N Is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdős, the Most Prolific Mathematician of the 20th Century

For any­one who enjoyed Dan­ger­ous Knowl­edge (the BBC’s 90-minute doc­u­men­tary that takes a close look at four math­e­mati­cians – Georg Can­tor, Lud­wig Boltz­mann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Tur­ing), we bring you this — N Is a Num­ber: A Por­trait of Paul Erdős. Filmed in 1993 by direc­tor George Paul Csic­sery, the doc­u­men­tary revis­its the intel­lec­tu­al con­tri­bu­tions of Paul Erdös (1913–1996), per­haps the most pro­lif­ic math­e­mati­cian of the last cen­tu­ry. The Hun­gar­i­an-born thinker appar­ent­ly pub­lished more papers than any oth­er math­e­mati­cian in record­ed his­to­ry and solved seem­ing­ly unsolv­able prob­lems in graph the­o­ry and num­ber the­o­ry. Run time is 57 min­utes. You can pur­chase a copy online here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Break­ing the Code, Fea­tur­ing Derek Jaco­bi as Alan Tur­ing

Math­e­mat­ics in Movies: Har­vard Prof Curates 150+ Scenes

William Faulkner Quits His Post Office Job in Splendid Fashion with a 1924 Resignation Letter

Long before William Faulkn­er got his big break in lit­er­a­ture, he, like many of us, had a good old-fash­ioned day job. Faulkn­er had a series of odd jobs in fact. But, most famous­ly, he worked from 1921 to 1924 as the post­mas­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi, where, accord­ing to leg­end, he did the fol­low­ing: some­times threw mail in the garbage, oth­er times read mag­a­zines before bring­ing them to peo­ple’s homes, often played cards and wrote fic­tion dur­ing work­ing hours, occa­sion­al­ly went golf­ing instead of deliv­er­ing mail, and gen­er­al­ly ignored his col­leagues and cus­tomers. But, who could blame him? Espe­cial­ly when he earned $20,000 in today’s mon­ey and had great lit­er­ary ambi­tions to pur­sue. Even­tu­al­ly, when a postal inspec­tor came to inves­ti­gate, Faulkn­er resigned. The res­ig­na­tion let­ter, recent­ly high­light­ed by Let­ters of Note, is short (a mere 56 words) and cut­ting. But, scathing as it was, it did­n’t stop the US postal sys­tem from issu­ing a com­mem­o­ra­tive Faulkn­er stamp in 1987.

Octo­ber, 1924

As long as I live under the cap­i­tal­is­tic sys­tem, I expect to have my life influ­enced by the demands of mon­eyed peo­ple. But I will be damned if I pro­pose to be at the beck and call of every itin­er­ant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

This, sir, is my res­ig­na­tion.

(Signed by Faulkn­er)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Drink­ing with William Faulkn­er

William Faulkn­er Audio Archive Goes Online

William Faulkn­er Reads from As I Lay Dying

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Sean Connery Reads C.P. Cavafy’s Epic Poem “Ithaca,” Set to the Music of Vangelis

This video com­bines three things that make me hap­py: the voice of Sean Con­nery, the music of Van­ge­lis (Blade Run­ner, Char­i­ots of Fire), and the poet­ry of C.P. Cavafy. Put them all togeth­er and you get a bliss­ful sound­scape of rolling synth lines, rolling Scot­tish R’s, and a suc­ces­sion of Home­r­ic images and anaphor­ic lines. And the video’s quite nice as well.

Cavafy, whose work, I’m told, is real­ly untrans­lat­able from the orig­i­nal Greek, always seems to come out pret­ty well to me in Eng­lish. “Itha­ca,” one of his most pop­u­lar poems, express­es what in less­er hands might be a banal sen­ti­ment akin to “it’s the jour­ney, not the des­ti­na­tion.” But in Cavafy’s poem, the jour­ney is both Odysseus’s and ours; it’s epic where our lives seem small, and it trans­lates our minor wan­der­ings to the realm of myth­ic his­to­ry.

Any­way, it seems rude to say much more and drown the poem in com­men­tary. So, fol­low along with Sean Con­nery and enjoy… hap­py Fri­day.

Find the text of the poem after the jump. (more…)

How to Make Better Decisions, a Thought-Provoking Documentary by the BBC

“In this pro­gram,” says nar­ra­tor Peter Capal­di at the out­set, “we’re going to show you how to be more ratio­nal, and deal with some of life’s biggest deci­sions.” It’s a pret­ty big claim, and you may doubt that it’s true (espe­cial­ly dur­ing the sil­ly open­ing scene involv­ing a group of nerds try­ing to score a date) but give this 2008 BBC Hori­zon pro­gram a lit­tle time and you might come away with a few things to think about. How to Make Bet­ter Deci­sions takes us inside cog­ni­tive sci­ence lab­o­ra­to­ries and out on the streets to demon­strate how the emo­tion­al part of our brain gets the bet­ter of the ratio­nal part. The film intro­duces a num­ber of intrigu­ing con­cepts, includ­ing Prospect The­o­ry“the fram­ing effect,” and “prim­ing.” More con­tro­ver­sial­ly, it high­lights some research that sug­gests the pos­si­bil­i­ty that our intu­ition may have some­thing to do with an abil­i­ty to sense future events. How to Make Bet­ter Deci­sions is 49 min­utes long, and we’ve decid­ed to add it to our grow­ing col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Neu­ro­science and Free Will

