How Loneliness Is Killing Us: A Primer from Harvard Psychiatrist & Zen Priest Robert Waldinger

In 1966, Paul McCart­ney famous­ly sang of “all the lone­ly peo­ple,” won­der­ing aloud where they come from. Near­ly six decades lat­er, their num­bers seem only to have increased; as for their ori­gin, psy­chi­a­trist, psy­cho­an­a­lyst, and Zen priest Robert Waldinger has made it a long­time pro­fes­sion­al con­cern. “Start­ing in the nine­teen fifties, and going all the way through to today, we know that peo­ple have been less and less invest­ed in oth­er peo­ple,” he says in the Big Think video above. “In some stud­ies, as many as 60 per­cent of peo­ple will say that they feel lone­ly much of the time,” a feel­ing “per­va­sive across the world, across all age groups, all income groups, all demo­graph­ics.”

“Hav­ing an exten­sive net­work of friends is no guar­an­tee against lone­li­ness,” writes the late soci­ol­o­gist Ray Old­en­burg in The Great Good Place. “Nor does mem­ber­ship in vol­un­tary asso­ci­a­tions, the ‘instant com­mu­ni­ties’ of our mobile soci­ety, ensure against social iso­la­tion and atten­dant feel­ings of bore­dom and alien­ation. The net­work of friends has no uni­ty and no home base.” He names as a key fac­tor the dis­ap­pear­ance, espe­cial­ly in Amer­i­can life since World War II, of “con­ve­nient and open-end­ed social­iz­ing — places where indi­vid­u­als can go with­out aim or arrange­ment and be greet­ed by peo­ple who know them and know how to enjoy a lit­tle time off.”

Old­en­burg’s ele­gy for and defense of “cafés, cof­fee shops, com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters, gen­er­al stores, bars,” and oth­er engines of com­mu­ni­ty life, was pub­lished in 1989, well before the rise of social media — which Waldinger frames as the lat­est stage in a process that began with tele­vi­sion. As more Amer­i­can homes acquired sets of their own, “there was a decline in invest­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties. Peo­ple went out less, they joined clubs less often. They went to hous­es of wor­ship less often. They invit­ed peo­ple over less often.” Then, “the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion gave us more and more screens to look at, and soft­ware that was designed specif­i­cal­ly to grab our atten­tion, hold our atten­tion, and there­fore keep it away from the peo­ple we care about.”

We also know, he con­tin­ues, that “peo­ple with strong social bonds are much less like­ly to die in any giv­en year than peo­ple with­out strong social bonds.” This is a cred­i­ble claim, giv­en that he hap­pens to direct the now 85-year-long Har­vard Study of Adult Devel­op­ment. In 2016, we fea­tured Waldinger’s TED Talk on some of its find­ings here on Open Cul­ture. Before that, we post­ed a PBS Brain­Craft video that con­sid­ers the Har­vard Study of Adult Devel­op­ment along with oth­er research on the con­tribut­ing fac­tors to hap­pi­ness, a body of work that, tak­en togeth­er, points to the impor­tance of love — which, even if it isn’t all you need, is cer­tain­ly some­thing you need. And thus one more Bea­t­les lyric con­tin­ues to res­onate.

Relat­ed con­tent:

New Ani­ma­tion Explains Sher­ry Turkle’s The­o­ries on Why Social Media Makes Us Lone­ly

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

All You Need is Love: The Keys to Hap­pi­ness Revealed by a 75-Year Har­vard Study

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Bot­ton Shows How Six Great Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

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.

