Klingon for English Speakers: Sign Up for a Free Course Coming Soon


Duolingo provides free educational resources that will help you learn a whole host of terrestrial languages — languages like Spanish, French, German, and Italian. But now they’re expanding into extraterrestrial languages too, like Klingon. That’s, of course, “the constructed language spoken by the fictional extraterrestrial Klingon species in the Star Trek universe. Created by Marc Okrand, the language itself is centered around spacecraft, warfare, and weaponry — but it also reflects the directness and sense of humor of the Klingon culture.”

Duolingo’s Klingon course — Klingon for English Speakers — is currently under development.  But, so far, almost 18,000 people have requested to be notified when the course is ready to go. You can add your name to the list here, too.

And before you go, make sure you check out our meta list of Free Language Lessons, where you can find free lessons covering 48 different languages. The list includes terrestrial lessons from Duolingo too.

via Laughing Squid

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George Orwell and Christopher Hitchens’ Ironclad Rules for Making a Good Cup of Tea


It’s not that I don’t appreciate good coffee—I consider it a delicacy. But at the end and the beginning of the day, coffee mostly functions as a caffeine delivery system. But not tea. Tea must be savored, and it must be good. Americans’ enthusiasm for tea does not come naturally. What passes for tea in the U.S. is best described by Christopher Hitchens as “a cup or pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate.” (See his January 2011 piece in Slate called “How to Make a Decent Cup of Tea.”) If this doesn’t sound wrong, he elaborates, setting up his endorsement of George Orwell’s methodical instructions for proper tea:

Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter.

I like Jimmy Carter. I haven’t read his memoirs, and this does indeed sound awful. And before I had learned anything at all about drinking tea, it was all I knew. I tried. I cribbed a few notes here and there, wrote in tea shops, read the rough-hewn formalism of Sen no Rikyu, and looked to the East. I did not look to Britain and her former Commonwealth.

Perhaps I should. George Orwell would probably say so. Hitchens as well, though they don’t perfectly agree with each other. “Tea,” wrote Orwell in his famous 1946 essay “A Nice Cup of Tea,” “is one of the mainstays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but… the manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.” The only disagreement Hitchens musters against Orwell is that some of his rules, “(always use Indian or Ceylonese—i.e. Sri Lankan—tea; make tea only in small quantities; avoid silverware pots) may be considered optional or outmoded.”

Many old restraints may be loosened. But make no mistake, for Hitchens, as for Orwell, making a good cup of tea is not about mindfulness, patience, impermanence, or meditation. It is about rules. Orwell had 11. The “essential ones are easily committed to memory, and they are simple to put into practice.” What are they? Hitchens has his own succinct paraphrase, which you can read over at Slate. Orwell’s rather baroque list we reprint, in part, below for your edification. Read the complete essay here. Hitchens recommends you straighten out your next barista on some tea essentials. Imagine, however, presenting such an unfortunate person with this list of demands:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it….
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot…. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse….
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right….  I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes….
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea….
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours….
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type….
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk…
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt….

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

Take a Virtual Tour of Robben Island Where Nelson Mandela and Other Apartheid Opponents Were Jailed

Ted Mills recently told you all about the Google-powered virtual tour of Abbey Road Studios. What shouldn’t go without mention is the new, Google-powered virtual tour of Robben Island — “the island where Nelson Mandela and many of South Africa’s freedom fighters were imprisoned during their quest for equality.” Along with over 3,000 political prisoners, Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned here, much of the time confined to a 8 x 7 foot prison cell. (Don’t forget Mandela also spent another nine years in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison.)

All of the Robben Island tours are conducted by ex-prisoners. On the new virtual tour, you will encounter Vusumsi Mcongo (see above), a member of the anti-Apartheid movement who was jailed on Robben Island from 1978 to 1990.

You can start the tour of the maximum security prison and UNESCO World Heritage Site here.

via Google

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. History: From Colonialism to Obama in 47 Videos

Those who cannot remember the past, said George Santayana, are condemned to repeat it. Luckily, if you learn about the past from John Green’s Crash Course video series, you can play them on repeat as many times as you like until you do remember it. We’ve previously featured the acclaimed young-adult novelist, pioneering vlogger, internet educator, and apparent history buff Green’s Crash Course in Big History and Crash Course in World History, and today we have for you his much more narrowly-focused Crash Course in U.S. History.

The history of the United States of America — an entity much younger than not just the universe and the world but than most other countries — would seem entirely manageable by comparison, one Green and his team could knock off in a few weeks and move on to grander subjects. But as anyone in the nonfiction publishing industry knows, when American history sells, it sells, not just because of the country’s prominent place on the world stage, but because American history connects to so many other not just historical but social, political, economic, and even technological themes.

