn to com­pete in that mar­ket. You’ve got Ford which has just intro­duced two new cars in that mar­ket. You’ve got Chrysler with the Neon.…

The full tran­script appears here. Or, if you want to watch the inter­view on video, you can jump to Com­put­er­world, where, rather lame­ly, you will need to reg­is­ter before watch­ing the actu­al talk. Bad job by Com­put­er­world.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Free Copy of Steve Jobs Biog­ra­phy; Plus Inter­view with Author

Steve Jobs Demos the First Mac­in­tosh in 1984

Steve Jobs Nar­rates the First “Think Dif­fer­ent” Ad (Nev­er Aired)

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The Rolling Stones Sing Jingle for Rice Krispies Commercial (1964)

Kel­log­g’s first start­ed mar­ket­ing Rice Krispies way back in 1928, and, ever since, we’ve grown accus­tomed to whole­some adver­tis­ing cam­paigns that fea­ture the car­toon mas­cots Snap, Crack­le and Pop. (See ad from 1939.) For a brief moment in 1964, all of this whole­some­ness was put aside when the J. Wal­ter Thomp­son ad agency worked with the Rolling Stones to cre­ate a hip­per, more inspired jin­gle. The result­ing com­mer­cial aired briefly only in the UK…

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.