Every Political Ideology Explained in 8 Minutes


From the guy who brought you 51 Pro­pa­gan­da Tech­niques Explained in 11 Min­utes comes this: Every Polit­i­cal Ide­ol­o­gy Explained in 8 Min­utes. You get the usu­al suspects–conservatism, lib­er­al­ism, social­ism, com­mu­nism and fas­cism. And then some less fre­quent­ly encoun­tered ide­olo­gies: tran­shu­man­ism, syn­di­cal­ism, and com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism. By the end, he cov­ers 23 dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems that orga­nize our polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic lives. The video is brief, nec­es­sar­i­ly super­fi­cial. But it’s a place to start. To take a deep­er dive, you can explore Andrew Hey­wood’s book, Polit­i­cal Ide­olo­gies: An Intro­duc­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Online Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist by Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary



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Jewish Comedy with Daniel Lobell (“Reconquistador”) — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #165

Your hosts Mark, Lawrence, Sarahlyn, and Al explore the char­ac­ter­is­tics of Jew­ish com­e­dy with stand-up/­graph­ic nov­el­ist Daniel, whose film Recon­quis­ta­dor explores his ances­tors being kicked out of Spain. What’s the con­nec­tion of Jew­ish humor to anti-semi­tism?

We talk about relat­ing as a cre­ator to your iden­ti­ty, Jew­ish peo­ple see­ing them­selves in film and TV, the expe­ri­ence of lit­er­al­ly see­ing your­self in a film, Jew­ish com­e­dy as phi­los­o­phy or social com­men­tary, and “Jew­ish humor” vs. humor by peo­ple who hap­pen to be Jew­ish.

We touch on Mel Brooks, Lar­ry David, Adam San­dler, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, and fem­i­nist Jew­ish com­e­dy shows such as Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girl­friend, and Inside Amy Schumer.

FYI this was record­ed back in ear­ly Novem­ber when the Gaza war and its accom­pa­ny­ing flur­ry of anti-Semi­tism was a bit more raw.

Fol­low us @DanielLobell@law_writes@sarahlynbruck@ixisnox@MarkLinsenmayer.

Lis­ten to our ear­li­er episode with Daniel about phi­los­o­phy as com­e­dy.

Hear more Pret­ty Much Pop, includ­ing many recent episodes that you haven’t seen on this site. Sup­port the show and hear bonus talk­ing for this and near­ly every oth­er episode at or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This week our sup­port­er-exclu­sive Aftertalk includes our sto­ries of see­ing elder­ly per­form­ers; should you run out and see so-and-so before they’re dead?

This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

A Beautiful Visual Tour of Tirranna, One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Remarkable, Final Creations

“When I first encoun­tered Wright’s work as an eight-year-old boy, it was the space and the light that got me all excit­ed,” says Stu­art Graff in the Archi­tec­tur­al Digest video above. “I now under­stand why that gives us the feel­ing that it does, why we feel dif­fer­ent in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. That’s because he uses space and light to cre­ate this sense of inti­ma­cy with the world around us.” As luck would have it, Graff has grown up to become pres­i­dent and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foun­da­tion, and it is in that capac­i­ty that he leads us through one of the renowned Amer­i­can archi­tec­t’s last projects, a 1955 house along the Noro­ton Riv­er in New Canaan, Con­necti­cut called Tir­ran­na.

“While Tir­ran­na was being built, Wright was in New York City work­ing on his largest com­mis­sion, the Guggen­heim Muse­um,” says Graff. Also known as the Rayward–Shepherd House, Tir­ran­na is cer­tain­ly less wide­ly known than the Guggen­heim, and indeed, less wide­ly known than some of Wright’s oth­er res­i­den­tial work.

But as his pri­vate hous­es go, Tiran­na’s “set­ting rivals even per­haps Wright’s most famous work, Falling­wa­ter, in the way that house engages nature.” Built along a curve that “fol­lows the move­ment of the sun through the day” and tex­tured with con­trast­ing con­crete block and Philip­pine mahogany — not to men­tion plen­ty of glass through which to take in the land­scape out­side — it stands as a rich exam­ple of late Wright.

