The Myth of Sisyphus Creatively Animated in an Oscar-Nominated Short Film (1974)

Even if you don’t know the myth by name, you know the story. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus, King of Corinth, was punished “for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.” In modern times, this story inspired Albert Camus to write “The Myth of Sisyphus,” an essay where he famously introduced his concept of the “absurd” and identified Sisyphus as the absurd hero. And it provided the creative material for a breathtakingly good animation created by Marcell Jankovics in 1974. The film, notes the annotation that accompanies the animation on Youtube, is “presented in a single, unbroken shot, consisting of a dynamic line drawing of Sisyphus, the stone, and the mountainside.” Fittingly, Jankovics’ little masterpiece was nominated for the Best Animated Short Film at the 48th Academy Awards. Enjoy watching it above.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in 2015.

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Watch Jaco Pastorius: The Lost Tapes Documentary, the Fan-Made Film on the Most Innovative Bass Player of All Time

People do not understand how hard a jazz musician works for a living. I’m not putting nobody down, but I’m telling you nobody understands how hard jazz musicians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too worried about Pac-Man and The Police. — Jaco

When Jaco Pastorius uttered the quote above in a typically entertaining and insightful interview with Guitar World from 1983, he meant no disrespect to the members of The Police. It’s safe to say, in fact, that Pastorius significantly influenced crossover subgenres in punk, New Wave, and No Wave, through compositions like “Punk Jazz” — “a real jazz players stab at a brave new music,” writes Guitar World‘s Peter Mengaziol. In general, Pastorius’ music was “a fusion with energy but without overkill.” He absorbed influences from everywhere, and nothing seemed out of bounds in his playing. “I am not an original musician,” he says in the same interview:

I am a thief…. You see, I rip off everything. I have no originals. Only animals and children can understand my music; I love women, children, music, I love everything that’s going in the right direction, everything that flows… I just love music. I don’t know what I’m doing! 

It’s not that Pastorius necessarily thought of jazz as a more elevated form than rock or funk or soul or pop — hardly. He regarded Hendrix with the same worshipful awe as he did Motown bassist Jerry Jemmott, and both equally informed his playing and showmanship. Yet he seemed to feel under-appreciated in his time, and that is probably because he was, even though he was acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest bass players during his brief 35 years, and he radically altered the sound of popular music on albums by Joni Mitchell and other non-jazz-world stars.

But Pastorius knew that few understood what he was trying to do with jazz-rock groups like Weather Report and Blood, Sweat & Tears and in his solo work. He knew he could sell records and sell out performances, but he didn’t care about commerce. (He spent the last few years of his life sleeping on park benches.)

Warner Bros. refused to release his third solo album, Holiday for Pans — a selection of original compositions and tunes by the Beatles, Coltrane, and Alan Hovhaness, centered around the steel drum playing of Othello Molineaux — on the basis that it was “extremely esoteric.” Described by The Penguin Guide to Jazz as “by far the most imaginative project Pastorius ever undertook,” Holiday for Pans received a release in Japan in 1993, but remains unreleased in the US, perhaps validating the bassist’s opinion of his country’s cultural limitations.

The fan-made documentary at the top, Jaco Pastorius — The Lost Tapes Documentary, first appeared “on a somewhat obscure French channel called ‘Realcut’,” notes the site Jazz in Europe. The title refers the interview footage with choice subjects like Marcus Miller, Joe Zawinul, Peter Erskine, Dave Carpenter, and Paco Seri, all shot while the musicians “were on tour in France back in the mid noughties.” In 2008, “the images were definitively lost,” the filmmakers write in their description, only to surface again on a hard drive in a dusty attic last year.

Tying these interviews together with archival Internet footage of Pastorius, the makers of The Lost Tapes Documentary have done an excellent job of introducing the man and his work to a broad audience through the words of those who knew and played with him, and they’ve done so with “no budget, no financial aid or no image purchase…. The people who worked on this project did it voluntarily, out of passion and love of music, and the film will in no way be monetized on the platforms.” Pastorius would have approved. “I don’t want to sell shit,” he told Guitar World back in 1983. “I want to do what has to be done.” For him, that meant constant innovation and change. “I’m not a magician, I’m not a politician, I’m a musician,” he said. “I have no goal. You don’t get better, you grow. I am a musician, and I finally realized it!”

