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kottke.org posts about video

A Moment of Reflection: On the Paradox of Individual Creative Work

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2020

After producing over 220 art history videos in 6 years, YouTube channel The Art Assignment is going to take an extended break to “reassess what educational art content should look like in 2020 and beyond”. In the video above, creator Sarah Urist Green reflects on her experience so far and what’s happening next. I’m always interested in what people have to say about their projects at inflection points like this, but I was blindsided by the almost total resonance of Green’s remarks with my own thoughts about the advantages & limitations of how I’ve chosen to work here at kottke.org. Here’s an extended quote from the transcript of the particularly resonant bit:

I don’t actually enjoy being on camera, but individual authentic voices have always been at the core of what makes YouTube great. And I’ve been glad to be able to lend my own voice in the hopes of making art and art history more accessible.

Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the specificity of my own point of view — but also its limitations. I’m a person who’s more interested in art from the 1960s than the 1560s. I have a deeper background in art from North America than South America.

Making this channel has been a hugely rewarding way to stretch beyond my formal education and natural inclinations. But any channel on YouTube, and indeed any experience, is shaped by bias and perspective — both the content itself and the way that each of us interprets and responds to it. The fact that my voice sounds grating to some and comforting to others is a reminder of that.

I’ve also learned that these biases are often reinforced by the recommendation algorithms that govern the platforms we frequent. Whether we want to or not, we citizens of the internet work in collaboration with these algorithms to curate information feeds for ourselves. And even if our feeds feel objective, they never are.

The Art Assignment isn’t, and has never been, the history of art or an introduction to the art world. It’s always been my history of art and a glimpse into my art world. I hope that’s been part of what makes it good, but it’s also part of what makes it limited, subjective, and necessarily incomplete.

The more videos we make, the more aware I am of the vast amount we haven’t covered. Trying to make content on this platform that is both educational and also clickable can be a challenging task with many pitfalls.

We’ve used what I think of as a buckshot technique — making a huge variety of kinds and formats of episodes to see what might possibly stick.

In doing so, we’ve discovered that more people click on names of art movements they’ve already heard of, artworks they’ve seen before, and already famous artists (mostly male).

More people watch when I do a hot take about those rare moments when art hits the wider news, like a Banksy stunt or a banana duct-taped to a wall.

I’ve also learned what YouTube viewers are less likely to click on, which is artists they’ve never heard of, artworks they haven’t seen before, and topics that don’t court controversy or outrage. This says something about the YouTube algorithm, but it also says something about what kinds of information we’re all drawn to online. Who wants to watch an educational video when you can watch The Try Guys eat 400 dumplings? (Seriously, I just watched it, it’s great.)

But because I know what tends to get clicked on more and watched for longer stretches, I’ve been more likely to try to serve that to you. Not all the time of course, but even when served in moderation that’s not really good for art history. It reinforces dominant narratives and offers up the same boring old menu of famous artists again and again.

However, I’ve also learned that you all are willing to dive down lesser-known and unexpected rabbit holes of research and bear with me as I simultaneously cook poorly and attempt to understand the eating and cooking lives of artists. You’ve taught me you’re willing to reconsider art and artists you didn’t think you liked, and you’ve tried approaches to art that are far outside of your comfort zones and made beautiful and vulnerable work in response. You’ve tackled really difficult questions with me and been willing to linger in grey zones and leave questions unanswered. I mean we’ve never even established a definition of art on this channel.

Because of your capacity for the abstract and lesser-known, we’ve been able to keep going all these years. And, with the incomparable backing of PBS, we’ve been able to make content not just for the most people, but for an open-minded and discerning audience like you.

I can’t adequately relate to you how unnerving it was for me to hear her say all that — change a few specific references and I very easily could have written it (but not as well). Doing kottke.org is this constant battle with myself: staying in my comfort zone vs. finding opportunities for growth, posting what I like or find interesting vs. attempting to suss out what “the reader” might want, celebrating the popular vs. highlighting the obscure, balancing the desire to define what it is I do here vs. appreciating that no one really knows (myself included), posting clickable things vs. important things I know will be unpopular, protecting myself against criticism vs. accepting it as a gift, deciding when to provoke & challenge vs. when to comfort & entertain, feeling like this is frivolous vs. knowing this site is important to me & others, being right vs. accepting I’ll make mistakes, and saying something vs. letting the content and its creators speak for themselves.