And rich is what you’d bet­ter be if you want to live it: accord­ing to a notice pub­lished in Archi­tec­tur­al Digest, Tir­ran­na went on the mar­ket last year for an ask­ing price of $8 mil­lion. Its 7,000 square feet make it one of Wright’s “largest and most expan­sive res­i­den­tial projects”; the “low-slung main home is designed in a hemi­cy­cle style — a unique­ly Wright shape — and fea­tures sev­en bed­rooms, eight bath­rooms, a rooftop obser­va­to­ry, and a wine cel­lar that has been con­vert­ed into a bomb shel­ter.” It even boasts the dis­tinc­tion of Wright him­self hav­ing stayed there, dur­ing the time he was still work­ing on the Guggen­heim. For a deep-pock­et­ed enthu­si­ast of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can archi­tec­ture, there could hard­ly be a more intrigu­ing prospect in New Canaan — as least since the Glass House isn’t for sale.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archi­tec­tur­al Mas­ter­pieces, Tal­iesin & Tal­iesin West

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusu­al Win­dows Tell Us About His Archi­tec­tur­al Genius

130+ Pho­tographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mas­ter­piece Falling­wa­ter

The Unre­al­ized Projects of Frank Lloyd Wright Get Brought to Life with 3D Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tions

When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Dog­house, His Small­est Archi­tec­tur­al Cre­ation (1956)

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.

60 Free Film Noir Movies to Get You Through 2024

Dur­ing the 1940s and 50s, Hol­ly­wood entered a “noir” peri­od, pro­duc­ing riv­et­ing films based on hard-boiled fic­tion. These films were set in dark loca­tions and shot in a black & white aes­thet­ic that fit like a glove. Hard­ened men wore fedo­ras and for­ev­er smoked cig­a­rettes. Women played the femme fatale role bril­liant­ly. Love was the surest way to death. All of these ele­ments fig­ured into what Roger Ebert calls “the most Amer­i­can film genre” in his short Guide to Film Noir.

If you head over to this list of Noir Films, you can find 60 films from the noir genre, includ­ing some clas­sics by John Hus­ton, Orson Welles, Fritz Lang and Ida Lupino. The list also fea­tures some cin­e­mat­ic leg­ends like Humphrey Bog­a­rt, Peter Lorre, Bar­bara Stan­wyck, Edward G. Robin­son, and even Frank Sina­tra. Hope the col­lec­tion helps you put some noir enter­tain­ment into 2024!

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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 free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The 5 Essen­tial Rules of Film Noir

The Essen­tial Ele­ments of Film Noir Explained in One Grand Info­graph­ic

Roger Ebert Lists the 10 Essen­tial Char­ac­ter­is­tics of Noir Films



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J.S. Bach’s Opera, “The Coffee Cantata,” Sings the Praises of the Great Stimulating Drink (1735)

From the time that a name­less genius in either Ethiopia or Yemen decid­ed to dry, crush and strain water through a berry known for mak­ing goats ner­vous and jumpy, cof­fee has been loved and wor­shiped like few oth­er bev­er­ages. Ear­ly Arab doc­tors pro­claimed the stuff to be a mir­a­cle drug. Thor­ough­ly caf­feinat­ed thinkers from Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Jack Ker­ouac debat­ed lit­er­a­ture, phi­los­o­phy and every­thing in between at cof­fee hous­es. Author Hon­oré Balzac even report­ed­ly died because of exces­sive cof­fee drink­ing (it was either that or the syphilis.)

Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach (1685–1750) was also appar­ent­ly a cof­fee enthu­si­ast. So much so that he wrote a com­po­si­tion about the bev­er­age. Although known most­ly for his litur­gi­cal music, his Cof­fee Can­ta­ta (AKA Schweigt stille, plaud­ert nicht, BWV 211) is a rare exam­ple of a sec­u­lar work by the com­pos­er. The short com­ic opera was writ­ten (cir­ca 1735) for a musi­cal ensem­ble called The Col­legium Musicum based in a sto­ried Zimmerman’s cof­fee house in Leipzig, Ger­many. The whole can­ta­ta seems very much to have been writ­ten with the local audi­ence in mind.