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

Gustav Klimt’s Masterpieces Destroyed During World War II Get Recreated with Artificial Intelligence

A century after the death of Gustav Klimt, his art continues to enrapture its viewers. Maybe it has enraptured you, but no matter how deep you’ve gone into Klimt’s oeuvre, there are three paintings you’ve only ever seen in black and white. That’s not because he painted them in that way; rich and brilliant colors originally figured into all his work, the most notable usage being the real gold layered onto his best-known painting, 1908’s The Kiss. In the year before The Kiss, he completed an even more ambitious work: a series of paintings commissioned for the University of Vienna‘s Great Hall, meant to represent the fields after which they were titled: Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence.

Klimt’s “Faculty Paintings,” as they’re now known, struck critics at the time as pieces of “perverted excess.” Such charges must have been nothing new to Klimt, for whom unabashed eroticism and subjective views of reality — neither particularly in fashion in the institutions of early 20th-century Vienna — constituted basic artistic principles.

Ultimately, Klimt himself bought Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence back, and by the end of the Second World War all three had found their way into the hands of the Nazis. With defeat looming, they chose to burn down rather than surrender the Austrian castle in which they’d been storing the Faculty Paintings and other works of art.

With the Faculty Paintings surviving only in black-and-white photographs and scanty descriptions, generations of Klimt enthusiasts have had to imagine how they really looked. Now, Google Arts & Culture and Vienna’s Belvedere Museum have joined forces to figure out to a greater degree of certainty than ever, using artificial intelligence to determine what colors Klimt would have applied to Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence based on in-depth analyses of the rest of his work. You can get an overview of the process from the short video at the top of the post, and you can read about it in more detail at Google Arts & Culture.

“Klimt’s three Faculty Paintings were among the largest artworks Klimt ever created and in the field of Symbolist painting they represent Klimt’s masterpieces,” says Belvedere curator Dr. Franz Smola in a Google Arts & Culture blog post. “The colors were essential for the overwhelming effect of these paintings, and they caused quite a stir among Klimt’s contemporaries. Therefore the reconstruction of the colors is synonymous with recognizing the true value and significance of these outstanding artworks.” The project comes as just one part of Klimt vs. Klimt: The Man of Contradictions, an online retrospective featuring more than 120 of the artist’s works available to view in augmented reality, as well as an ultra-high-resolution scan of The Kiss. Klimt’s paintings may no longer shock us, but they still have much to show us.

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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 J.R.R. Tolkien Worked for the Oxford English Dictionary and “Learned More … Than Any Other Equal Period of My Life” (1919-1920)

When J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings appeared in the mid-1950s, its first critical readers held some diverging views on the books’ quality. On the one hand, there was praise for the revival of fantasy for grown-ups, and comparisons to great epics of the past. On the other hand, Tolkien’s prose was excoriated for its wordiness, length, and seemingly inexhaustible obsession with obscurities. Both perspectives seemed to miss something important. Yes, Tolkien drew liberally from epics of the past such as the Norse Sagas and created a world as fully-realized as any in ancient mythology, building in decades what took centuries to develop.

It’s also true that Tolkien wrote in a thoroughly unusual way — unfamiliar as he was with the conventions of contemporary literary prose. But his style did not only derive from his work as a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature. For all of the discussion of Tolkien’s encyclopedic technique, no one seemed to note at the time that the author had, in fact, invented for himself (with apologies to James Joyce) a new genre and way of writing, a kind of etymological fantasy, a kind of writing he learned while working on the Oxford English Dictionary, that august catalogue of the English language which first appeared in full in 1928 — in ten volumes after fifty years of work.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) remains an indispensable reference for scholars of language and literature, but it is not itself a typical academic text. It is a compendium, a miscellany, a descriptive map and timeline tracking how English evolves; it is the ultimate reference work, a work of philology, a discipline that had fallen out of fashion by the time of The Lord of the Rings. The first edition of the OED, begun in 1878 (five years into the proposed timeline, the editors had only reached the word “ant”), contained around 400,000 words. Between the years 1919 and 1920, Tolkien was responsible for the words between waggle and warlock. He would later say he “learned more in those two years than in any other equal period of my life.”

The OED establishes linguistic histories by citing a word’s appearances in literature and popular press over time, tracing derivations from other languages, and tracing the evolution, and extinction, of words and meanings. After his return from World War I, the future novelist found himself working under founding co-editor Henry Bradley, laboring away on words like walnut, walrus, and wampum, which “seem to have been assigned to Tolkien because of their particularly difficult etymologies,” notes the OED blog. These entries would later be singled out by Bradley as “containing ‘etymological facts or suggestion not given in other dictionaries.'”

