The Rolling Stones Play a Gig in Communist Warsaw and a Riot Ensues (1967)

My Name is called Disturbance…. — “Street Fighting Man”

More than two decades before German band the Scorpions blew their allegedly CIA-penned “Wind of Change” over the end of the Cold War; before the “hard rock Woodstock” in Moscow; before Bruce Springsteen rocked East Berlin and rang the “Chimes of Freedom,” another band took the stage behind the Iron Curtain: one not particularly well-known at the time for making geopolitical statements.

In 1967, the Rolling Stones recorded and released Between the Buttons and major hits “Ruby Tuesday” and “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” They tried to compete with the Beatles with stabs at psychedelia on Their Satanic Majesties Request. They didn’t record what is sometimes considered their most political song, “Street Fighting Man,” for another two years, and that song — with its options of street fighting or singing for a rock and roll band — has never been mistaken for a peace anthem.


It wasn’t peace the band courted in their original plan to play Moscow. “They started toying with the idea of performing in Moscow and becoming the most controversial rock band to play on the other side of the Iron Curtain,” writes Wojciech Oleksiak at Culture.pl. “Both the Soviet Union and the UK denied their requests. How is it, Oleksiak asks, “that in 1967 — the middle of the Cold War — Mick, Keith, Brian, Bill, and Charlie came to Poland and performed in Warsaw, at a huge hall known for being traditionally used for the Communist Party’s plenary congresses?” You’ll find the answer in the video at the top from Bandsplaining.

Just above, see footage of the concert itself, culled from newsreel footage and TV broadcasts. The uploader has done us the kindness of putting timestamps in the video for the three songs shown here:

00:00 – Paint It Black

00:43 – 19th Nervous Breakdown

01:06 – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

The Stones were “by no means the first western group to play in communist Poland,” writes Polish musician and journalist Paweł Brodowsky, who was in the audience. “By that time I had already seen The Animals, The Hollies, Lulu, and Cliff Richard and the Shadows.” It didn’t hurt that Władysław Jakubowski, the deputy director of Pagart — “a state-owned concert agency,” writes Sam Kemp at Far Out — “had some sympathy for Poland’s young music fans” (just as Gorbachev would in the time of glasnost). None of the other acts caused anything like the chaos that would ensue when the Stones came to Warsaw.

Bands allowed into the country came from a list of names Jakubowski collected from young Polish journalists. How Jakubowski achieved the required permissions from his higher-ups is something of a mystery, Oleksiek writes. Why the deputy director let the Stones into the country even more so. Their reputation for destruction preceded them: “He must have heard about The Rolling Stones’ wrecking of the Olympia, the most famous concert hall in Paris. He was a close friend of Bruno Coquatrix, its director.” At any rate, the Warsaw concert turned into a riot. The band could not be blamed, entirely.

Hearing about the Stones’ arrival, thousands of young fans lined up for tickets. “What most of them didn’t know,” Kemp writes, “was that the bulk of them had already been reserved for communist party members and their families.” The hall was also packed beyond capacity, “with fans hanging off the edge of balconies.” Police fought to keep fans away from the stage and the seated crowds of dour bureaucrats. Richards and Jagger antagonized the cops with obscenities, making ticketless fans who’d breached the doors even more rabid.

Outside, as you can see in the short Polish documentary above, a full-blown riot with tear gas and dogs had broken out. This was a time when riots seemed to break out everywhere. (Mick Jagger has cited the Paris uprisings of 1968 as a source for “Street Fighting Man.”) But at the end of the sixties, few other bands could boast not only of playing the communist Eastern Bloc, but of inspiring mayhem from the stage on both sides of the Cold War lines.

And yet, this is not the end of the story. The Stones returned to Warsaw over fifty years later, in 2018, this time with a pointed political statement made at the behest of Lech Wałęsa, in opposition to a rule limiting the age of judges to 65. “I am too old to be a judge but not too old to sing,” Jagger shouted in Polish from the stage. He then launched into the band’s first song on the setlist. And, yes, it was my favorite and maybe yours too: “Street Fighting Man.”

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The Rolling Stones Jam with Muddy Waters for the First and Only Time at Chicago’s Legendary Checkerboard Lounge (1981)

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

The White House’s Forgotten 1970s Vinyl Record Collection: Talking Heads, Sex Pistols, Captain Beefheart, Donna Summer & More

Though it may not be for everyone, the job of President of the United States of America does have its perks. Take, for example, the ability to screen any film you like at the White House: here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured lists of movies watched by Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan. But for Carter in particular, music seems to have been even more important than cinema. So explains John Chuldenko, stepson of that former president’s son Jack, in the episode of The 1600 Sessions above. In it, he tells of his rediscovery of an institution created under Nixon, greatly expanded under Carter, and packed away under Reagan: the White House Record Library.

