Albert Einstein in Four Color Films




We all think we know just what Albert Einstein looked like — and broadly speaking, we’ve got it right. At least since his death in 1955, since which time generation after generation of children around the world have grown up closely associating his bristly mustache and semi-tamed gray hair with the very concept of scientific genius. His sartorial rumpledness and Teutonically hangdog look have long been the stuff of not just caricature, but (as in Nicolas Roeg’s Insignificance) earnest tribute as well. Yet how many of us can say we’ve really taken a good look at Einstein?

These four pieces of film get us a little closer to that experience. At the top of the post we have a colorized newsreel clip (you can see the original here) showing Einstein in his office at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, where he took up a post in 1933.




Even earlier colorized newsreel footage appears in the video just above, taken from an episode of the Smithsonian Channel series America in Color. It depicts Einstein arriving in the United States in 1930, by which time he was already “the world’s most famous physicist” — a position then meriting a welcome not unlike that which the Beatles would receive 34 years later.

Einstein returned to his native Germany after that visit. The America in Color clip also shows him back at his cottage outside Berlin (and in his pajamas), but his time back in his homeland amounted only to a few years. The reason: Hitler. During Einstein’s visiting professorship at Cal Tech in 1933, the Gestapo raided his cottage and Berlin apartment, as well as confiscated his sailboat. Later the Nazi government banned Jews from holding official positions, including at universities, effectively cutting off his professional prospects and those of no few other German citizens besides. The 1943 color footage above offers a glimpse of Einstein a decade into his American life.

A couple of years thereafter, the end of the Second World War made Einstein even more famous. He became, in the minds of many Americans, the brilliant physicist who “helped discover the atom bomb.” So declares the announcer in that first newsreel, but in the decades since, the public has come to associate Einstein more instinctively with his theory of relativity — an achievement less immediately comprehensible than the apocalyptic explosion of the atomic bomb, but one whose scientific implications run much deeper. Many clear and lucid précis of Einstein’s theory exist, but why not first see it explained by the man himself, and in color at that?

Related Content:

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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.

Fred Armisen Teaches a Short Seminar on the History of Punk




Long before Fred Armisen became known as a SNL cast member or one half of the dynamic duo behind Portlandia, he was a drummer in a punk band called Trenchmouth. Based out of Chicago, the band released four albums between 1988 and 1996 before disbanding. In that time, Armisen did a lot of drumming and saw a *lot* of bands. Many would go on to grab the fame that seemed to constantly elude his band. In the above clip from The Tonight Show, Armisen’s experience is put to hilarious good use with a trip through indie and punk rock history based on rhythm guitar styles.

He starts with a decent Lou Reed imitation to locate the original source at the Velvet Underground, then up through the Ramones and Sex Pistols, eventually winding its way through the ska-influenced pop-punk of Blink-182 and ending with the Strokes. Host Jimmy Fallon, as always, laughs non-stop throughout. And Armisen also name drops Sleater-Kinney as a knowing wink to his Portlandia mate Carrie Brownstein.

If this sounds like a well-rehearsed bit, well, it is. But when Armisen does it live, it’s on the drum set. In the below clip, he makes almost the same stops along the way on his journey. And it helped confirm my suspicion that his post-punk guitar bit (“I am a neon light”) is his parody of Wire.

Armisen spoke to Sam Jones on his monochromatic Off Camera interview show about his years of punk struggle with Trenchmouth, which will help place his numerous band-based comedy skits in the correct context.

Don’t miss his classic punk music SNL skits in the Relateds below. And if you are jonesing for the punk stylings of the hot, young Armisen, here’s live footage of Trenchmouth from 1992:

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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.

When John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on SNL, And They Got Banned from the Show: A Short Documentary




Like many famous episodes in the lives of famous people, Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes quote turns out to be a garbling of what happened. Warhol simply said that everybody wants to be famous (and by implication, famous forever). To which the Factory’s “court photographer” Nat Finkelstein replied, “yeah, for 15 minutes.” Given the way the idea has come down to us, we’ve missed the ambiguity in this exchange. Do we all want to be famous for 15 minutes (and only 15 minutes), or do we only spend 15 minutes wanting to be famous before we move on and accept it as a sucker’s game?