Dan Ariely’s Ani­mat­ed Talk on How and Why We’re Dis­hon­est

Norman Mailer: Strong Writer, Weak Actor, Brutally Wrestles Actor Rip Torn

“Gorg­ing on the man’s image and voice is a reminder of his strength as a writer that’s eas­i­est to over­look: an aware­ness of his own lim­i­ta­tions. This is a qual­i­ty that his act­ing lacks.” This Chris­tine Small­wood writes of the nov­el­ist Nor­man Mail­er after hav­ing watched the late-six­ties/ear­ly-sev­en­ties tril­o­gy of films he direct­ed and starred in: Wild 90, Beyond the Law, and Maid­stone. Her post on the New York­er’s blog Page-Turn­er con­sid­ers these pic­tures, recent­ly released as a box set in the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion’s Eclipse Series, ulti­mate­ly find­ing them huge­ly flawed but not unin­ter­est­ing­ly so. They have cin­e­matog­ra­phy by a young D.A. Pen­nebak­er, they fore­shad­ow real­i­ty tele­vi­sion in their own skewed way, and they cap­ture the spec­ta­cle of Nor­man Mail­er rev­el­ing in, essen­tial­ly, the role of him­self. Not that this counts as an act­ing tech­nique: “Mail­er lurch­es, lum­bers, rants, reels,” writes Small­wood. “He doesn’t both­er with a sto­ry that would drum up inter­est or fix atten­tion, because he knows, and you know, that you’re watch­ing because he’s Nor­man Mail­er.”

But a force fiercer than Mail­er’s will to impose his own real­i­ty rips into the very end of Maid­stone, and the result has become a pop­u­lar clip on the inter­net. That force’s name is Rip Torn. He plays the broth­er-in-law and would-be assas­sin of Mail­er’s char­ac­ter, an icon­o­clas­tic auteur run­ning for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. On cam­era, Torn sud­den­ly attacks Mail­er, and the two launch into what looks like an actu­al brawl, involv­ing tech­niques up to and includ­ing a ham­mer to the ear. “The intru­sion of bald ‘real life’ means that Mail­er has to reck­on with anoth­er per­son,” writes Small­wood. “This, I think, is what moti­vat­ed his inter­est in vio­lence more gen­er­al­ly: it inter­rupt­ed the con­stant pre­oc­cu­pa­tion of being Nor­man Mail­er, forc­ing him out of him­self. In his writ­ing, he could some­times dis­ci­pline him­self into achiev­ing those moments, as when he imag­ined the mind-set of a police­man in ‘Armies of the Night,’ but onscreen he need­ed to get hit.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Nor­man Mail­er & Mar­tin Amis, No Strangers to Con­tro­ver­sy, Talk in 1991

Nor­man Mail­er & Mar­shall McLuhan Debate the Elec­tron­ic Age

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

Eisenhower Answers America: The First Political Advertisements on American TV (1952)

Going into the 1952 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the Democ­rats had held the White House for near­ly twen­ty years. FDR took office in 1933, begin­ning the first of twelve years in office. Then Har­ry S. Tru­man led the nation for near­ly anoth­er eight years. Dur­ing that time, Amer­i­ca endured a lot. War, eco­nom­ic depres­sion, and more war — some hot, some cold. By the time the 1950s rolled around, Amer­i­cans were tired and ready for a change.

In the 1952 elec­tion, we find Adlai Steven­son, the reluc­tant Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date, squar­ing off against Dwight D. Eisen­how­er, the war hero who had led Amer­i­can troops to vic­to­ry in Europe, instant­ly becom­ing the “most admired liv­ing Amer­i­can” (accord­ing to opin­ion polls). Eisen­how­er, it turns out, knew how to win elec­tions as well as wars. In ’52, Ike aired the first ad cam­paigns on tele­vi­sion. Called Eisen­how­er Answers Amer­i­ca, the ads fea­tured “every­day” Amer­i­cans ask­ing ques­tions about the issues of the day — the war in Korea, infla­tion, high tax­es, etc. PBS has a well-researched intro­duc­tion to this inno­va­tion in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, while the nice­ly-curat­ed web site, The Liv­ing Room Can­di­date, offers a rich col­lec­tion of cam­paign com­mer­cials aired between 1952 and 2008.

You can watch three ads from Eisen­how­er Answers Amer­i­ca above and below.

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Samuel L. Jackson Stars in “Wake the F**ck Up for Obama,” a NSFW Political Children’s Tale

Last sum­mer, Samuel L. Jack­son delight­ed lis­ten­ers when he nar­rat­ed the audio ver­sion of Adam Mans­bach’s twist­ed lit­tle chil­dren’s bed­time sto­ry, Go the F**k to Sleep. Now, Jack­son returns with Wake the F**ck Up for Oba­maAccord­ing to the New York Post (if they say it, it must be true!), Mans­bach wrote the Dr. Seuss­ian script for the polit­i­cal ad. And it was appar­ent­ly fund­ed by the Jew­ish Coun­cil for Research and Edu­ca­tion, a lib­er­al super PAC fund­ed by George Soros’ 25-year-old son. Until today, I thought that Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, the SCOTUS deci­sion that unleashed a tor­rent of Super PAC ads on our air­waves, did more to under­mine Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy than any for­eign threat. But when the video hit the 2:44 mark, you start to have your doubts.

via Gal­ley Cat

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Peter Sellers Gives a Quick Demonstration of British Accents

A while ago we brought you a hilar­i­ous series of record­ings of the British comedic actor Peter Sell­ers read­ing The Bea­t­les’ “She Loves You” in four dif­fer­ent accents. Today we have a brief clip from a tele­phone call by Sell­ers on the set of Stan­ley Kubrick­’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb (in which Sell­ers played three dif­fer­ent roles). Here he demon­strates the nuances of a few of the many accents around Great Britain. From cock­ney to upper class and from Lon­don to Edin­burgh, it’s clas­sic Sell­ers all the way.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Peter Sell­ers: His Life in Home Movies

Peter Sell­ers Per­forms The Bea­t­les in Shake­speare­an Mode

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.