“The Library, begun by First Lady Pat Nixon, was curated by a volunteer commission of noted music journalists, scholars, and other experts,” says the White House Historical Association. When it came time to update it at the end of the nineteen-seventies, writes Washingtonian’s Rob Brunner, “the selection process would be headed by John Hammond, a hugely influential figure who had signed Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Bruce Springsteen.” Hammond also enlisted genre experts like “Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, who was responsible for jazz, and Boston music critic Bob Blumenthal, who led the pop picks.”


The resulting collection of more than 2,000 LPs contains more than a few albums you wouldn’t expect to hear at the White House. These include Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys (which contains “one of the greatest critiques of both Southern and Northern racism,” as Blumenthal recalls), Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. On the more danceable end of the spectrum, the White House Record Library also includes Funkadelic’s, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Donna Summer — all of their work selected expressly for presidential use.

Having last been updated in 1981 and summarily carted off to “a secure undisclosed storage facility,” the Library remains a musical time capsule of that era. So Chuldenko discovered when, following a thread of family lore, he managed to track down a curator who could arrange a listening session for him. “There is no rap or hip-hop in there,” he said to Washingtonian. “There’s no electronic music. There are no boy bands, no Madonna or Britney Spears. No Michael Jackson!” Having succeeded in his mission of finding the White House Record Library, he’s set for himself the even more formidable challenge of bringing it up to date. Certainly its geographical purview will have to widen, given how America now listens to so much music from beyond its borders. Would the White House care to hear any K-pop recommendations?

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The Library of Congress Makes Its Archives Free for DJs to Remix: Introducing the “Citizen DJ” Project

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The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Helen Keller Was a “Firebrand” Socialist (or How History Whitewashed Her Political Life)

We expect that histories of famous figures will prune their lives, sand down rough edges, rewrite and revise awkward and inconvenient facts. What we may not expect – at least in the U.S. – is that decades of a famous person’s life will be redacted from the record. This is essentially what happened, however, to the biography of Helen Keller even before her death in 1968. Perhaps the main offender remains playwright William Gibson’s 1957 The Miracle Worker, adapted from the 1903 autobiography she wrote at 23. Ostensibly about Keller, the story centers instead, beginning with its title, on her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

The play (and 1962 film with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke reprising their stage parts), portrays Keller as a child, a role she was perpetually assigned by her critics throughout her adult life. She authored and published 14 books and dozens of essays during her 87 years, delivered hundreds of speeches, and maintained a friendship and correspondence with many important figures of the day. But in addition to the usual sexism, she had to contend with those who thought her disability rendered her unfit to express opinions on matters such as politics. They asked that she “confine my activities to social service and the blind,” she wrote in a sardonic reply.


Keller’s political vision was written off as “a Utopian dream, and one who seriously contemplates its realization indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.” What did she see in her mind that made critics rush to belittle her? An end to war and Jim Crow; women’s suffrage, labor rights; an end to poverty and the preventable childhood illnesses it engendered…. In a word, Helen Keller was a socialist — and a publicly committed one. “That we know so little of her avowed socialism is astonishing, because she was an extroverted firebrand who delivered hundreds of radical speeches during” — writes Eileen Jones at Jacobin, quoting the 2020 documentary Her Socialist Smile — “‘a fifty-year run on the lecture circuit.'”

Keller published frequent articles on the newly formed Soviet Union, Eugene Debs and the IWW (including “Why I Became an IWW” in 1916), and “Why Men Need Woman Suffrage” (in 1913). “Turning the yellowing pages of radical newspapers and magazines from 1910 to the early 1920’s,” writes historian Philip Foner in an introduction to her collected socialist writings, “one frequently finds the name Helen Keller beneath speeches, articles, and letters dealing with major social questions of the era. The vision which runs through most of these writings is the vision of socialism.”