Finkelstein himself might have felt the latter as he watched “pop die and punk being born” (he said in a 2001 interview). It was the death of Warhol’s fame ideal, and the birth of something new: music that loudly declared open hostilities against the gatekeepers of popular culture. Not every punk band reserved its punches for those above them. California hardcore legends Fear — led by confrontational satirist Lee Ving — swing wildly in every direction, hitting their audience as often as the powers that be.




When their first taste of Warholian fame came around — in Penelope Spheeris’ 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization — Ving used the moment in front of the cameras to taunt and abuse audience members until a few of them rushed the stage to fight him. Had NBC executives seen this footage casual violence, profanity, and worrisome ebullience, it’s unlikely they would have let returning guest John Belushi book Fear on Halloween night of that same year.

The SNL appearance — for which Fear proudly earned a permanent ban — became the stuff of legend. Not only did Ving and band get up to their usual antics onstage, but the show brought in a crew of about 80 DC punks (including Dischord Records/Fugazi founder Ian MacKaye), who smashed up the set and joined the band in solidarity against New York and its saxophones. The network cut the broadcast short when one punk (identified as either MacKaye or John Brannon of the band Negative Approach) yelled “F*ck New York!” into an open mic during the last song, “Let’s Start a War.” NBC shelved the footage for years.

Although well-known in fan communities, the appearance might have faded from memory were it not for the internet, which not only has the Warholian power to make anyone famous (or “internet famous”) for no reason, but also routinely resurrects lost moments of fame and makes them last forever. Just so, the legend of Fear on SNL has grown over time on YouTube. It now warrants a short documentary — one made, no less, by Jeff Krulik, a filmmaker who, five years after the Fear appearance, documented another burgeoning Fear-like fandom in his cult short, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

“Fear on SNL,” above, includes several interview clips from firsthand witnesses. DC “punk superfan” Bill MacKenzie listens to an old interview he gave about the show, in which he says the band asked him to come to the taping. As Ian MacKaye tells it, Lorne Michaels himself placed the call. (He must mean producer Dick Ebersol, as Michaels left the show in 1980 and wouldn’t return until 1985.) But both MacKaye and Ving remember that it was Belushi who really rounded up the audience of authentic punks, leveraging his own hard-won celebrity to stick it to the factory that made his fame.

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

Stephen Fry Takes Us Inside the Story of Johannes Gutenberg & the First Printing Press

Stephen Fry loves technology. Here on Open Culture we’ve featured his investigations into everything from cloud computing to nanoscience to artificial intelligence and simulation theory. “I have never seen a smartphone I haven’t bought,” he wrote in 2007, the year Apple’s iPhone came out. But the iPhone would surely never have been if not for the Macintosh, the third of which ever sold in the United Kingdom went to Fry. (His fellow British technophile Douglas Adams had already snagged the first two.) And there wouldn’t have been a Macintosh — a stretch though this may seem — if not for the printing press, which by some reckonings set off the technological revolution that carries us along to this day.

The history of the printing press is thus, in a sense, a history of technology in microcosm. In the hourlong documentary The Machine that Made Us, Fry seeks out an understanding of the invention, the workings, and the evolution of the device that, as he puts it, “shaped the modern world.”




The use of movable type to run off many copies of a text goes back to 11th-century China, strictly speaking, but only in Europe did it first flourish to the point of giving rise to mass media. In order to place himself at the beginning of that particular story, Fry travels to Mainz in modern-day Germany, birthplace of a certain Johannes Gutenberg, whose edition of the Bible from the 1450s isn’t just the earliest mass-produced book but the most important one as well.

Fry may not have a straightforward relationship with religion, but he does understand well the ramifications of Gutenberg’s Bible-printing enterprise. And he comes to understand that enterprise itself more deeply while following the “Gutenberg trail,” retracing the steps of the man himself as he assembled the resources to put his invention into action. Since none of the presses Gutenberg built survive today (though at least one functioning approximate model does exist), Fry involves himself in reconstructing an example. He also visits a paper mill and a type foundry whose craftsmen make their materials with the same methods used in the 15th century. The fruit of these combined labors is a single replica page of the Gutenberg Bible: a reminder of what brought about the economic, political, and cultural reality we still inhabit these 570 years later.

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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.