Green and company (a group that includes his onetime high school history teacher) thus have more than enough to work with for all 47 episodes of Crash Course U.S. History, from the natives and the Spaniards to the American Revolution to the Civil War to the Great Depression to the 60s to the Clinton years to what the series calls Obamanation — with plenty in between. Green tells the story with his usual mixture of well-selected detail, copious visual aids, and dizzying speed (enough of all of them so that you really do need to re-watch the videos, or at least pause them frequently), resulting in a breezy yet surprisingly comprehensive long-form primer on just what made the United States so big, so powerful, so innovative, so self-regarding, so frustrating — and, ultimately, so fascinating.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear What is Jazz?: Leonard Bernstein’s Introduction to the Great American Art Form (1956)

By 1956, jazz was entering its hard bop phase, far from its New Orleans birthplace. At the same time, it was fracturing into several international genres, with the influence of Latin rhythms and the south sea breezes of lounge.

Rock and Roll was just about to displace this music as a public menace du jour (or a passing fad as some thought). This fascinating Columbia release from 1956 finds the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein setting down his thoughts on the art form of jazz. A spoken word record with samples from ragtime to Miles Davis, Bernstein’s defense-as-lecture is a window on the culture wars at the time.

He’s here to defend jazz against its critics, and argues against their opinions: jazz has low-class origins, it’s loud, and it’s not art — the same critiques to be leveled decades later against hip hop.

In 1956, Bernstein was already known to the general public as an educator on classical music. He gave lectures on CBS’ Omnibus TV program on the great symphonies, while he had already dabbled in the instrumentation and textures of jazz in his score to On the Waterfront, and was busy working on West Side Story. So he was in a perfect position to introduce a conservative mind to jazz. “I love it because it’s an original kind of emotional expression, in that it is never wholly sad or wholly happy,” he says.

Appearing on the album is Buck Clayton, Louis Armstrong, Buster Bailey, Bessie Smith, Teo Macero, and Miles Davis. Davis, who had just been signed by Columbia’s George Avakian, plays “Sweet Sue,” making this track his first recording for the label. Bernstein illustrates jazz music theory, “blue notes,” dissonance, rhythm and explores the African origins of the music for 42 fascinating minutes. Did this LP turn a lot of classical musos on to jazz? Did this influence the children whose parents had this in their collection? Was it all forgotten several years later with Beatlemania? Whatever the answer, it’s an intriguing remnant of a transitional time.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Four Franz Kafka Animations: Enjoy Creative Animated Shorts from Poland, Japan, Russia & Canada

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari thought of Kafka as an international writer, in solidarity with minority groups worldwide. Other scholars have characterized his work—and Kafka himself wrote as much—as literature concerned with national identity. Academic debates, however, have no bearing on how ordinary readers, and writers, around the world take in Kafka’s novels and short stories. Writers with both national and international pedigrees such as Borges, Murakami, Marquez, and Nabokov have drawn much inspiration from the Czech-Jewish writer, as have filmmakers and animators. Today we revisit several international animations inspired by Kafka, the first, above by Polish animator Piotr Dumala.

Trained a sculptor, Dumala’s textural brand of “destructive animation” creates chilling, high contrast images that appropriately capture the eerie and unresolved play of light and dark in Kafka’s work. The Polish artist’s 1997 Franz Kafka draws on scenes from the author’s life, as told in his diaries.

Next, watch a very disorienting 2007 Japanese adaptation of Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” by animator Koji Yamamura. The soundtrack and monotone Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) effectively conveys the tone of the story, which John Updike described as “a sensation of anxiety and shame whose center cannot be located and therefore cannot be placated; a sense of an infinite difficulty with things, impeding every step.” Read the original story here.

Russian-American team Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker created the 1963 animation above using a “pinscreen” technique, which photographs the three-dimensional movement of hundreds of pins, making images from real light and shadow. We’ve previously written on just “how demanding and painstaking an effort” the animators made to create their work. Their previous efforts got the attention of Orson Welles, who commissioned the above short as a prologue for his Anthony Perkins-starring film version of The Trial. And yes, that voice you hear narrating the parable “Before the Law,” an excerpt from Kafka’s novel, is Welles himself.

Kafka’s most famous story, The Metamorphosis, inspired Canadian animator Caroline Leaf’s 1977 film above. Leaf’s Kafka animation also takes a sculptural approach to the author’s work, this time sculpting in sand, a medium Leaf herself says created “black and white sand images” with “the potential to have a Kafka-esque feel—dark and mysterious.” However we interpret the content of Kafka’s work, the feel of his stories is unmistakable to readers and interpreters across continents. It’s one that consistently inspires artists to use a spare, high contrast style in adapting him.

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

110 Drawings and Paintings by J.R.R. Tolkien: Of Middle-Earth and Beyond


A few years ago, we featured J.R.R. Tolkien’s personal cover designs for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a series of novels that justifiably made his name as a world-builder in prose (and occasional verse), but rather overshadowed his output as an illustrator. He didn’t just do covers for his own books, either. You can get a sense of the breadth of Tolkien’s visual art at the Tolkien Gateway’s gallery of over 100 images by Tolkien, which reveal the landscapes, letters, interiors, and animals within the creator of Middle-Earth’s mind.