I know that all sounds super dramatic — I don’t intensely feel all of that when I’m working, but that video made me reflect on it hard. And I suspect that many people who do creative work in public struggle in similar ways. Like Green with respect to PBS, I am grateful to kottke.org’s members (“an open-minded and discerning audience” if there ever was one) for their support of my work and trust in the limited & imperfect human who does it.

The Sculptor Tasked with Completing Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2020

In this meditative short film, Etsuro Sotoo talks about what made him want to spend 41 years working as a sculptor in an attempt to finish Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. From a website dedicated to Sotoo:

In 1978 Etsuro Sotoo arrived in Barcelona. He had just graduated in Fine Arts, he had just one year of experience as an Art teacher. When impressed by the unfinished temple: “It was the most fabulous pile of stones I had ever seen” …He asked for a job as a stonecutter. He wanted to continue the Nativity façade (the only façade that, thanks to his work, would be declared by Unesco World Heritage). He did a test and they gave him the position. Since then, he has completed what Gaudí did not even have time to think about. When he finished with the gaps, he started with the architect’s notes. When the tracks are over, it’s up to him to make decisions.

According to the video, Sotoo even converted to Catholicism as a way for him “to know Gaudí”. (via craig mod)

A History of Policing in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

This video provides a quick overview of the history of policing in America through the lens of race, from the slave patrols in the South to the violent and discriminatory policing of Black migrants in the North in the midst the Great Migration. At its conclusion, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, asks a very direct question:

And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd — and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I’ve seen in my lifetime is — do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black and, in too many cases, brown, Indigenous, and Asian populations in this country?

This video is a snippet from an hour-long podcast episode of NPR’s Throughline called American Police (transcript here). (via @GeeDee215)

A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

From January to the end of June, over 500,000 people died of confirmed cases of Covid-19. In order to demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic, James Beckwith made a time lapse map of each Covid-19 death.

Each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included.

As was the case with the pandemic, the video starts slow but soon enough the individual sounds and blips build to a crescendo, a cacophony of death. The only way this could be made more ominous & upsetting is by including the first song off of Cliff Martinez’s Contagion soundtrack as a backing track. As Beckwith notes in the description: “It is likely a sequel will need to be made.” (via open culture)

The Indigenous Peruvian Trap Music of Renata Flores

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2020

Quechua is an indigenous language family spoken by millions of people in the Andean region of South America, primarily in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. It was the main language of the Inca empire and today is the most widely spoken pre-Columbian language in the Americas. In her music, Peruvian singer/songwriter Renata Flores combines modern forms like hip hop, electronic, and trap music with native instruments and vocals sung in Quechua. Here’s the video for one of her most popular songs, Tijeras:

Flores also does covers of pop songs (Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, Fallin’ by Alicia Keys) and she first captured people’s online attention with a Quechua cover of Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel performed when she was 14 years old:

Rosa Chávez Yacila wrote an article for Vice about Flores and her music last year. Her use of Quechua in pop music brought the language out of private spaces into the public.

It’s very common for many Quechua speakers to not teach their children or grandchildren the language because they consider this knowledge as a burden. To explain the shortage of active bilingualism in Peru, the linguist Virginia Zavala uses the concept of “linguistic ideologies,” which are the ideas that people have about languages. For example: French is the language of love; German sounds rough; Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish are similar.

Quechua, similarly to other indigenous languages, is associated with poverty, rural life, and illiteracy. These ideas have been shaped by history and society to the point that people hold on to these beliefs as if they were universal truths. And these “truths” are deeply embedded in their conscious thought process. Value hierarchies also exist with languages. Some are “worth” more than others.

The end result is that many native Quechua speakers believe that using Quechua in public is unnecessary after learning Spanish. Either by shyness or shame, they reserve their maternal tongue for private spaces and intimate conversations.

Behind the Scenes with Danny MacAskill

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2020

Trials rider Danny MacAskill (one of our favorite athletes around these parts) has recently started sharing some behind-the-scenes looks at some of the coolest tricks he’s done for his videos. The video above shows him trying to barrel roll his bike with a trailer attached, which he likens to “doing a rally [race] with a caravan on the back”. What’s fascinating is that it takes him forever to get the maneuver down, but once he does, he’s able to do it over and over again — “gradually, then suddenly” in action. You can see the finished product in his Danny Daycare video.