Watch All of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Performed on Original Baroque Instruments

Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons reigns as one of the world’s most recognizable early 18th-century pieces, thanks to its frequent appearances in films and television commercials.

Upon its debut in 1725, The Four Seasons stunned listeners by telling a story without the help of a human voice. Vivaldi drew on four existing sonnets (possibly of his own provenance), using strings to paint a narrative filled with spring thunderstorms, summer’s swelter, autumnal hunts and harvests, and the icy winds of winter.




The composer studded his score with precisely placed lines from the sonnets, to convey his expectations that the musicians would use their instruments to sonically embody the experiences being described.

For two hundred years, musicians cleaved closely to Vivaldi’s original orchestration.

The last hundred years, however, have seen a wide range of instruments and interpretations. Drumssynths, an electric guitar, a Chinese pipa, an Indian sarangi, a pair of Inuit throat singers, a Japanese a cappella women’s chorus, a Theremin and a musical saw are among those to have taken a stab at The Four Seasons’ drowsing goatherd, barking dog, and twittering birdies.

Remembering that Vivaldi himself was a great innovator, we suggest that there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from all that to revisit the original flavor.

The San Francisco-based early music ensemble, Voices of Music does so beautifully, above, with a video playlist of live performances given between 2015 and 2018, with the four concertos edited to be presented in their traditional order.

Voices of Music co-directors David Tayler and Hanneke van Proosdij were adamant that these high quality audio recordings would leave listeners feeling as if they are in the same room with the musicians and their baroque instruments. As Tayler told Early Music America:

We did tests where we sat in the audience listening to the mix. We stopped when we got to the point that it sounded like sitting in the audience. We didn’t want something that looked like a concert, with a CD playing in the background.

Multiple stationery cameras ensured that the mostly standing performers’ spontaneous physical responses to the music and each other would not pass unremarked. As tempting as it is to savor these joyful sounds with ears alone, we recommend taking it in with your eyes, too. The pleasure these virtuosos take in Vivaldi and each other is a delight.

You also won’t want to miss the English translations of the sonnet, broken into subtitles and timed to appear at the exact place where they appear in Vivaldi’s 300 year-old score.

Spring:

Allegro – 0:00

Largo – 3:32

Allegro – 6:13

Summer:

Allegro non molto – 10:09

Adagio – 15:31

Presto – 17:46

Autumn:

Allegro – 20:42

Adagio molto – 26:14

Allegro – 28:25

Winter:

Allegro non molto – 31:56

Largo – 35:29

Allegro – 37:25

While the audience reactions were edited from the presentation above, we’d be remiss if we didn’t direct you to a playlist wherein these virtuoso players are seen graciously accepting the applause of the crowds who were lucky enough to catch these performances in person.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, theatermaker, and the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her latest book, Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto, will be published in early 2022.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Mystery of Who Played Bass on The White Album’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, was the first to break out on his own in 1970 with his glorious triple album All Things Must Pass. “Garbo talks! — Harrison is free!” wrote Melody Maker’s Richard Williams in a review, a reference to the reclusive silent film star who, like the Beatles’ guitarist, kept her mystique and star power even after fans first heard her voice. Harrison’s revelation couldn’t have been as dramatic as all that.

Surely, no fan of “Taxman,” “Within You Without You,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something” — and especially The White Album’s stunning “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” — doubted that George had it in him all along. But the other Beatles would only humor him during The White Album sessions. That is, until he brought Eric Clapton into the studio. “That then made everyone act better,” Harrison remembers in Anthology. “Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.”




The question in the You Can’t Unhear This video above is whether Paul played bass on the final studio recording and, if not, who did?  It’s an integral part of the song’s feel — the gritty, restrained growl, slowly growing in intensity until it sounds like it might give Harrison’s guitar something else to weep about. The mystery of the aggressive-yet-muted part “has perplexed scholars and Beatles fans for decades.” If you’ve remained unperplexed, you might find yourself questioning assumptions about this most beloved of Beatles’ tunes.

Sessions for the song began in late July of 1968, then picked up again in August, but Harrison decided to scrap everything and start over in September once Ringo returned from a “self-imposed exile” in the Mediterranean. The band seemed refreshed: “the quality of the performances on the new September version seemed to reflect that renewed spirit.” Sessions for the track wrapped on September 24. “For many years it was believed that this was the recording session in which Eric Clapton overdubbed his lead guitar solo,” writes the Beatles Bible. Not so — Clapton sat in on all of the live takes recorded with the band. Ah, but who played bass? See the mystery take shape above and post your theories below.