Cof­fee Can­ta­ta is about a young viva­cious woman named Aria who loves cof­fee. Her killjoy father is, of course, dead set against his daugh­ter hav­ing any kind of caf­feinat­ed fun. So he tries to ban her from the drink. Aria bit­ter­ly com­plains:

Father sir, but do not be so harsh!
If I could­n’t, three times a day,
be allowed to drink my lit­tle cup of cof­fee,
in my anguish I will turn into
a shriv­eled-up roast goat.

Ah! How sweet cof­fee tastes,
more deli­cious than a thou­sand kiss­es,
milder than mus­ca­tel wine.
Cof­fee, I have to have cof­fee,
and, if some­one wants to pam­per me,
ah, then bring me cof­fee as a gift!

The copy­writ­ers at Star­bucks mar­ket­ing depart­ment couldn’t have writ­ten it any bet­ter. Even­tu­al­ly, daugh­ter and father rec­on­cile when he agrees to have a guar­an­teed three cups of cof­fee a day writ­ten into her mar­riage con­tract. You can watch it in its entire­ty below, or get a quick taste above. The lyrics in Ger­man and Eng­lish can be read here.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: London’s First Cafe Cre­ates Ad for Cof­fee in the 1650s

The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

The Hertel­la Cof­fee Machine Mount­ed on a Volk­swa­gen Dash­board (1959): The Most Euro­pean Car Acces­so­ry Ever Made

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Can You Crack the Uncrackable Code in Kryptos, the CIA’s Work of Public Art?

It can be chal­leng­ing to parse the mean­ing of many non-nar­ra­tive art­works.

Some­times the title will offer a clue, or the artist will shed some light in an inter­view.

Is it a com­ment on the cul­tur­al, socio-eco­nom­ic or polit­i­cal con­text in which it was cre­at­ed?

Or is the act of cre­at­ing it the artist’s most salient point?

Are mul­ti­ple inter­pre­ta­tions pos­si­ble?

Artist Jim San­born’s mas­sive sculp­ture Kryp­tos may inspire var­i­ous reac­tions in its view­ers, but there’s def­i­nite­ly a sin­gle cor­rect inter­pre­ta­tion.

But 78-year-old San­born isn’t say­ing what…

He wants some­one else to iden­ti­fy it.

Kryp­tos’ main mys­tery — more like “a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enig­ma” to quote Win­ston Churchill — was hand cut into an S‑shaped cop­per screen using jig­saws.

Image cour­tesy of the CIA

Pro­fes­sion­al crypt­an­a­lysts, hob­by­ists, and stu­dents have been attempt­ing to crack the code of its 865 let­ters and 4 ques­tion marks since 1990, when it was installed on the grounds of CIA head­quar­ters in Lan­g­ley, Vir­ginia.

The hands-on part fell well with­in Sanborn’s purview. But a Mas­ters in sculp­ture from Pratt Insti­tute does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly con­fer cryp­tog­ra­phy bonafides, so San­born enlist­ed Edward Schei­dt, the retired chair­man of the CIA’s Cryp­to­graph­ic Cen­ter, for a crash course in late 20th-cen­tu­ry cod­ing sys­tems.

San­born sam­pled var­i­ous cod­ing meth­ods for the fin­ished piece, want­i­ng the act of deci­pher­ing to feel like “peel­ing lay­ers off an onion.”

That onion has been par­tial­ly peeled for years.

Deci­pher­ing three of its four pan­els is a pelt shared by com­put­er sci­en­tist and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Cryp­togram Asso­ci­a­tion, James Gillo­gly, and CIA ana­lyst David Stein.

Gillo­gly arrived at his solu­tion in 1999, using a Pen­tium II.

Stein reached the same con­clu­sion a year ear­li­er, after chip­ping away at it for some 400 hours with pen­cil and paper, though the CIA kept his achieve­ment on the down low until Gillo­gly went pub­lic with his.

The fol­low­ing year the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency claimed that four of their employ­ees, work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, had reached an iden­ti­cal solu­tion in 1992, a fact cor­rob­o­rat­ed by doc­u­ments obtained through the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act.