Two more behind-the-scenes videos he’s done so far: the backwards roll and the log slide (which also takes him forever to do but he’s then able to repeat three more times in a row).

Doublespeak: Language Designed to Mislead While Pretending Otherwise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2020

Linguist William Lutz, former editor of the Quarterly Review of Doublespeak, went on CSPAN in 1989 to promote his book, Doublespeak. The video above is a 7-minute distillation of his thoughts on what he calls “language designed to mislead while pretending not to”. (Watch Lutz’s full interview here.)

You can read the first chapter of Doublespeak; an excerpt:

Doublespeak is not the product of carelessness or sloppy thinking. Indeed, most doublespeak is the product of clear thinking and carefully designed and constructed to appear to communicate when in fact it doesn’t. It is language designed not to lead but mislead. It is language designed to distort reality and corrupt thought… In the world created by doublespeak, if it’s not a tax increase, but rather “revenue enhancement” or “tax base broadening”, how can you complain about higher taxes? If it’s not acid rain, but rather “poorly buffered precipitation”, how can you worry about all those dead trees?

See also On Bullshit and Donald Trump. (via dunstan)

A Mind Sang

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2020

A Mind Sang is an inventive short film about “perception, rebirth, and transformation”. What I most liked about watching was how effortless it was to see the transitions between all the optical illusions — but it wasn’t too easy. A great sense of pacing by filmmaker Vier Nev. Read an interview with Nev about his film on Vimeo’s blog. (via @mikeindustries)

“What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 03, 2020

In a powerful video for the Movement For Black Lives, Daveed Diggs asks: “What, to My People, is the Fourth of July?”

What, to my people, is the Fourth of July? My people, who are failed every day by every country, sleepless in the long night, terrorized by fireworks, we who have cried salt baths for our kin.

Look at all we have borne for you: arms, armistice, the sweetest fruits, flesh of children hidden away from the ugly summer of their own blood — we are on the front lines. Help me, tell me, what do we tell the children of your Fourth of July? What is death to a daughter? What is river to a sea? Where is the country where my people are safe?

Ancestors set the table send dream mares in high supply. Too heavy, too spent, too hot to cook, no promise beyond the sparkly simple bombs. Keep your holiday, your hunger, the blood in your teeth. Police parade down streets, proud descendants of the slave patrol. Theater of denial, a propaganda pageant, and we are on the front lines all summer. My uncle can’t sleep and he was born free. And he ain’t never been.

The text performed by Diggs — written by Safia Elhillo, Danez Smith, Lauren Whitehead, W. Kamau Bell, Angel Nafis, Idris Goodwin, Pharoahe Monch, Camonghne Felix, and Nate Marshall — was inspired by Frederick Douglass’ July 5, 1852 speech, in which he asked, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Dinnerware Smashing in Slow Motion Accompanied by Bach

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

Optical Arts conceived this video as a “live action musical animation” of cups, plates, and glasses smashing and un-smashing accompanied by the toccata section of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous organ piece, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I thought it was fully CGI at first (as The Morning News reported), but then I found the making of video on the project page and it’s not — they filmed all the glasses and dished smashing at extremely high speeds between 1000 and 5000 frames/second on Phantom cameras.

I don’t know about you, but this video is what it looks like inside my head lately. Smash smash smash! (via the morning news)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2020

A group of creative folks recently came together to produce a 40-day-long Big Read of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th century epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Readings on sections of the poem from people like Jeremy Irons, Tilda Swinton, Hilary Mantel, and Iggy Pop were paired with artworks from Marina Abramovic, William Kentridge, Cornelia Parker, and Yinka Shonibare. I was struck right off the bat by the first piece, Glenn Brown’s The Shallow End.

Glenn Brown Shallow End

As one of the organizers, writer Philip Hoare, writes in The Guardian, Coleridge’s poem is particularly suited for the present situation, with its subject matter touching on isolation, plague, abolition, and the human impact on the natural world.