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

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free – The Making of Wildflowers Is Streaming Free on YouTube

Originally released in cinemas last month, the new documentary Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free – The Making of Wildflowers is now streaming free on YouTube. Here’s how Petty’s official YouTube channel prefaces the film:

In early 2020, a collection of 16mm film from 1993-95 was discovered in the archive of legendary artist Tom Petty. The film was shot while Tom was on a prolific songwriting streak for years making what he intended to be a double album called Wildflowers. Tom Petty was known for being reclusive about his personal life and his creative process. “Somewhere You Feel Free” allows you to spend 90 minutes immersed in the candid and musically rich world of Tom’s creativity as he makes his first album with legendary producer Rick Rubin. With collaborators providing unrivaled access and featuring never before seen footage captured during the making of Wildflowers, Tom’s personal favorite album.

You can stream the film by director Mary Wharton above, or find it catalogued in our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More. Enjoy!

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Meet the Mysterious Genius Who Patented the UFO

American inventors never met a phenomenon — natural, manmade, or otherwise — they couldn’t try to patent. From impossible technologies to possible evidence of aliens visiting planet Earth, everything’s fair game if you can sell the idea. After highly-publicized UFO sightings in Washington State and Roswell, New Mexico, for example, patents for flying saucers began pouring into government offices. “As soon as there was a popular ‘spark,’” writes Ernie Smith at Atlas Obscura, “the saucer was everywhere.” It received its own classification in the U.S. Patent Office, with the indexing code B64C 39/001, for “flying vehicles characterized by sustainment without aerodynamic lift, often flying disks having a UFO-shape.”

Google Patents lists “around 192 items in this specific classification,” with surges in applications between 1953-56, 1965-71, and  an “unusually dramatic surge… between 2001 and 2004.” Make of that what you will. The story of the UFO gets both stranger and more mundane when we learn that Alexander Weygers, the very first person to file a patent for such a flying vehicle, invented it decades before UFO-mania and patented it in 1945. He was not an American inventor but the Indonesian-born son of a Dutch sugar plantation family. He learned blacksmithing on the farm, received an education in Holland in mechanical engineering and naval architecture, and honed his mechanical skills while taking long sea voyages alone.

In 1926, Weygers and his wife Jacoba Hutter moved to Seattle, Ashlee Vance writes at Bloomberg Businessweek, “where he pursued a career as a marine engineer and ship architect and began inking drawings of the Discopter” — the flying-saucer-like vehicle he would patent after working for many years as a painter and sculptor, mourning the death of his wife, who died in childbirth in 1928. By the time Weygers was ready to revive the Discopter, the time was ripe, it seems, for a wave of technological convergent evolution — or a technological theft. Perhaps, as Weygers’ claimed, UFOs really were Army test planes: test pilots flying something based on the inventor’s design — which was not a UFO, but an attempt at a better helicopter.

Sightings of strange objects in the sky did not begin in 1947. “Tales of mysterious flying objects date to medieval times,” Vance writes, “and other inventors and artists had produced images of disk-shaped crafts. Henri Coanda, a Romanian inventor, even built a flying saucer in the 1930s that looked similar to what we now think of as the classic craft from outer space. Historians suspect that the designs of Coanda and Weygers, floating around in the public sphere, combined with the postwar interest in sci-fi technology to create an atmosphere that gave rise to a sudden influx of UFO sightings.” In the 1950s, NASA and the U.S. Navy even began testing vertical takeoff vehicles that looked suspiciously like the patented Discopter.

Weygers was livid and “convinced his designs had been stolen.” The press even picked up the story. In 1950 the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article headlined “Carmel Valley Artist Patented Flying Saucer Five Years Ago: ‘Discopter’ May Be What People Have Seen Lately.” Although Weygers never built a Discopter himself, the article goes on to note that “the invention became the prototype for all disk-shaped vertical take-off aircraft since built by the U.S. armed forces and private industry, both here and abroad.” Just how many such vehicles have been constructed, and have actually been air-worthy, is impossible to say.