The experience as an OED lexicographer prepared Tolkien for his lifelong career as a philologist. It also informed his literary technique, argue Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, and Edmund Weiner, the authors of Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary and former OED editors, all. The authors show how Tolkien drew the language of his books directly from his etymological research. For example, “for decades it was assumed that he was being characteristically modest” when he declined to claim credit for the invention of the word “hobbit.” As it turned out, “an obscure list of mythical beings, published in 1895” came to light in 1977, including the word “‘hobbits’, along with such other irresistible creatures as ‘boggleboes’ and gallytrots,” writes Kelly Grovier at The Guardian.

Tolkien’s relationship to etymology in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and every other lengthy piece of writing Middle Earth-related goes far beyond digging up obscure words or coining new ones. He learned to think like a lexicographer. As the authors write, “in describing his own creative processes, Tolkien often comments on how the contemplation of an individual word can be the starting point for an adventure in imagination — and contemplating individual words is precisely what lexicographers do.” Tolkien’s boundless curiosity about the roots of language led him to “invent everything,” writes Tolkien critic John Garth, “from star mariners to calendars, flowers, cities, foodstuffs, writing systems and birthday customs, to mention just a few of the eclectic features of Middle-earth.”

Decades after Tolkien’s first association with the OED, he would become involved again with the publication in 1969 when the editor of the dictionary’s Supplement, his former student Robert Burchfield, asked for comments on the entry for “Hobbit.” Tolkien offered his own definition for just one of the many Tolkienian words that would eventually make into the OED (along with mathom, orc, mithril, and balrog). Burchfield published Tolkien’s definition almost exactly as written:

In the tales of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973): one of an imaginary people, a small variety of the human race, that gave themselves this name (meaning ‘hole-dweller’) but were called by others halflings, since they were half the height of normal men.

Learn more about Tolkien’s work on the Oxford English Dictionary‘s first edition in this article by Peter Gilliver and pick up a copy of Ring of Words here.

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

Witness Maya Angelou & James Baldwin’s Close Friendship in a TV Interview from 1975

In the mid-50s, Maya Angelou accepted a role as a chorus member in an international touring production of the opera, Porgy and Bess:

I wanted to travel, to try to speak other languages, to see the cities I had read about all my life, but most important, I wanted to be with a large, friendly group of Black people who sang so gloriously and lived with such passion.

On a stopover in Paris, she met James Baldwin, who she remembered as “small and hot (with) the movements of a dancer.”

The two shared a love of poetry and the arts, a deep curiosity about life, and a passionate commitment to Black rights and culture. They forged a connection that would last the rest of their lives.

In 1968, when Angelou despaired over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Baldwin did what he could to lift her spirits, including escorting her to a dinner party where she captivated the other guests with her anecdotal storytelling, paving a path to her celebrated first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

The book wouldn’t have been written, however, without some discreet behind-the-scenes meddling by Baldwin.

Angelou considered herself a poet and a playwright, and resisted repeated attempts by fellow dinner party guest, Random House editor Robert Loomis, to secure her autobiography.

As Angelou later discovered, Baldwin counseled Loomis that a different strategy would produce the desired result. His dear friend might not conceive of herself as a memoirist, but would almost assuredly respond to reverse psychology, for instance, a statement that no autobiography could compete as literature.

As Angelou recalled:

I said, ‘Well, hmmm, maybe I’ll try it.’ The truth is that (Loomis) had talked to James Baldwin, my brother friend, and Jimmy told him that ‘if you want Maya Angelou to do something, tell her she can’t do it.’

“This testimony from a Black sister marks the beginning of a new era in the minds and hearts and lives of all Black men and women,” Baldwin enthused upon its publication.

They became siblings of affinity. Witness their easy rapport on the 1975 episode of Assignment America, above.

Every episode centered on someone who had made an important contribution to the ideas and issues of America, and Angelou, who alternated hosting duties with psycho-historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, columnist George Will, and oral historian Studs Terkel, landed an extremely worthy subject in Baldwin.

Their friendship made good on the promise of her hopes for that European tour of Porgy and Bess.

Their candid discussion covers a lot of overlapping ground: love, death, race, aging, sexual identity, success, writing, and the closeness of Baldwin’s family — whom Angelou adored.

Those of us in the generations who came after, who became acquainted with Angelou, the commanding, supremely dignified elder stateswoman, commanding more authority and respect than any official Poet Laureate, may be surprised to see her MO as interviewer, giggling and teasing, functioning as the chorus in a room where code switching is most definitely not a thing:

Baldwin: I think…the only way to live is knowing you’re going to die. If you’re afraid to die, you’ll never be able to live. 