(On a relat­ed note, I got Wor­dle in three this morn­ing…)

This still leaves the 97-char­ac­ter phrase from the final pan­el up for grabs. Crack­ing it will be the penul­ti­mate step in solv­ing Kryp­tos’ puz­zle. As San­born told NPR in 2020, “that phrase is in itself a rid­dle:”

It’s mys­te­ri­ous. It’s going to lead to some­thing else. It’s not going to be fin­ished when it’s decod­ed.

The pub­lic is wel­come to con­tin­ue mak­ing edu­cat­ed guess­es.

San­born has leaked three clues over the years, all words that can be found in the final pas­sage of decrypt­ed text.

BERLIN, at posi­tions 64 — 69 (2010)

CLOCK, at posi­tions 70 — 74 (2014)

NORTHEAST, at posi­tion 26 — 34

Have you solved it, yet?


Don’t feel bad…

San­born has been field­ing incor­rect answers dai­ly for decades, though a ris­ing tide of aggres­sive and racist mes­sages led him to charge 50 bucks per sub­mis­sion, to which he responds via e‑mail, with absolute­ly no hope of hints.

Kryp­tos’ most ded­i­cat­ed fans, like game devel­op­er /cryptologist Elon­ka Dunin, seen ply­ing San­born with copi­ous quan­ti­ties of sushi above in Great Big Sto­ry’s video, find val­ue in work­ing togeth­er and, some­times, in per­son.

Their dream is that San­born might inad­ver­tent­ly let slip a valu­able tid­bit in their pres­ence, though that seems like a long shot.

The artist claims to have got­ten very skilled at main­tain­ing a pok­er face.

(Wait, does that sug­gest his inter­locu­tors have been get­ting warmer?)

Dunin has relin­quished all fan­tasies of solv­ing Kryp­tos solo, and now works to help some­one — any­one — solve it.

(Please, Lord, don’t let it be chat­G­PT…)

San­ford has put a con­tin­gency plan in place in case no one ever man­ages to get to the bot­tom of the Kryp­tos (ancient Greek for “hid­den”) conun­drum.

He, or rep­re­sen­ta­tives of his estate, will auc­tion off the solu­tion. He is con­tent with let­ting the win­ning bid­der decide whether or not to share what’s been revealed to them.

“I do real­ize that the val­ue of Kryp­tos is unknown and that per­haps this con­cept will bear lit­tle fruit,” he told the New York Times, though if one takes the mass­es of peo­ple des­per­ate to learn the solu­tion and fac­tors in Sanford’s inten­tion to donate all pro­ceeds to cli­mate research, it may well bear quite a healthy amount of fruit.

Join Elon­ka Dunin’s online com­mu­ni­ty of Kryp­tos enthu­si­asts here.

To give you a taste of what you’re in for, here are the first two pan­els, fol­lowed by their solu­tions, with the artist’s inten­tion­al mis­spellings intact.

Encrypt­ed Text

Decrypt­ed Text
Between sub­tle shad­ing and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlu­sion.


Encrypt­ed Text

Decrypt­ed Text
It was total­ly invis­i­ble Hows that pos­si­ble? They used the Earths mag­net­ic field X
The infor­ma­tion was gath­ered and trans­mit­ted under­gru­und to an unknown loca­tion X
Does Lan­g­ley know about this? They should Its buried out there some­where X
Who knows the exact loca­tion? Only WW This was his last mes­sage X
Thir­ty eight degrees fifty sev­en min­utes six point five sec­onds north
Sev­en­ty sev­en degrees eight min­utes forty four sec­onds west ID by rows

View step by step solu­tions for the first three of Kryp­tos’ encrypt­ed pan­els here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Enig­ma Machine: How Alan Tur­ing Helped Break the Unbreak­able Nazi Code

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voyn­ich Man­u­script: Has Mod­ern Tech­nol­o­gy Final­ly Solved a Medieval Mys­tery?