Roaring out of the radical 1790s, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a founding fable for our time. A fable must by definition revolve around an animal, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s nightmare the slain albatross hangs around the fated sailor’s neck like a broken cross, an emblem of his sin against nature. It is all too relevant today, as a statement of isolation and despair: “Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide, wide sea!” Yet in that forlorn expression is great power; the power of art to change us.

You can watch the entire 41-minute read in this video (embedded above).

Kulning, a Beautiful Medieval Nordic Herding Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2020

In this hauntingly beautiful video, Jonna Jinton performs an ancient Nordic herding call called kulning to summon a herd of cows.

The herds grazed during the daytime, wandering far from the cottages, and thus needed to be called in each night. Women developed kulning to amplify the power of their voices across the mountainous landscape, resulting in an eerie cry loud enough to lure livestock from their grazing grounds.

One should always take caution when hanging out with someone kulning, as it can’t be done quietly. Rosenberg, who’s researched the volume of kulning, says it can reach up to 125 decibels — which, she warns, is dangerously loud for someone standing next to the source. Comparable to the pitch and volume of a dramatic soprano singing forte, kulning can be heard by an errant cow over five kilometers away.

(via moss & fog)

1947 Film That Eerily Predicted How People Would Use Smartphones

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2020

This clip is from a 1947 French film about the imagined future of television called “Télévision œil de demain”. The film is based on a premise by science fiction author René Barjavel and directed by J.K. Raymond-Millet. It predicts not only handheld smartphone-like devices but also, with uncanny accuracy, the behavior that comes with them — like people walking around looking at screens, people on screens bumping into each other, oblivious screen users walking out in front of cars, etc. I mean, just look at this:

Smartphone 1947

Smartphone 1947

And a bit later in the clip, the film shows a car crash resulting from distracted driving.

See also some early smartphone predictions by Nikola Tesla (1926), W.K. Haselden (1919), and L. Frank Baum (1914):

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.

And also from Mark Sullivan (1953):

In its final development, the telephone will be carried about by the individual, perhaps as we carry a watch today. It probably will require no dial or equivalent, and I think the users will be able to see each other, if they want, as they talk.

A Decade of Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2020

For the past 10 years now, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been capturing an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds. To celebrate, NASA created this 61-minute time lapse video of all ten years, with each second representing one day in the Sun’s life. They have helpfully highlighted some noteworthy events in the video, including solar flares and planetary transits.

12:24, June 5, 2012 — The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Won’t happen again until 2117.

13:50, Aug. 31, 2012 — The most iconic eruption of this solar cycle bursts from the lower left of the Sun.

43:20, July 5, 2017 — A large sunspot group spends two weeks crossing the face of the Sun.

See also Gorgeous Time Lapse of the Sun.

Fixing Racial Bias in Journalism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2020

For her series Counternarratives, artist and media critic Alexandra Bell takes newspaper articles and layouts from the NY Times that demonstrate racial bias and fixes them. For example, Bell took the notorious double profile of Michael Brown and his killer Darren Wilson and placed the focus entirely on Brown:

Counternarratives Alexandra Bell

In this video, Bell explains her process:

I think everything is about race. Black communities, gay communities, immigrant communities feel a lot of media representations to be inadequate, biased. There’s a lot of reporting around police violence and black men, and I realized a lot of the arguments that we were having were about depictions. I started to wonder how different would it be if I swapped images or changed some of the text.

See also Kendra Pierre-Louis’ recent article for Nieman Lab: It’s time to change the way the media reports on protests. Here are some ideas.

Trailer for Season Four of The Handmaid’s Tale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2020

Season four of The Handmaid’s Tale is coming to Hulu in 2021. I found season 3 to be increasingly outlandish — not in terms of the depicted fascist policies and behaviors of Gilead (Atwood has stated that in her books & the TV series, all events have a precedent) but just in terms of “How the hell is June still alive and working in Gilead?!” Also, the use of closeups of Elisabeth Moss’s facial expressions to convey emotion was overused to the point of cliche. But I will definitely give season four a shot, especially now that we know where the series is ultimately headed.

A Short History of the Cooper Black Typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

In this video from Vox, Estelle Caswell talks to Bethany Heck and Steven Heller about the seemingly ubiquitous typeface Cooper Black.

