Tuesday, December 11th, 02012
Rick Prelinger, a guerrilla archivist who collects the uncollected and makes it accessible, presents the 7th of his annual Lost Landscapes of San Francisco screenings. You'll see an eclectic montage of rediscovered and rarely-seen film clips showing life, landscapes, labor and leisure in a vanished San Francisco as captured by amateurs, newsreel cameramen and studio filmmakers.
New sequences in this year's high-definition feast will include the Japanese-American community in the Western Addition before redevelopment; shipwrecks off the Northern shoreline; 1930s demonstrations for China Relief; even more Sutro Baths scenes; family films from the Mission, Richmond, Sunset and Excelsior Districts; rediscovered films of San Francisco transit; and newly discovered, never-shown documentary footage of the Tenderloin and waterfront. Much of the show will be scanned from Kodachrome and original 35mm material.
As usual, this year's Castro Theatre screening is an interactive experience: audience members will BE the soundtrack, identifying places and events, asking questions, loudly discussing San Francisco's past and future as the film unreels.
Finally, if you have family or historical films of San Francisco, it's not too late to help out -- please contact Rick through The Long Now Foundation, and we'll arrange to have your films scanned and possibly included in this year's show!
Doors at 6:30pm, show from 7:30pm to 9:00pm PST Read more
Wednesday, November 28th, 02012
For 3.8 billion years, life has lived in a bath of solar radiance. The Sun’s illumination outlines which objects are appealing, bland, or repellant. Its powers of desiccation, blistering, bleaching, and revelation govern a balance between beauty and danger. Its flood of photons shapes light-harvesters (“eyes”), pigments, and surfaces---stretching planetary aesthetics to include "invisible light" (ultraviolet, infrared, and polarized). From euglena to Matisse, all creatures dwell in a variety of luminance locales---dramas of biospheric brightness, color mixes, and rebellions against darkness (such as fireflies and luminescent fish). The most recent rebellion has been human-devised lamps that impact everything from the artistic-military complex (camouflage and mimicry) to the materials, techniques, and display of paintings, electronic imaging, and growing plants.
This 55-minute journey travels from unicells to octopi to op-art, with a dose of PR for “planetary color webs” and their influence on awareness, desire, self-direction, memory, contemplation, and curiosity.
Armed with a PhD in Biological Anthropology from Harvard, Peter Warshall has shaped watershed theory and practices, conservation biology, relations with Indian tribes in the Southwest, and refugee activities in Africa. For a decade he was the editor of the Whole Earth Review. Read more
Tuesday, November 13th, 02012
Lazar Kunstmann, Jon Lackman
There is at least as much underneath Paris as there is above it. The secretive members of the Paris Urban eXperiment, known internally as "The UX", have spent the last 30 years surreptitiously probing into this world - and improving it. A few years ago these underground hackers and artists became infamous when one morning the clock at the Panthéon, that had not worked in years, began chiming. It was just one of at least 15 such restorations done without permission.
In a first-time-ever public presentation, the UX spokesman, who goes under the name Lazar Kunstmann, along with author Jon Lackman from Wired, will present some of the theory and work of the Urban eXperiment. Lackman chronicled much of their work in the February print edition of Wired---which is co-sponsoring this event. Read more
Monday, October 8th, 02012
Steven Pinker changes the world twice in his new book, THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE: Why Violence Has Declined.
First, he presents exhaustive evidence that the tragic view of history is wrong and always has been. A close examination of the data shows that in every millennium, century, and decade, humans have been drastically reducing violence, cruelty, and injustice---right down to the present year. A trend that consistent is not luck; it has to be structural.
So, second, he boldly founds a discipline that might as well be called “psychohistory.” As a Harvard psychologist and public intellectual (author of The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate), he sought causes for the phenomenon he’s reporting---why violence has declined. Real ethical progress, he found, came from a sequence of institutions, norms, cultural practices, and mental tricks employed by whole societies to change their collective mind and behavior in a peaceful direction.