Many of these images come with descriptions of their provenance, which you can read if you click on their thumbnails in the gallery. At the top of the post, you’ll find Tolkien’s 1927 painting Glaurung Sets Forth to Seek Turin, first published in The Silmarillion Calendar 1978.

“The title is in Old English letters, which J. R. R. Tolkien frequently used when writing in a formal style,” says the Tolkien Gateway, noting that, “at the time of the painting the name of the Father of Dragons was Glórund, not Glaurung,” and that “the entrance to Nargothrond is here seen as a single arch, unlike the triple doors seen in other drawings.” (Leave it to a Tolkien fan site to have just this sort of information at the ready.)


We also have here Tolkien’s crayon drawing of the West Gate of the Moria, a scene described in The Fellowship of the Ring as follows: “Beyond the ominous water were reared vast cliffs, their stern faces pallid in the fading light: final and impassable.” Just above is Tolkien’s rendering of Bag-End, residence of a certain B. Baggins, Esquire, “coloured by H.E. Riddett and first published in the English De Luxe edition and in a new edition of the Dutch translation (both 1976) of The Hobbit.” Just below, you can see his 1911 sketch of the much less fantastical Lamb’s Farm, Gedling.


Beyond perusing the images in the Tolkien Gateway, you’ll also want to have a look at Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull’s book, J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. Some Tolkien enthusiasts will, understandably, prefer to keep their personal visualizations of the Lord of the Rings universe unsullied by non-textual imagery such as this, but if all of Peter Jackson’s megabudget film adaptations didn’t sully you, then Tolkien’s mild, almost rustic but still solemnly evocative drawings and paintings can only enrich the Middle-Earth in your own mind.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Poetry of the Cherry Blossoms Comes to Life in a One Minute Time Lapse Video

Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of spring—these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.

Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness (1330-1332)

Depending on your coordinates, cherry blossom season is either approaching, over, or in full riotous bloom. Every year, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden schedules its annual Sakura Matsuri festival in ignorance of what the weather may hold. Will lingering winter temperatures delay the blossoms, or will spring come early, causing the trees to erupt way earlier than anticipated?

The only thing one can be certain of is a mob scene, as ardent flower-viewers of all ages stampede toward the cotton candy-colored trees, devices in hand. Modern hanami practice would surely confound the elite of the 8th Century Imperial Court. They wouldn’t have understood the concept of “selfie” if it bit ‘em in the shakuhachi.

Of course, for every determined 21st-century soul who makes a point of admiring the blossoms during their brief appearance, there are thousands more who, in the words of bureaucrat-turned-monk, Kenko, “lower the blinds…unaware of the passing of spring.”

Perhaps this latter group is who Dave Allen, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s former webmaster, had in mind when he installed a camera in a weatherproof box near the Cherry Esplanade. Every 3 minutes, the shutter snapped, capturing not just the glorious Prunus ‘Kanzan’ (aka Sekiyama) that line the walkways, but also a wide range of visitors who flocked to the garden between April 18 to April 26, 2008, seeking respite from the pressures of urban living.

The time lapse video Allen assembled from 3000 captured moments takes slightly more than a minute to view. I think we have time to spare…

Watch it once for the main attraction…

And then again for the (pixillated) people. Randomly press “pause” to catch a kissing couple, a Hasidic man in a shtreimel, and a little girl in pink who somehow found herself the sole human on the path…

Then one more time for the shadows of the clouds. Ah… That’s likely the time-strapped virtual viewer’s best chance for achieving the sort of mindset one might ascribe to The Tale of Genji.

(Though perhaps a calm and contemplative mood was never the goal. As ninth century aristocratic poet Ariwara no Narihira wrote (in translation by Hiroaki Sato & Burton Watson):

If there were no such thing

as cherry blossoms

in this world,

in springtime how untroubled

our hearts would be!

There is a modern scholar on Tumblr whose research supports this take on the pink blooms’ blood quickening effects.)

In a week or two it will all be over.

As the petals fall, take refuge in Toi Derricotte’s recent poem. Its setting should feel familiar…

Cherry blossoms

I went down to

mingle my breath

with the breath

of the cherry blossoms.

There were photographers:

Mothers arranging their

children against 

gnarled old trees;

a couple, hugging, 

asks a passerby

to snap them

like that,

so that their love

will always be caught

between two friendships:

ours & the friendship

of the cherry trees.

Oh Cherry,

why can’t my poems

be as beautiful?

A young woman in a fur-trimmed

coat sets a card table

with linens, candles,

a picnic basket & wine.

A father tips

a boy’s wheelchair back

so he can gaze

up at a branched


                     All around us

the blossoms

flurry down


        Be patient

you have an ancient beauty.

                                            Be patient,

                                  you have an ancient beauty.

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Ayun Halliday will be releasing the 55th issue of her zine, the East Village Inky at the Brooklyn Zine Fest this Sunday. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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