There’s a typeface that has made a resurgence in the last couple of years. It’s appeared on hip hop album covers, food packaging, and advertising. Perhaps you know it from the Garfield comics, Tootsie Roll logo, or the Pet Sounds album cover by the Beach Boys. It’s called Cooper Black, and its popularity and ubiquity has never waned in the hundred years since it was first designed.

Cooper Black tends to get a bad rap from type aficionados (too popular, too cartoony) but this video — and Heck’s comments in particular — have given me a new appreciation for it.

Alicia Keys’ Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

Well, this is a treat. In February, before the pandemic lockdown, Alicia Keys recorded a Tiny Desk Concert and NPR released the video earlier this week.

As she approached her piano, a bit surprised at the amount of people in the room, she smiled and remarked over her shoulder, “Gee, the Tiny Desk is tiny!” She kicked off the set with an uncanny ode to combat the darkness of this moment in American history: “Show Me Love,” a single she released in 2019. No one could have predicted then how much her lyrics and musical healing would be crucial during this emotionally fraught time of unprecedented political and racial unrest, heightened by three months of quarantine due to a global pandemic.

The stand-out moment during her Tiny Desk was the premiere of “Gramercy Park”, a song from her upcoming self-titled album, ALICIA, which is set to be released this fall. It’s one of those timeless songs that will transcend radio formats and genres, with lyrics that address how utter selflessness and worrying about making everyone happy but yourself can throw your own center askew. The song’s spiritual refrain is sure to be a sing-along moment for the rest of Keys’s career.

As an encore, she and her band played Fallin, her first big single. As someone in the comments said:

Can we all just appreciate the fact that she can pull fallin out her back pocket, dust it off like an old record, and make us fall in love all over again.

Keys’ almost casual brilliance blew me right away here. Wow.

Barcelona Opera House Reopens With a Concert for 2,292 Plants

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

Plants Opera

As promised last week, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu reopened on Monday with a string quartet performance of Puccini’s Crisantemi played before a packed house of 2,292 plants. You can watch the performance here:

A strange & beautiful performance. I love that they did the “please silence your mobile phones and no pictures please” announcement before beginning.

The performance was the brainchild of artist Eugenio Ampudia, who wanted to “offer us a different perspective for our return to activity, a perspective that brings us closer to something as essential as our relationship with nature”. Afterwards, the plants were donated to healthcare workers who have been battling Covid-19 for the past few months.

See also A Forest Grows on an Austrian Soccer Pitch.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

Former NFL linebacker and sports media personality Emmanuel Acho has started a video series on YouTube called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. From the first episode (of two), here’s his mission statement:

In the midst of all this chaos in our world, so many of y’all have reached out to me. And by y’all, I mean white people have reached out to me asking, “How can I help? How can I join in? How can I stand with you?” So I’ve created this for you because in order to stand with us and people that look like me, you have to be educated on issues that pertain to me. And fully educated so that you can feel the full level of pain so that you can have full understanding. I fervently believe that if the white person is your problem only the white person can be your solution. And so this is made for you my white brothers and sisters to increase your level of understanding so that you can increase your level of compassion and lead ultimately to change.

For the second episode, Acho sat down with fellow Austin resident Matthew McConaughey and yes, the conversation is a little cringe-y at times:

After watching that, you might be interested in reading Langston Hughes’ poem Let America Be America Again.

O, let America be America again-
The land that never has been yet-
And yet must be-the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine-the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME-
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Nile Rodgers Tells the Story of the Iconic Riff on Bowie’s Let’s Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

In this video from Fender, the legendary producer/composer/guitarist Nile Rodgers sits down with his iconic Stratocaster and talks about how he took a folky tune that David Bowie came up with and turned it into the jazzy backbone of the pop song Let’s Dance, arguably Bowie’s biggest hit. Listening to where the song started off before Rodgers started tweaking, it’s hard for this musical simpleton to recognize that it’s even the same tune.

Update: Rodgers told a variation of this story in 2015.

Who Is Responsible For Climate Change?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2020

In their newest video, Kurzgesagt explores the question of responsibility around climate change: which countries are most responsible for carbon emissions and for fixing the damage they’ve caused. As always, their source material is worth a look.

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

Now Streaming - Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

For 35 years, activist and archivist Marion Stokes recorded television news coverage on VHS tapes, amassing a collection of hundreds of thousands of hours of footage. Matt Wolf has produced a documentary about Stokes called Recorder: The Marian Stokes Project.