Angelou: Hey, hey!

Baldwin: You know. 

Angelou: Hey, hey.

Baldwin: And nobody knows anything about that. 

Angelou: Yes, yes, yes.

She poses great questions, and listens without interrupting to her friend’s thoughtfully composed answers, for instance, his description of his family’s response to his decision to base himself in France, far from their Harlem home:

Sweetheart, you have to understand, um, you have to understand what happens to my mother’s telephone when I’m in town. People will call up and say what they will do to me. It doesn’t make me shut up. You, you also gotta remember that I’ve been writing, after all, between assassinations. If you were my mother or my brother, you would think, who’s next?

There’s a lot of food for thought in that reply. The familiar connection between interviewer and subject, both towering figures of American literature, brings a truly rare dimension, as when Angelou shares how Baldwin’s older brothers would reserve a part of the proceeds from selling coal in the winter and ice in the summer to send to Baldwin:

In France! I mean to think of a Black American family in Harlem, who had no pretensions to great literature… and to have the oldest boy leave home and go to Paris, France, and then for them to save up enough pennies and nickels and dimes to send a check of $150 to him, in Paris, France!

Baldwin: That’s what people, that’s what people don’t really know about us. 

Angelou: One of the things I think, I mean I believe that we are America. It is true. 

Baldwin: You believe it? 

Angelou: Well. 

Baldwin: I know it. 

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ohio State Marching Band Plays Tribute to Rush: “2112,” “YYZ,” “Tom Sawyer” & “Limelight”

It all took place at this weekend’s Ohio State-Maryland game. Enjoy….

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Watch “The Impossible Map,” a Short Animated Film That Uses a Grapefruit to Show Why Maps of the Earth Are Misleading (1947)

There are any number of ways one might try to turn a globe into a two-dimensional surface. You could start by cutting it down the middle, as in this Vox video on world maps. You could choose volunteers and have them come up to the head of the class and peel oranges in one piece, flattening out the strips onto an overhead projector, as in this National Geographic lesson on world maps. Or, you might attack an already halved grapefruit peel with a rolling pin, as in the National Film Board of Canada’s animated short, “The Impossible Map,” above.

Each method (except, maybe, the rolling pin) has its merits, but none of them will make a 2-dimensional surface without warping, stretching, and distorting. That’s the point, in all these exercises, a point that has been made over and over throughout the years as cartographers search for better, more accurate ways to turn the Earth’s sphere (or oblate spheroid) into a representative rectangle that roughly preserves the scale of the continents. As the hands-on demonstrations show, you don’t need to remember your geometry to see that it’s impossible to do so with much precision.

A cartographer must choose a focal point, as Gerardus Mercator did in the 16th century in his famous cylindrical projection. Since the map was designed by a European for use by European navigators, it naturally puts Europe in the center, resulting in extreme distortions of the land masses around it. These have been remedied by alternate projections like the Mollweide, Goode Homolosine (the “orange-peel map”), and the 1963 Robinson projection, which was “adopted for National Geographic’s world maps in 1988,” The Guardian notes, and “appears in [a] growing number of other publications, [and] may replace Mercator in many classrooms.”

Pioneering Canadian animator Evelyn Lambart made “The Impossible Map” in 1947, several years before professor Arthur Robinson created his “Pseudocylindrical Projection with Pole Line” — for which he used “a huge number of trial-and-error computer simulations,” as the Arthur H. Robinson Map Library writes. “To this day, no other projection uses this approach to build a map,” not even most GPS mapping software, which still, in many cases, uses a “Web Mercator” projection to represent the whole Earth. But while Lambart’s film may not be technologically up-to-date, it is visually and pedagogically brilliant, explaining, with some basic narration and sliced produce, why globes still beat flat maps of the Earth every time.

via Aeon

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

Quentin Tarantino Gives a Tour of Video Archives, the Store Where He Worked Before Becoming a Filmmaker

When Quentin Tarantino hit it big in the 1990s with Reservoir Dogs, and then much bigger with Pulp Fiction, he became known as the auteur who’d received his film education by working as a video-store clerk. But like much Hollywood hype, that story wasn’t quite true. “No, I was already a movie expert,” says the man himself in a clip from the 1994 BBC documentary Quentin Tarantino: Hollywood’s Boy Wonder. “That’s how I got hired at Video Archives.” Located in the South Bay — a comparatively little-seen region of Los Angeles County later paid loving tribute with Jackie Brown — the store was, in the words of one of its owners, “one of the few places that Quentin could come as a regular guy and get a job and become like a star.”

