Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

12 OCTOBER, 2011

How Radio Broadcasting Works: An Animated Explanation from 1937

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From oscillator to audience, or how the music of the orchestra travels from the studio to your home.

In 1909, radio pioneer Charles “Doc” Herrold made his first broadcast in what would soon become KCBS news radio, the world’s first broadcasting station. Even though he didn’t invent radio itself — Marconi did — Radio quickly became a powerful disseminator of culture, entertainment and, as 40 years of NPR attest, necessary critical thinking. But how does radio broadcasting actually work? In 1937, the Handy (Jam) Organization (which you might recall) produced On The Air, a fascinating piece of vintage edutainment explaining exactly that, from how the microphone converts sound waves into electrical currents to how audio waves travel from studio to audience, in under 10 minutes.

For more on how radio revolutionized modern communication, see Anthony Rudel’s excellent Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio.

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11 OCTOBER, 2011

Perversion for Profit: Vintage Anti-Porn Propaganda

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A vintage card from the Tea Party playbook, or what the Kama Sutra has to do with the fall of the Roman Empire.

Until the global crisis of 2008, the largest financial debacle in living memory was triggered by the Savings & Loan crisis of the late 1980s. And the face of that scandal was Charles Keating. When his bank, Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, failed in 1989, more than 21,000 investors, most of whom elderly, lost their savings, and the American taxpayer forked over $3.4 billion to clean up the mess. Political scandals followed — remember the Keating Five? — and Keating did federal time for wire fraud and bankruptcy fraud.

That’s when financial institutions began to lay waste to the American dream. But if you asked Charles Keating what posed the biggest threat to America’s bright future, he’d point you to something else — porn. (No, not the green kind.) Way back in 1958, Keating founded Citizens for Decent Literature, which became the largest anti-pornography organization in the U.S. As part of his crusade, Keating also produced Perversion for Profit, a 1965 propaganda film that stitched together scads of pornographic images, hoping to make the visual case that pornography, nd homosexuality right along with it, threatened to undermine America as a civilization. Domestic moral decay leads to external threat. That’s the essential argument of the film. And so we get lines like: “This moral decay weakens our resistance to the onslaught of the communist masters of deceit.” And then this, the closing words narrated by Los Angeles newsman George Putnam:

This same type of rot and decay caused sixteen of the nineteen major civilizations to vanish from the Earth. Magnificent Egypt, classical Greece, imperial Rome, all crumbled away not because of the strength of the aggressor, but because of moral decay from within. But we are in a unique position to cure our own ills: our Constitution was written by men who put their trust in God and founded a government based in His laws. These laws are on our side. We have a constitutional guarantee of protection against obscenity. And, in this day especially, we must seek to deliver ourselves from this twisting, torturing evil. We must save our nation from decay and deliver our children from the horrors of perversion. We must make our land, ‘the land of the free’, a safe home. O God, deliver us, Americans, from evil.”

You can watch this vintage piece of reactionary Americana on YouTube, or find it housed in Open Culture’s collection of Free Movies Online.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University. You can find Open Culture on Twitter and Facebook

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07 OCTOBER, 2011

Richard Feynman on Beauty, Honors, and Curiosity

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The art of uncertainty, why awards are the wrong pursuit, and how to find wonder in truth.

On the heels of yesterday’s children’s book on science by Richard Dawkins and Wednesday’s testament to remix culture comes an ingenious intersection of the two — an inspired effort to promote science education and scientific literacy amongst the general public by way of a remix gem. Canadian filmmaker Reid Gower, who has previously delighted us with some Carl Sagan gold, has created a trilogy of magnificent mashups using the words of iconic physicist Richard Feynman, culled from various BBC, NASA, and other notable footage, to convey the power, wonder, and whimsy of science. Dubbed the Feynman Series, it’s a continuation of the brilliant Sagan Series.

Beauty does away with the common myth that scientists are unable to truly appreciate beauty in nature as Feynman explains what a scientist actually is and does.


I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. […] I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose.

Honours peels away at the pretense of awards as false horsemen of gratification.

I don’t see that it makes any point that someone in the Swedish academy just decides that this work is noble enough to receive a prize — I’ve already gotten the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding a thing out, the kick in the discovery, the observation that other people use it — those are the real things. The honors are unreal to me. I don’t believe in honors.

Curiosity is Feynman’s lament for simplicity, which gets lost in our ceaseless hunger for sensationalism.

[The Big Bang] is a much more exciting story to many people than the tales which other people used to make up, when wondering about the universe we lived in on the back of a turtle or something like that. They were wonderful stories, but the truth is so much more remarkable. And, so, what’s the wonder in physics to me is that it’s revealed the truth is so remarkable.

For more on Feynman’s legacy and genius, look no further than Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher.

via Open Culture

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28 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Lessons for the Living from the Brink of Death

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How to take life one ephemeral dinner party at a time, or why hope is a gift of the hopeless.

Lessons for the Living is a poignant documentary by Lily Henderson exploring the unique subculture of hospice volunteers as they contemplate their own philosophies of life and death. This grounding excerpt from the film follows Kathleen, who is both a hospice volunteer and a hospice patient. She has been preparing for her own death for over a decade, but has managed to master that art of living from sheer presence — a powerful lesson, indeed, for the rest of us.

I’ve talked to people who say they feel sorry for me for not having any hope. I say, hope is a thief. I am living today as fully as I am able.”

Kathleen has since passed away.

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