For over 30 years, Marion Stokes obsessively and privately recorded American television news twenty-four hours a day. A civil rights-era radical who became fabulously wealthy and reclusive later in life, her obsession started with the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1979 — at the dawn of the twenty-four hour news cycle. It ended on December 14, 2012 as the Sandy Hook massacre played on television while Marion passed away. In between, Marion filled 70,000 VHS tapes, capturing revolutions, wars, triumphs, catastrophes, bloopers, talk shows and commercials that show us how television shaped the world of today and in the process tell us who we were.

A mystery in the form of a time capsule, Recorder delves into the strange life of a woman for whom home taping was a form of activism to protect the truth (the public didn’t know it, but the networks had been disposing their archives for decades into the trashcan of history) and though her visionary and maddening project nearly tore her family apart, her extraordinary legacy is as priceless as her story is remarkable.

The trailer is above and you can watch the whole thing for free on PBS for a limited time.

Palo Alto, a Previously Unreleased Thelonious Monk Live Album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

A Thelonious Monk live album that was recorded in 1968 is set to be released for the first time on July 31, 2020. You can hear the first single from the album on YouTube, Spotify, or several other places.

The story behind the performance is a little nutty — a student hired Monk to play at his high school and many folks didn’t buy tickets until the jazz great actually pulled into the parking lot.

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, racial tensions across the country rose. Palo Alto, a largely white college town in California, was not immune to the events of the day. Danny Scher, a rising junior at Palo Alto High School, had a dream to bring Thelonious Monk to Palo Alto to perform and help bring about racial unity in his community as well as raise funds for his school’s International Committee. After somehow securing Monk’s services to perform on Sunday, October 27, Scher initially had trouble selling tickets and convincing people that Monk was even going to show up. With many twists and turns along the way and several hundred people waiting in the school’s parking lot to await Monk’s arrival before purchasing tickets, the concert eventually happened and was a triumph in more ways that Monk or Scher could have imagined. This is a recording of that historic concert.

(via, who else?, @tedgioia)

Update: One of the high school’s custodians took charge of tuning Monk’s piano and recording the session. A crowdsourced effort is underway to identify and recognize his efforts.

Today Is Juneteenth, the USA’s Second Independence Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2020

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday that started in Texas that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. From Vox’s Juneteenth, explained:

A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation; the Civil War was still going on, and when it ended, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Texas and issued an order stating that all enslaved people were free, establishing a new relationship between “former masters and slaves” as “employer and hired labor.” As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.

And freedom was further delayed, but the holiday stuck. From What Is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work, as historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner details in her comprehensive essay, “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas.

Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. As quoted in Litwack’s book, former slave Susan Merritt recalled, ” ‘You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ‘cause they cotch ‘em swimmin’ ‘cross Sabine River and shoot ‘em.’ ” In one extreme case, according to Hayes Turner, a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years (She ” ‘whip me after the war jist like she did ‘fore,’ ” Darling said).

Hardly the recipe for a celebration — which is what makes the story of Juneteenth all the more remarkable. Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau (itself delayed from arriving until September 1865), now had a date to rally around. In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.

From the NY Times’ collection of articles to mark the Juneteenth holiday, Veronica Chambers writes:

“Recently, I heard Angela Davis talk about the radical imagination,” Ms. [Saidiya] Hartman said. “And a fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen. I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.”

I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has celebrated Juneteenth for a long time, I think we need it now — not in lieu of the freedom, justice and equality we are still fighting for — but in addition, because we have been fighting for so very long.

The elemental sermon embedded into the history and lore of Juneteenth has always been one of hope. The gifts of the holiday are the moments of connection, renewal and joy for a people who have had to endure so much, for so long.

Gina Cherelus shares how folks around the country celebrate, past and present — This Is How We Juneteenth:

Kenneth Timmons, who works for a federal government agency in Houston, said the first thing he usually does before every Juneteenth is take the day off work. Mr. Timmons usually invites friends over to cook and eat together.

“My co-workers know why I’m off, I tell them I don’t work Juneteenth,” Mr. Timmons, 47, said. “I don’t work on my Independence Day.”