“Me and the other guys would walk into the local movie theater and we’d be heading toward our seats and we’d hear, ‘There go the guys from Video Archives,'” says Tarantino in Tom Roston’s I Lost It at the Video Store. On one level, the experience constituted “a primer to what it would be like to be famous.” Having begun as a Video Archives customer, Tarantino wound up working there for five years, offering voluminous and forceful recommendations by day and, after closing, putting on staff-only film festivals by night. “That time is captured perfectly in True Romance,” which Tony Scott directed but Tarantino wrote, and one of those co-workers, Roger Avary, would collaborate with him on the screenplay for Pulp Fiction.

Video Archives was a beacon to all the South Bay’s “film geeks.” Then as now, most such people “devote a lot of money and they devote a lot of their life to the following of film, but they don’t really have that much to show for all this devotion,” other than their strongly held cinematic opinions. “What you find out fairly quickly in Hollywood is, this is a community where hardly anybody trusts their own opinion. People want people to tell them what is good, what to like, what not to like.” Hence the ability of the young Tarantino,  brimming with opinions and unafraid to state them and possessed of an unwavering resolve to make movies of his own, to go from video-store clerking practically straight to the top of the industry. Though he didn’t need film school — nor college, or indeed high school — he could hardly have found a more suitable alma mater.

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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.

A Walking Tour Around the Pyramids of Giza: 2 Hours in Hi Def

One of the first things tourists learn about the great Pyramids of Giza is how they are not far away in some remote location. Turns out they’re just photographed that way with the Western Desert as backdrop. Turn around and you’ll see not just the bustling city of Cairo, but a freakin’ golf course. The next thing tourists learn is that there’s a lot of walking if you want to take in both pyramids and the Sphinx. Hope you packed some good shoes!

Or you could sit back and watch this one-hour-and-50-minute walking tour, shot in 4K, on a chilly January morning in 2019. There’s not many tourists around for most of it, better to instill a sense of wonder and otherness as you encounter these 4,500 year old structures.

With its relaxing bobbing-head camera and its immersive field recording soundtrack—headphones are recommended—the video tours the entire ancient area, starting with the Mortuary Temple of Khafre, then moving to the two main pyramids, the cemetery, the smaller pyramid of Menkaure, and ending on the Sphinx. There’s even room for a horse ride, although as it’s sped up, it turns out to be rather comical. It’s also a delight to hear the occasional camel make themselves known.

Open Culture has written about the Pyramids of Giza several times. We’ve linked to the massive Digital Giza Project; shown a 3-D reconstruction of what the pyramids looked like when they were originally built (they were gleaming white, for one thing); followed a 3-D tour *inside* the pyramid that is quite spine-tingling; and highlighted an introductory course of Giza and Egyptology. The only remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World continues to inspire a new generation of archaeologists, and this walking tour is as close as your browser can get to being there. ProWalk Tours’ YouTube site also offers many other pleasant walks, from the ancient to the modern. They’re worth checking out.

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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.

An Animated History of the Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1922)

History is selective. Or, rather, it’s selected by those in power for their own uses. Nowhere do we see this more than in nationalist re-imaginings of an imperial past, whether it be British, Roman, or, in the case of modern Turkey, Ottoman. “Much has been written,” notes Time magazine’s Alan Mikhail, “about [Turkish president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s attempts to ‘resurrect’ the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan.” Erdogan’s turn to hardline Islam has been inspired by one particular sultan, Selim I, under whose rule, “the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire.” Mikhail compares Selim to another historical figure famed for single-minded intolerance: Andrew Jackson, a hero of the former United States president.

Erdogan’s characterization of the Ottoman Empire sometimes seems to have more in common with early European ideas about the empire than its ideas about itself. European writers in the 16th and 17th century linked the Ottomans with Islamist repression, an Orientalist take on Turkish power as a dangerous yet seductive new enemy. “The glorious Empire of the Turkes, the present terrour of the world,” wrote Richard Knolles in his 1603 Generall Historie of the Turkes, “hath amongst other things nothing in it more wonderful or strange, than the poore beginning of itselfe….” These same sentiments were echoed in 1631 by English writer John Speed, who described the “sudden advancement” of the Empire as “a terrour to the whole world.” Likewise, Andrew Moore in 1659 wrote of “this barbarous Nation, the worlds present terrour,” a nation with a “small & obscure beginning.”