Mark Twain may have been the first to call Anne Sullivan a “miracle worker” and Keller “a miracle,” but he treated Keller “not as a freak,” she wrote, but as an equal and shared many of her views. He helped fund her education at Radcliffe College (then a part of Harvard ) and encouraged her to speak and publish. Keller joined the socialist party at age 29, in 1909, and in 1912, she published an article in The New York Call titled “How I Became a Socialist.” The answer, she writes: “by reading.” As would be the case throughout her life, Keller felt the need to take a defensive posture: critics had accused John and Anne Macy (formerly Sullivan) of corrupting her, to which she replied that she neither shared Mr. Macy’s propagandistic variety of Marxism nor did Mrs. Macy share either of their views.

Keller’s political writing is now widely available thanks to the internet, and can no longer be suppressed by educators who want to use her childhood and disability but ignore most of her adult life. Even students watching the PBS American Masters documentary Becoming Helen Keller (see clip at the top) will learn that, gasp, yes, she was a socialist. Dig deeper, and they’ll find her views were unique and significant to the U.S. left: Keith Rosenthal writes at International Socialist Review:

She was a serious political thinker who made important contributions in the fields of socialist theory and practice…. [S]he was a pioneer in pointing the way toward a Marxist understanding of disability oppression and liberation—this reality has been overlooked and censored. The mythological Helen Keller that we are familiar with has aptly been described as a sort of “plaster saint;” a hollow, empty vessel who is little more than an apolitical symbol for perseverance and personal triumph.

Get to know the real Helen Keller — or a seriously overlooked (at least) side of her life — in her political writings herehere, and here and watch a video introduction to her politics by Historically Fantastic further up.

via Jacobin

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Mark Twain & Helen Keller’s Special Friendship: He Treated Me Not as a Freak, But as a Person Dealing with Great Difficulties

Helen Keller Writes a Letter to Nazi Students Before They Burn Her Book: “History Has Taught You Nothing If You Think You Can Kill Ideas” (1933)

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

Real Interviews with People Who Lived in the 1800s

The nineteenth century is well and truly gone. That may sound like a trivial claim, given that we’re now living in the 2020s, but only in recent years did we lose the last person born in that time. With Tajima Nabi, a Japanese woman who died in 2018 at the age of 117 years, went our last living connection to the nineteenth century (1900, the year of Tajima’s birth, technically being that century’s last year.) Luckily that same century saw the invention of photography, sound recording, and even motion pictures, which offered certain of its inhabitants a means of preserving not just their memories but their manner. You can view a collection of just such footage, restored and colorized, at the Youtube channel Life in the 1800s.

In the channel’s playlist of interview clips you’ll find first-hand memories of, if not the particular decade of the eighteen-hundreds, then at least of the eighteen-fifties through the eighteen-nineties. Take the inventor Elihu Thomson, interview subject in the video at the top of the post. Born in England in 1853, Thomson emigrated with his family to the United States in 1857.


They settled in Philadelphia, where Thomson found himself “forced out of school at eleven” because he wasn’t yet old enough to enter high school. Some advisors said, “Keep him away from books and let him develop physically.” To which the young Thompson responded, “If you do that, you might as well kill me now, because I’ve got to have my books.”

One of those books was full of “chemistry experiments and electrical experiments,” and carrying them out himself gave Thomson his “first knowledge of electricity” — a phenomenon of great importance to the development that would happen throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Albert L. Salt also got in on the ground floor, having started working for Western Electric at age fourteen in 1881 and eventually become the president of Western Electric’s appliance subsidiary Graybar. But of course, not everyone had such a professional ladder available: take the elderly interviewees in the footage just above, who were born into slavery the eighteen-forties and eighteen-fifties.

The more distant a time grows, the more it tends to flatten in our perception. In the absence of deliberate historical research, we lack a sense of the various texture of eras out of living memory. In the United States of America alone, the nineteenth century encompassed both great technological innovation and the days of the Wild West. The latter was the realm known to Civil War veteran and photographer William Henry Jackson, who in the interview above remembers the American west “before the cowboys came in” — not the time of the cowboys, but before. Could Florence Pannell, whose memories of Victorian England we previously featured here on Open Culture, have imagined his world? Could he have imagined hers? See more interviews here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

When Orson Welles Became a Speech & Joke Writer for Franklin Delano Roosevelt

As someone who had mastered radio, film, and stage at such a young age, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Orson Welles once flirted with the idea of running for office. It never happened, but Welles got pretty close in 1944 by ghost-writing speeches for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-election campaign. This in-depth article at Smithsonian by Erick Trickey goes into greater detail about this mix of entertainment and politics, and shows how both have always influenced each other.

In the final four months of 1944, America was still at war with Japan and Germany, and Roosevelt was seeking an unprecedented fourth term to bring the war to a close. Roosevelt’s Republican challenger Thomas Dewey questioned the ailing president’s stamina and wellness for the job, along with accusations of corruption and incompetence.