Born and raised in Lufkin, Texas, a town more than 100 miles northeast of Houston, Mr. Timmons remembers attending community Juneteenth celebrations as a child, where he would watch rodeo shows, pageants, eat barbecue and participate in calf chasing contests.

“Even though the United States celebrates July 4 as their independence, we were still considered slaves,” said Mr. Timmons. “So for us, that is the day that our ancestors were finally released from servitude and slavery and could escape the South.”

Calls for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday have grown over the past few years. Here’s the case from the staff of The Root and Danielle Young — Juneteenth Is Finally Entering the Mainstream American Consciousness. Now Make It An Official Federal Holiday.

Forget the 4th of July! Juneteenth is the day that should be celebrated by all as a pivotal point in America’s freedom story.

93-year-old Texas resident Opal Lee is working to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday. You can follow her efforts here and sign her petition.

And finally, here are some ways to get involved in the movement for Juneteenth, including educational resources, events & protests, suggestions for how to invest in the Black community, places to donate, volunteer opportunities, etc.

The 1850s Map that Made Modern Epidemiology

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2020

In 1854, Dr. John Snow produced a map of a London cholera outbreak which showed deaths from the disease concentrated around a water pump on Broad Street. The prevailing view at the time was that cholera spread through dirty air, but Snow hypothesized that it was actually spread through water and constructed this early medical data visualization to help prove it.

John Snow Cholera Map

Through a mix of personal interviews, clever detective work, and data analysis that included tables and a famous map, Snow managed to stop the outbreak and convince local public health officials, eventually, that cholera could be transmitted through water, not a miasma. Since his breakthrough study, the map has become an iconic piece of epidemiological history, as an illustration of keen detective work, analysis, and visual representation with a map that, even today, tells a story.

Aside from the cluster of deaths around the pump (which could be argued were the result of a miasma cloud and not contaminated water), stories of nearby people who didn’t get sick (brewers who drank the beer they produced rather than well water, people in buildings with their own wells) and far away people who died because they had drunk water from the well were also essential in proving his theory:

I was informed by this lady’s son that she had not been in the neighbourhood of Broad Street for many months. A cart went from broad Street to West End every day and it was the custom to take out a large bottle of the water from the pump in Broad Street, as she preferred it. The water was taken on Thursday 31st August., and she drank of it in the evening, and also on Friday. She was seized with cholera on the evening of the latter day, and died on Saturday

You can read more about John Snow and how his map changed science and medicine in Steven Johnson’s excellent Ghost Map.

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2020

For Slate’s 2015 podcast series The History of American Slavery, Andrew Kahn created an interactive visualization of the 20,000+ voyages that made up the Atlantic slave trade that lasted 315 years. A video of the interactive map is embedded above.

As we discussed in Episode 2 of Slate’s History of American Slavery Academy, relative to the entire slave trade, North America was a bit player. From the trade’s beginning in the 16th century to its conclusion in the 19th, slave merchants brought the vast majority of enslaved Africans to two places: the Caribbean and Brazil. Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747 — less than 4 percent of the total — came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

Roughly 400,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the United States before the practice was banned in 1808. The ban was mostly (but not entirely) enforced and yet in 1860, the population of enslaved persons was almost 4 million in the South. That’s because the 1808 ban, according to Ned & Constance Sublette’s book The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry, was a form of trade protectionism that protected the forced breeding of enslaved peoples by American slaveowners. From a review of the book:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? “The South,” the Sublettes write, “did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people.” Slavers called slave-breeding “natural increase,” but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia’s capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, “most of it in the North,” the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South’s total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

You can read more about the economics of slavery in this post from 2016, including how American banks sold bonds that used enslaved persons as collateral to international investors. (via open culture)

Twist, Spin, Tuck, Jump

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

In the second video in his Concatenation series (check out the first one), Donato Sansone edited a bunch of footage of Olympic divers, gymnasts, and track & field athletes together to make a single twisting, jumping, tucking, spinning routine that’s both seamless and completely disorienting. (via colossal)

John Cleese on Extremism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2020

In a clip from a TV advertisement for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, John Cleese entertainingly talks about the benefits of extremism.

The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good — because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.

Even if you don’t believe that moderate politics is the way forward (and I wonder if anyone does anymore), you can appreciate the truth that having external enemies can prevent you from discovering and addressing your views and practices that are harming others and that you need to work on.