All empires have small beginnings. In the case of the Ottomans, the story begins with Osman I, a tribal leader of obscure origins who founded the Empire in Anatolia some 300 years before the authors above put pen to paper. (The word “Ottoman” derives from his name.) A series of conquests followed, the most dramatic occurring in 1453 when Mehmed the Conquerer entered Constantinople, effectively ending the Byzantine Empire, an event you can see highlighted in the video above, an “entire history of the Ottoman Empire” — all 600 years of it — from 1299 to 1922. Such an extended period of conquest and influence led, of course, to a variety of views about the nature of the Ottomans, not least among the Ottomans themselves, who saw themselves not as Muslim invaders of Europe but as the rightful heirs of Rome. Indeed, educated Ottomans referred to themselves not as “Turks,” a word for the peasantry, but as Rūmī, “Roman.”

In many ways, the Ottomans — bloody conquests, slavery, genocides and all — took after the Romans. “Obviously they saw value in spreading religion,” says David Lesch, professor of Middle East history at Trinity University in San Antonio. But they did not share the narrative of a “clash of civilizations” favored by European writers of the time, and certain revisionists today. “The Ottoman Empire saw itself as very much, even more so a European empire than a Middle Eastern empire. And they took a very tolerant view toward non-Muslims since for most of the Ottoman Empire — especially when it was at its largest — most of its population was non-Muslim. It was in fact Christian.” The observation brings to mind the central claim of Turkish scholar Namık Kemal’s influential essay “Europe Knows Nothing about the Orient,” in which he writes that European scholars have failed to understand the “true character such as ours, which is so close to them that … it might as well be touching their eyelashes.”

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

A Brilliant Demonstration of Magnets & the Promise of Levitating Trains (1975)

For a brief time in the 1980s, it seemed like trains powered by maglev — magnetic levitation — might just solve transportation problems everywhere, maybe even replacing air travel, thereby eliminating one of the most vexing sources of carbon emissions. Maglev trains don’t use fuel; they don’t require very much power by comparison with other sources of high speed travel; they don’t produce emissions; they’re quiet, require less maintenance than other trains, and can travel at speeds of 300 mph and more. In fact, the fastest maglev train to date, unveiled this past summer in Qingdao, China, can reach speeds of up to 373 miles per hour (600 kph).

So, why isn’t the planet criss-crossed by maglev trains? asks Dave Hall at The Guardian, citing the fact that the first maglev train was launched in the UK in 1984, after which Germany, Japan, and China followed suit. It seems to come down, as such things do, to “political will.” Without significant commitment from governments to reshape the transportation infrastructure of their countries, maglev trains remain a dream, the monorails of the future that never materialize. Even in China, where government mandate can institute mass changes at will, the development of maglev trains has not meant their deployment. The new train could, theoretically, ferry travelers between Shanghai to Beijing in 2.5 hours… if it had the track.

Perhaps someday the world will catch up with maglev trains, an idea over a century old. (The first patents for maglev technology were filed by a French-born American engineer named Emile Bachelet in the 1910s.) Until then, the rest of us can educate ourselves on the technology of trains that use magnetic levitation with the 1975 video lesson above from British engineer and professor Eric Laithwaite (Imperial College London), who “deconstructs the fascinating physics at work behind his plans for a maglev trains, which he first modelled in the 1940s and perfected in the 1970s,” notes Aeon. “Well-regarded in his time as both a lecturer and an engineer, Laithwaite presents a series of demonstrations that build, step by step, until he finally unveils a small maglev train model.”

Laithwaite’s small-scale demonstration would eventually culminate in the first commercial maglev train almost a decade later at Birmingham Airport. Here, he begins where science begins, with an admission of ignorance. “Permanent magnets are difficult things to understand,” he says. “In fact, if we’re absolutely honest with ourselves, we don’t understand them.” The good professor then briskly moves on to demonstrate what he does know — enough to build a levitating train. Learn much more about the history and technology of maglev trains at How Stuff Works, and keep your eyes on the Northeast Maglev project, a developing Superconducting Maglev train that promises travel between New York and Washington, DC in one hour flat.

via Aeon

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The Flying Train: A 1902 Film Captures a Futuristic Ride on a Suspended Railway in Germany

In 1900, a Photographer Had to Create an Enormous 1,400-Pound Camera to Take a Picture of an Entire Train

Free Online Physics Courses 

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

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