Humanity’s great project of civilizing itself is far from complete, but Pinker’s survey of how far we’ve come builds confidence that the task will be completed, and he illuminates how to get there. Read more
Wednesday, September 5th, 02012
“The history of civilization is a story of evolution in our ability to build complex ‘multicellular minds,‘" says Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media (books, conferences, foo camps, Maker Faires, Make magazine.)
Speech allowed us to communicate and coordinate. Writing allowed that coordination to span time and space. Twentieth century mass communications allowed shared information and culture to blanket the world. In the 21st century, memes spread mind to mind in nearly real time.
But that's not all. In one breakthrough computer application after another, we see a new kind of man-machine symbiosis. The Google autonomous vehicle turns out not to be just a triumph of artificial intelligence algorithms. The car is guided by the cloud memory of roads driven before by human Google Streetview drivers augmented by powerful and precise new sensors. In the same way, crowd-sourced data from sensor-enabled humans is leading to smarter cities, breakthroughs in healthcare, and new economies.
The future belongs not to artificial intelligence, but to collective intelligence. Read more
Monday, August 20th, 02012
Revelations about the Book of Revelation
Probably the most consequential vision of the future ever written is the Bible’s Book of Revelation. If God didn’t write it (through the sainted instrument of someone named John), then who did, and why?
Elaine Pagels has a persuasive answer, spectacularly illustrated. The author of The Gnostic Gospels; Beyond Belief; and Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, Pagels analyzes other revelations of the time (they were common) and examines how John’s particular version of apocalypse made it into the world’s most popular book. John had his own agenda. It wasn’t Christian. Read more
Tuesday, July 31st, 02012
The war against computer freedom will just keep escalating, Doctorow contends. The copyright wars, net neutrality, and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) were early samples of what is to come. Victories in those battles were temporary. Conflict in the decades ahead will feature ever higher stakes, more convoluted issues, and far more powerful technology. The debate is about how civilization decides to conduct itself and in whose interests.
“Cory Doctorow is one of the great context-setters of our generation,” says Tim O’Reilly. Co-editor of the acclaimed blog “Boing Boing,” Doctorow writes contemporary science fiction blending contextual insight with journalistic depth. His recent books include For the Win; Makers; and Little Brother.
Long Now and the Electronic Frontier Foundation bring Cory Doctorow to San Francisco for a glimpse into the future of computing and the increasing fight for control over our freedom both online and offline. Read more
Tuesday, June 5th, 02012
Democracy began in cities and works best in cities. Mayors are the most pragmatic and effective of all political leaders because they have to get things done. “The paramount aims of city-dwellers,” says Barber, “concern collecting garbage and collecting art rather than collecting votes or collecting foreign allies, the supply of water rather than the supply of arms, promoting cooperation rather than promoting exceptionalism, fostering education and culture rather than fostering national defense and patriotism.“
Most of humanity now lives in cities, and cities worldwide connect with each other more readily than any other political entity. By expanding on that capability, Barber suggests, “Cities can make themselves global guarantors of social justice and equality against the depredations of fractious states. And they can become, as the polis once was, new incubators of democracy, this time in a global form.“
A much-honored political theorist, Barber is author of Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age and of Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World. Read more
Tuesday, May 22nd, 02012
Plastic now pervades civilization---how many of the things you see from where you are right now are plastic? It is an ingenious material whose miraculous qualities we take too much for granted, but it also sometimes has nightmarish downstream effects. The giant polymer molecules (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, etc.) that are so marvelously cheap to mold, extrude, shape, and weave are also extremely durable. Their cheapness makes them the basic material of a throw-away culture (one third of all plastic goes into disposable packaging.) Their durability means that any toxic effects persist indefinitely in the environment.