The Code of Charles Dick­ens’ Short­hand Has Been Cracked by Com­put­er Pro­gram­mers, Solv­ing a 160-Year-Old Mys­tery

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

How George Washington Became President of the United States: It Was Weirder Than You Think

After serv­ing two terms as the first Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, George Wash­ing­ton refused to con­tin­ue on to a third. We now see this action as begin­ning the tra­di­tion of peace­ful relin­quish­ment of pow­er that has con­tin­ued more or less ever since (inter­rupt­ed, as in recent years, by the occa­sion­al trou­bled tran­si­tion). At the time, not every­one expect­ed Wash­ing­ton to step down, his­to­ry hav­ing most­ly offered exam­ples of rulers who hung on until the bit­ter end. But the new repub­lic’s cre­ation of not just rules but cus­toms result­ed in a vari­ety of unusu­al polit­i­cal events; even Wash­ing­ton’s elec­tion was “weird­er than you think.”

So declares his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist in the video above, an expla­na­tion of the very first Unit­ed States pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 1789. “There were no offi­cial can­di­dates. There was no cam­paign­ing for the office. There were no polit­i­cal par­ties, no nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tions, no pri­ma­ry elec­tions. The entire elec­tion sea­son was very short, and the major issue of this elec­tion was the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.” It also took place after thir­teen pres­i­dent-free years, the U.S. hav­ing been not a sin­gle coun­try but “a col­lec­tion of thir­teen sep­a­rate colonies,” each tied more close­ly to Britain than to the oth­ers; there had­n’t even been a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment per se.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion changed that. Draft­ed in 1787, it pro­posed the exec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive, and judi­cial branch­es of gov­ern­ment, whose names every Amer­i­can who’s tak­en a cit­i­zen­ship exam (and every immi­grant who’s tak­en the cit­i­zen test) remem­bers. Set­ting up those branch­es in real­i­ty would prove no easy task: how, to name just one prac­ti­cal ques­tion, would the exec­u­tive — the pres­i­dent — actu­al­ly be cho­sen? Con­gress, the leg­isla­tive branch, could the­o­ret­i­cal­ly do it, but that would vio­late the now prac­ti­cal­ly sacred prin­ci­ple of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers. The vot­ers could also elect the pres­i­dent direct­ly, but the framers reject­ed that option as both imprac­ti­cal and unwise.

Enter “the famous elec­toral col­lege,” a body of spe­cial­ized vot­ers cho­sen by the indi­vid­ual states in any man­ner they please. Hav­ing reject­ed the Con­sti­tu­tion itself, North Car­oli­na and Rhode Island did­n’t par­tic­i­pate in the 1789 elec­tion. Each of the oth­er states chose their elec­tors in its own way (exem­pli­fy­ing the polit­i­cal lab­o­ra­to­ry of Amer­i­can fed­er­al­ism as orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived), though it did­n’t go smooth­ly in every case: the wide­spread divi­sion between fed­er­al­ists and anti-fed­er­al­ists was pro­nounced enough in New York to cre­ate a dead­lock that pre­vent­ed the state from choos­ing any elec­tors at all. The elec­tors that did make it cast two votes each, with the first-place can­di­date becom­ing Pres­i­dent and the sec­ond-place can­di­date becom­ing Vice Pres­i­dent.

That last proved to be a “bad sys­tem,” whose mechan­ics encour­aged a great deal of schem­ing, intrigue, and strate­gic vot­ing (even by the sub­se­quent­ly estab­lished stan­dards of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics). Only with the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the twelfth amend­ment, in 1804, could elec­tors sep­a­rate­ly des­ig­nate their choice of Pres­i­dent and Vice Pres­i­dent. In 1789, of course, “Wash­ing­ton eas­i­ly got all 69 elec­toral votes,” and went on reluc­tant­ly to pre­vail again in the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which more recent­ly became the sub­ject of its own Pre­mod­ernist video. Both of them mer­it a watch in this par­tic­u­lar moment, as the run-up to the U.S. con­test of 2024 gets into full swing. This elec­tion cycle cer­tain­ly won’t be as short as 1789, but it may well be as weird.