Smith surveys many of the patents for flying saucers filed over the past 75 years by both individuals and large companies. In the latter category, we have companies like Airbus and startups created by Google co-founder Larry Page currently working on flying saucer-like designs. The history of such vehicles may not provide sufficient evidence to disprove UFO sightings, but it may one day lead to the technology for flying cars we thought would already have arrived this far into the space age. For that we have to thank, though he may never get the credit, the modern Renaissance artist and inventor Alexander Weygers.

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

Watch 30+ Exceptional Short Films for Free in The New Yorker’s Online Screening Room

For short films, finding an audience is an often uphill battle. Even major award winners struggle to reach viewers outside of the festival circuit.

Thank goodness for The Screening Room, The New Yorker’s online platform for sharing short films.

It’s a magnificent free buffet for those of us who’d like nothing better than to gorge ourselves on these little gems.




If you’re not yet a fan of the form, allow us to suggest that any one of the 30 fictional shorts posted in The Screening Room could function as a superb palate cleanser between binge watches of more regular fare.

Take co-directors Amina Sutton and Maya Tanaka’s hilarious The Price of Cheap Rent, clocking in at 6 1/2 minutes, above.

A community-supported project, starring Sutton and shot in Tanaka’s Brooklyn apartment, it’s a comedy of manners that brings fresh meaning to the semi-controversial phrase “Bed Stuy, Do or Die.”

Sutton plays a young Black artist with a masters from Yale, a gig behind the bar at Applebee’s, and a keen interest in positioning herself as an influencer, an ambition the filmmakers lampoon with glee.

When she discovers that her new apartment is haunted, she is “so freaked the f&ck out,” she spends a week sleeping in the park, before venturing back:

And it’s a studio, so it’s like living in a clown car of hell.

But once she discovers (or possibly just decides) that the majority of the ghosts are Black, she begins planning a podcast and makes her peace with staying put.

Pros: the rent’s a lot less than the 1-bathroom dump she shared with five roommates, there’s laundry in the basement, and the ghosts, whom she now conceives of as ancestors, share many of her interests — history, the arts, and the 1995 live action/CGI adaptation of Casper the Friendly Ghost. (They give Ghostbusters a thumbs down.)

Cons: the ghost of an 18th-century Dutch Protestant settler whose white fragility manifests in irritating, but manageable ways.

Those with 18 minutes to spare should check out Joy Joy Nails, another very funny film hinging on identity.

Every day a group of salty, young Korean women await the van that will transport them from their cramped quarters in Flushing, Queens, to a nail salon in a ritzier — and, judging by the customers, far whiter — neighborhood.

Writer-director Joey Ally contrasts the salon’s aggressively pink decor and the employees’ chummy deference to their regular customers with the grubbiness of the break room and the transactional nature of the exchange.

“Anyone not fired with enthusiasm… will be!” threatens a yellowed notice taped in the employees only area.

Behind the register, the veil is lifted a bit, narrowing the upstairs/downstairs divide with realistically homemade signs:

“CASH! FOR TIP ONLY”

Like Sutton and Tanaka, Ally is versed in horror tropes, inspiring dread with close ups of pumice stones, emory boards, and cuticle trimmers at work.

When a more objective view is needed, she cuts to the black-and-white security feed under the reception counter.

When one of the customers calls to ask if her missing earring was left in the waxing room, the story takes a tragic turn, though for reasons more complex than one might assume.

Ally’s script punctures the all-too-common perception of nail salon employees as a monolithic immigrant mass to explore themes of dominance and bias between representatives of varied cultures, a point driven home by the subtitles, or absence thereof.

The 2017 film also tapped into its release year zeitgeist with a plot point involving the boss’ son.

On a tight schedule? You can still squeeze in Undiscovered, director Sara Litzenberger’s 3-minute animation from 2014.

Identity factors in here, too, as a Sasquatch-like creature terrifies a string of camera wielding humans in its attempt to get a photograph that will show it as it wishes to be perceived.

It’s an easily digested delight, suitable for all ages.