Welles was still Hollywood’s golden boy, with a career that had taken off during Roosevelt’s second term with his infamous War of the Worlds radio play, picking up on America’s pre-war paranoia. It had continued through 1941’s Citizen Kane and its thinly veiled attack on William Randolph Hearst and other oligarchs. Welles’ voice carried authority and gravitas. He was also married to Rita Hayworth at the time, and enjoying the upside of Hollywood success.

Roosevelt engaged the left-wing Welles in the last month of the campaign and soon the actor was traveling the country and delivering speeches at rallies for FDR. In one stop he called Republicans “the partisans of privilege, the champions of monopoly, the old opponents of liberty, the determined adversaries of the small business and the small farm.”

Welles also supplied ideas and jokes for FDR’s speeches. When Dewey and other Republicans attacked FDR’s dog Fala, Welles’ penned this: “Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks — but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers, in Congress and out, had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of 2 or 3 or 8 or $20 million — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.”

The American public seemed to agree that going after a pet was a bit too much. The nationally broadcast speech turned FDR’s fortunes around. And at FDR’s final rally at Fenway Park in Boston, the president introduced both Welles (“The Dramatic Voice”) and Frank Sinatra (“The Voice”). Welles spoke out against GOP elitism: “By free enterprise they want exclusive right to freedom. They are stupid enough to think that a few can enjoy prosperity at the expense of the rest.”

Days later, FDR won 53 percent of the popular vote and took the electoral college, 432-99. In one sense though, Dewey’s attacks on FDR’s health were founded: Roosevelt died five months later on April 12, 1945.

FDR had written to Welles to thank him for the rally, but also wrote about that April’s meeting of the United Nations. The man had the weight of the free world upon his shoulders, and Welles felt it. The artist wrote a eulogy for FDR for the New York Post:

Desperately we need his courage and his skill and wisdom and his great heart. He moved ahead of us showing a way into the future. If we lose that way, or fall beside it, we have lost him indeed. Our tears would mock him who never wept except when he could do no more than weep. If we despair. because he’s gone — he who stood against despair — he had as well never have lived, he who lived so greatly.

You can read it online here.

Related Content:

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Listen to Eight Interviews of Orson Welles by Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich (RIP)

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Surrealist First Film (1934)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Philosopher Bertrand Russell Talks About the Time When His Grandfather Met Napoleon

Maybe our generational enmity has grown too great these days, but once upon a time, primary school teachers would ask students to interview an elder as an eyewitness to history. Most of our elders didn’t participate in History, big H. Few of them were (or stood adjacent to) world leaders. But in some way or another, they experienced events most of us only see in photographs and film: the Vietnam War, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War and its end…. It’s not hard to see how this relatively recent history has shaped the world we live in.

Hearing from people who lived through such world-historical events can give us needed perspective, if they’re still living and willing to talk. It offers a sense that the apocalyptic dread we often feel in the face of our own crises – climate, virus, war, the seeming end of democratic institutions – was also acutely felt, and often with as much good reason, by those who lived a generation or two before us. And yet, they survived — or did so long enough to make children and grandchildren. They saw global catastrophes pass and change and sometimes witnessed turns of fortune that brought empires to their knees.


Indeed, when we step back just a generation or two before the oft-maligned boomers, we find people whose elders lived through the event that has come to stand for the hubristic fall of empires — Napoleon’s defeat and capture at Waterloo on March, 20, 1815. The philosopher, writer, social critic, and public figure Bertrand Russell was such a person. Both of Russell’s parents died when he was very young, and his grandparents raised him. In the restored, colorized and “speech adjusted” 1952 interview just above, you can hear Russell reminisce about his grandfather, the 1st Earl Russell, who was born in 1792.

Russell’s grandfather was a world leader. He served as prime minister between 1846 and 1856 and again from 1865 to 1866. Or as Russell puts it to his American interviewer, “He was prime minister during your Mexican War, during the Revolutions of 1848. I remember him quite well. But as you can see, he belonged to an age that now seems rather removed.” A time when one man could and did, in just a few years time, place nearly all of Europe under his direct control or the control of his subordinates; before modern warfare, guerrilla warfare, cyber and drone war….