Relat­ed con­tent:

George Wash­ing­ton Writes to the First Jew­ish Con­gre­ga­tion of New­port, Rhode Island: “The Gov­ern­ment… Gives to Big­otry No Sanc­tion, to Per­se­cu­tion No Assis­tance” (1790)

Sal Khan & the Mup­pets’ Grover Explain the Elec­toral Col­lege

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

Elect­ing a US Pres­i­dent in Plain Eng­lish

George Washington’s 110 Rules for Civil­i­ty and Decent Behav­ior

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.

Why Perpetual Motion Machines Never Work, Despite Centuries of Experiments

Accord­ing to the laws of physics — at least in sim­pli­fied form — an object in motion will stay in motion, at least if no oth­er forces act on it. That’s all well and good in the realm of the­o­ry, but here in the com­plex real­i­ty of Earth, there always seems to be one force or anoth­er get­ting in the way. Not that this has ever com­plete­ly shut down mankind’s desire to build a per­pet­u­al-motion machine. Accord­ing to Google Arts & Cul­ture, that quest dates at least as far back as sev­enth-cen­tu­ry India, where “the math­e­mati­cian Brah­magup­ta, who want­ed to rep­re­sent the cycli­cal and eter­nal motion of the heav­ens, designed an over­bal­anced wheel whose rota­tion was pow­ered by the flow of mer­cury inside its hol­low spokes.”

More wide­ly known is the suc­ces­sor design by Brah­magup­ta’s twelfth-cen­tu­ry coun­try­man and col­league Bhāskara, who “altered the wheel design by giv­ing the hol­low spokes a curved shape, pro­duc­ing an asym­met­ri­cal course in con­stant imbal­ance.” Despite this ren­di­tion’s mem­o­rable ele­gance, it does not, like the ear­li­er over­bal­anced wheel, actu­al­ly keep on turn­ing for­ev­er. To blame are the very same laws of physics that have dogged the sub­se­quent 900 or so years of attempts to build per­pet­u­al-motion machines, which you can see briefly explained in the TED-Ed video above.

“Ideas for per­pet­u­al-motion machines all vio­late one or more fun­da­men­tal laws of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, the branch of physics that describes the rela­tion­ship between dif­fer­ent forms of ener­gy,” says the nar­ra­tor. The first law holds that “ener­gy can’t be cre­at­ed or destroyed; you can’t get out more ener­gy than you put in.” That alone would put an end to hopes for a “free” ener­gy source of this kind. But even machines that just keep mov­ing by them­selves — much less use­ful, of course, but still sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly earth-shat­ter­ing — would even­tu­al­ly “have to cre­ate some extra ener­gy to nudge the sys­tem past its stop­ping point, break­ing the first law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics.”

When­ev­er machines seem to over­come this prob­lem, “in real­i­ty, they invari­ably turn out to be draw­ing ener­gy from some exter­nal source.” (Nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca seems to have offered end­less oppor­tu­ni­ties for engi­neer­ing char­la­tanism of this kind, whose per­pe­tra­tors made a habit of skip­ping town when­ev­er their trick­ery was revealed, some obtain­ing patents and prof­its all the while). But even if the first law of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics did­n’t apply, there would remain the mat­ter of the sec­ond, which dic­tates that “ener­gy tends to spread out through process­es like fric­tion,” thus “reduc­ing the ener­gy avail­able to move the sys­tem itself, until the machine inevitably stopped.” Hence the aban­don­ment of inter­est in per­pet­u­al motion by such sci­en­tif­ic minds as Galileo and Leonar­do — who must also have under­stood that mankind would nev­er ful­ly relin­quish the dream.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Ele­gant Design for a Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine

M. C. Escher’s Per­pet­u­al Motion Water­fall Brought to Life: Real or Sleight of Hand?

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Inven­tions Come to Life as Muse­um-Qual­i­ty, Work­able Mod­els: A Swing Bridge, Scythed Char­i­ot, Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine & More

How the Bril­liant Col­ors of Medieval Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made with Alche­my

A Com­plete Dig­i­ti­za­tion of Leonar­do Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanti­cus, the Largest Exist­ing Col­lec­tion of His Draw­ings & Writ­ings

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Gives Life-Changing Advice to Teens: Watch His Speech, “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” (1967)

Six months before his assas­si­na­tion, Mar­tin Luther King Jr. spoke to stu­dents at Bar­ratt Junior High School in Philadel­phia, and asked What Is Your Life’s Blue­print?