Plastic presents a problem in temporal management of the very long-term and the very short-term. How do we get the benefits of plastic's amazing durability while reducing the harm from its convenient disposability? The matter requires close and respectful coordination between short-term experts (businesses) and long-term experts (governments and nonprofits). Managing plastic well is a microcosm of managing civilization well.
Susan Freinkel is the author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story and American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. Read more
Monday, April 23rd, 02012
Charles C. Mann
Ever since Columbus, it’s an alien invasive world. Everybody’s germs, insects, vegetables, staple foods, rats, domestic animals, and even wildlife went everywhere, changing everything. That convulsion is still in progress.
Charles C. Mann is the author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. Read more
Friday, April 20th, 02012
Edward O. Wilson
Seminar and Conversation with Edward O. Wilson and Stewart Brand, with an introduction by Rob Semper, Executive Associate Director of the Exploratorium.
Presented by The Long Now Foundation and the Exploratorium
Edward O. Wilson has revolutionized science and inspired the public more often than any other living biologist. Now he is blending his pioneer work on ants with a new perspective on human development to propose a radical reframing of how evolution works.
First the social insects ruled, from 60 million years ago. Then a species of social mammals took over, from 10 thousand years ago. Both sets of “eusocial” animals mastered the supremely delicate art of encouraging altruism, so that individuals in the groups would act as if they value the goal of the group over their own goals. They would specialize for the group and die for the group. In recent decades the idea of “kin selection” seemed to explain how such an astonishing phenomenon could evolve. Wilson replaces kin selection with “multi-level selection,” which incorporates both individual selection (long well understood) and group selection (long considered taboo). Every human and every human society has to learn how to manage adroitly the perpetual ambiguity and conflict between individual needs and group needs. What I need is never the same as what we need.
E. O. Wilson’s current book is The Social Conquest of Earth. His previous works include The Superorganism; The Future of Life; Consilience; Biophilia; Sociobiology; and The Insect Societies. Read more
Tuesday, March 6th, 02012
Human activities increasingly dominate 9 crucial planetary systems. Add to the familiar ones---climate, biodiversity, and chemical pollution---atmospheric aerosols, ocean acidification, excess nitrogen in agriculture, too much land in agriculture, freshwater scarcity, and ozone depletion. To have "a safe operating space for humanity" on Earth requires adjusting our behavior to work within those systems. How we collectively step up to that responsibility will determine whether "the Anthropocene" (the current geological era shaped by humans) will be a tragedy or humanity's greatest accomplishment.
British environmentalist Mark Lynas is the author of one of the finest climate books, Six Degrees, and of a new work, The God Species: How the Planet Can Survive the Age of Humans, which spells out a cohesive Green program for this century guided by the 9 boundaries. Read more
Wednesday, February 22nd, 02012
Agricultural biodiversity is as much in need of defending as the world's wildlife. Countless varieties of plants and animals were bred by the world's peoples for talents specific to every soil, climate, and human culture. Most of them have been lost---their hard-won genetic sophistication extinguished. But many have survived, thanks to professional and amateur devotion, and they are wondrous---living embodiments of humanity's deepest traditions.
Photojournalist Jim Richardson has been covering the agricultural beat for National Geographic since 1984. His spectacular photographs, and the stories he tells with them, are renowned. Read more
Tuesday, January 17th, 02012
A dazzlingly incisive presenter, Lawrence Lessig specializes in identifying deep systemic problems in public process (such as copyright malfunction and Congressional dysfunction) and then showing how they can be cured. Currently he is bearing down on the corruption of Congress by the practice of private funding for public elections through campaign contributions. He writes: "The dependency of modern campaign finance is the single most important cause of the bankruptcy of Congress. Fixing this bankruptcy is the single most important reform effort that Americans face just now." As he did with helping fix copyright problems via Creative Commons, he has a plan for reforming elections to reestablish Congressional trust and effectiveness. (Public trust in Congress is currently at 12%.)
Lessig is director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and author of Republic, Lost (2011) and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000 and 2006). Read more