Earl Russell not only met Napoleon, but became a late ally. After a 90-minute meeting with Bonaparte during the self-proclaimed Emperor’s exile, “Russell denounced the Bourbon Restoration and Britain’s declaration of war against the recently-returned Napoleon,” notes the video’s poster, “by arguing in the House of Commons that foreign powers had no right to dictate France’s form of government.” The younger Russell, himself born in 1872, also saw history swept away. He lived in “a world where all kinds of things that have now disappeared were thought to be going to last forever,” he says.

One may be reminded of the Communist Manifesto’s “all that is solid melts into air.” Russell gives no indication that his grandfather, a contemporary of that world-historical document’s author, ever interacted with Karl Marx. But Russell himself met an imposing historical figure who looms just as large in world history. Hear him above, in 1961, describe how he met Vladimir Lenin in 1920.

via @TamasGorbe

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

The Ghosts and Monsters of Hokusai: See the Famed Woodblock Artist’s Fearsome & Amusing Visions of Strange Apparitions

When Halloween comes around this year, consider playing a round of hyakumonogatari. You’ll need to assemble a hundred candles beforehand, but that’s the easy part; you and your friends will also need to know just as many ghost stories. In early nineteenth-century Japan, “participants would sit in a candlelit room and take turns telling frightening tales. After each one was shared, a candle would be extinguished until there was no light left, in the room. It was then that the yōkai [“strange apparitions”) would appear.” So says Youtuber Hochelaga (who’s previously covered the Biblical apocalypse and long-ago predictions of the future) in the video above, “The Ghosts of Hokusai.”

We all know the name of Katsushika Hokusai, the most widely renowned master of the traditional Japanese woodblock-print art called ukiyo-e. In a lifetime spanning the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, Hochelaga notes, Hokusai created around 30,000 unique pieces of art, including The Great Wave off Kanagawa, part of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.


But before executing that triumphant late series, Hokusai made his own Hyakumonogatari (literally, “hundred tales”) — or rather, he rendered in his distinctive style five of those traditional ghost stories’ tragic, grotesque, and often humorous protagonists.

These characters are yōkai, those “weird and mysterious beings” that “inhabit supernatural Japan.” They “come in all shapes and sizes, from friendly household spirits to fierce demons,” including the Oyajirome, who literally has an eye in the back of his head, and the Ushi-oni, “one part bull, one part crab, and the rest nightmare fuel.”  Hokusai’s interest tended toward yōkai who had once been normal humans: the neglected wife of a samurai whose spirit became trapped in a lantern, the murdered kabuki actor whose skeletal remains emerged from a swamp to hunt down his killers.

You can read more about these yōkai, and take a look at Hokusai’s depictions of them, at the Public Domain Review and Thoughts on Papyrus. Soon after Hokusai’s death Japan opened to the world, beginning its transformation into a state of hypermodernity. But tales of yōkai still have a certain influence on the Japanese cultural imagination, as evidenced by the Miyoshi Mononoke Museum in Hiroshima. Japan has been more or less closed once again these past couple of years, but once it re-opens, why not make a trip to collect a few scary monogatari for yourself?

Related content:

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The Evolution of The Great Wave off Kanagawa: See Four Versions That Hokusai Painted Over Nearly 40 Years

View 103 Discovered Drawings by Famed Japanese Woodcut Artist Katsushika Hokusai

Download 215,000 Japanese Woodblock Prints by Masters Spanning the Tradition’s 350-Year History

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Ray Dalio Is Giving Away Free Copies of His New Book Principles for Dealing with the Changing World to High School & College Teachers and Their Students

As we noted back in March, investor Ray Dalio has published his latest bestseller, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World: Why Nations Succeed and FailA history of the rise and fall of empires over the last 500 years, the book uses the past to contemplate the future, particularly the fate of the United States and China. Today, for Teacher Appreciation Week, Dalio has announced that he’s willing to give a copy of the book “to any high school or college educator who wants it—and to all of their students if they intend to have them read it.” He writes:

Since releasing my book and animated video [above], Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, many people have told me that both would be helpful for teaching history in schools and asked me if I would help make that happen. So, during this Teacher Appreciation Week I will give a copy of the book to any high school or college educator who wants it—and to all of their students if they intend to have them read it. And if there’s a lot of interest, I’d be happy to extend the offer past this week. Of course, the Youtube video is already free and easily available and I encourage you to check that out if you want an overview of what’s in the book.

When you sign up, let me know if you’re interested in me hosting a live online session for classrooms, which I’ll do if people would like it. If you are not an educator but know some who might be interested in this offer, please share this link with them.

To access the offer, click here.

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And 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 cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

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