Address­ing the stu­dents, he observed: “This is the most impor­tant and cru­cial peri­od of your lives. For what you do now and what you decide now at this age may well deter­mine which way your life shall go. When­ev­er a build­ing is con­struct­ed, you usu­al­ly have an archi­tect who draws a blue­print. And that blue­print serves as the pat­tern, as the guide, as the mod­el, for those who are to build the build­ing. And a build­ing is not well erect­ed with­out a good, sound, and sol­id blue­print.”

So what makes for a sound blue­print? The civ­il rights leader had some sug­ges­tions:

Num­ber one in your life’s blue­print should be: a deep belief in your own dig­ni­ty, your own worth and your own some­bod­i­ness. Don’t allow any­body to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ulti­mate sig­nif­i­cance.

Now that means you should not be ashamed of your col­or. You know, it’s very unfor­tu­nate that in so many instances, our soci­ety has placed a stig­ma on the Negro’s col­or. You know there are some Negros who are ashamed of them­selves? Don’t be ashamed of your col­or. Don’t be ashamed of your bio­log­i­cal fea­tures…

Sec­ond­ly, in your life’s blue­print you must have as the basic prin­ci­ple the deter­mi­na­tion to achieve excel­lence in your var­i­ous fields of endeav­or. You’re going to be decid­ing as the days and the years unfold, what you will do in life — what your life’s work will be.

And once you dis­cov­er what it will be, set out to do it, and to do it well.

You can read a tran­script of the speech here. As a post­script, it’s worth high­light­ing a remark­able com­ment left on YouTube, from the stu­dent who appar­ent­ly record­ed the speech on Octo­ber 26, 1967. It reads:

I can­not believe that I found this footage. I am the stu­dent cam­era­man that record­ed this speech. I remem­ber this like it was yes­ter­day. I have been telling my boys for years about this and now I can show them. I thought this was lost years ago and am so hap­py that it sur­vived the years. I was 12 or 13 years old when he can to Bar­rett and was mes­mer­ized by what he was say­ing. I can’t wait to share this with my fam­i­ly. Wow I am elat­ed that I found this.


Relat­ed Con­tent 

How Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. Used Niet­zsche, Hegel & Kant to Over­turn Seg­re­ga­tion in Amer­i­ca

Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.‘s Hand­writ­ten Syl­labus & Final Exam for the Phi­los­o­phy Course He Taught at More­house Col­lege (1962)

How Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Got C’s in Pub­lic Speaking–Before Becom­ing a Straight‑A Stu­dent and a World Class Ora­tor

The Pixies Perform a Hypnotic Version of “Gouge Away” at the BBC

In 2018, the Pix­ies per­formed live for BBC Radio 6 Music, play­ing some new songs (“In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain”) and old clas­sics (“Here Comes Your Man”). In that lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, you’ll find a record­ing of “Gouge Away,” which I keep com­ing back to again, and yet again. About the video, one YouTu­ber had this to say: “This pro­duc­tion is just badass. The bass, the drums, every­thing. This spe­cif­ic record­ing is a mas­ter­piece. To see it taped is a rev­e­la­tion.” That kind of sums it up. Time to share it with you…

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch the Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Film, The Golem, with a Sound­track by The Pix­ies’ Black Fran­cis

Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Con­certs: Inti­mate Per­for­mances from The Pix­ies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

Dis­cov­er an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Con­certs from the 80s and 90s: The Pix­ies, Son­ic Youth, The Replace­ments & Many More

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