Explore all 30+ fictional shorts in the Screening Room for free here or on The New Yorker’s YouTube playlist. You can find them all embedded and streamable below.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

russell rules 2

Image by J. F. Horrabin, via Wikimedia Commons

Bertrand Russell saw the history of civilization as being shaped by an unfortunate oscillation between two opposing evils: tyranny and anarchy, each of which contain the seed of the other. The best course for steering clear of either one, Russell maintained, is liberalism.

“The doctrine of liberalism is an attempt to escape from this endless oscillation,” writes Russell in A History of Western Philosophy. “The essence of liberalism is an attempt to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma [a feature of tyranny], and insuring stability [which anarchy undermines] without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community.”




In 1951 Russell published an article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Best Answer to Fanaticism–Liberalism,” with the subtitle: “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” In the article, Russell writes that “Liberalism is not so much a creed as a disposition. It is, indeed, opposed to creeds.” He continues:

But the liberal attitude does not say that you should oppose authority. It says only that you should be free to oppose authority, which is quite a different thing. The essence of the liberal outlook in the intellectual sphere is a belief that unbiased discussion is a useful thing and that men should be free to question anything if they can support their questioning by solid arguments. The opposite view, which is maintained by those who cannot be called liberals, is that the truth is already known, and that to question it is necessarily subversive.

Russell criticizes the radical who would advocate change at any cost. Echoing the philosopher John Locke, who had a profound influence on the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Russell writes:

The teacher who urges doctrines subversive to existing authority does not, if he is a liberal, advocate the establishment of a new authority even more tyrannical than the old. He advocates certain limits to the exercise of authority, and he wishes these limits to be observed not only when the authority would support a creed with which he disagrees but also when it would support one with which he is in complete agreement. I am, for my part, a believer in democracy, but I do not like a regime which makes belief in democracy compulsory.

Russell concludes the New York Times piece by offering a “new decalogue” with advice on how to live one’s life in the spirit of liberalism. “The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows,” he says:

1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9: Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Wise words then. Wise words now.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March, 2013.

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What Is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War About?: A Short Introduction

After wars in Japan and Vietnam, the U.S. military became quite keen on a slim volume of ancient Chinese literature known as The Art of War by a supposedly historical general named Sun Tzu. This book became required reading at military academies and a favorite of law enforcement, and has formed a basis for strategy in modern wartime — as in the so-called “Shock and Awe” campaigns in Iraq. But some have argued that the Western adoption of this text — widely read across East Asia for centuries — neglects the crucial context of the culture that produced it.

Despite historical claims that Sun Tzu served as a general during the Spring and Autumn period, scholars have mostly doubted this history and date the composition of the book to the Warring States period (circa 475-221 B.C.E.) that preceded the first empire, a time in which a few rapacious states gobbled up their smaller neighbors and constantly fought each other.




“Occasionally the rulers managed to arrange recesses from the endemic wars,” translator Samuel B. Griffith notes. Nonetheless, “it is extremely unlikely that many generals died in bed during the hundred and fifty years between 450 and 300 B.C.”

The author of The Art of War was possibly a general, or one of the many military strategists for hire at the time, or as some scholars believe, a compiler of an older oral tradition. In any case, constant warfare was the norm at the time of the book’s composition. This tactical guide differs from other such guides, and from those that came before it. Rather than counseling divination or the study of ancient authorities, Sun Tzu’s advice is purely practical and of-the-moment, requiring a thorough knowledge of the situation, the enemy, and oneself. Such knowledge is not easily acquired. Without it, defeat or disaster are nearly certain:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The kind of knowledge Sun Tzu recommends is practical intelligence about troop deployments, food supplies, etcetera. It is also knowledge of the Tao — in this case, the general moral principle and its realization through the sovereign. In a time of Warring States, Sun Tzu recognized that knowledge of warfare was “a matter of vital importance”; and that states should undertake it as little as possible.

“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” The Art of War famously advises. Diplomacy, deception, and indirection are all preferable to the material waste and loss of life in war, not to mention the high odds of defeat if one goes into battle unprepared. “The ideal strategy of restraint, of winning without fighting… is characteristic of Taoism,” writes Rochelle Kaplan. “Both The Art of War and the Tao Te Ching were designed to help rulers and their assistants achieve victory and clarity,” and “each of them may be viewed as anti-war tracts.”

Read a full translation of The Art of War by Lionel Giles, in several formats online here, and just above, hear the same translation read aloud.

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





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