James Baldwin debates William F Buckley

59 minutes

Bayes’s theorem, and making probability intuitive

16 minutes

In the absence

29 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Symphonie diagonale

7 minutes

The big push

4 minutes

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

What is it to be Bayesian? The (pretty simple) math modelling behind a Big Data buzzword

If you’ve ever tripped up over the term ‘Bayesian’ while reading up on data or tech, fear not. Strip away the jargon and notation, and even the mathematics-averse can make sense of the simple yet revolutionary concept at the core of both machine learning and behavioural economics. As this video from the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown skilfully explains, at its most basic, Bayes’s theorem is a tool for assessing degrees of probability based on prior conditions. And there are ways to make it altogether more intuitive than the statistical formulas might suggest. Although the theorem dates back to its 18th-century namesake, the English statistician and philosopher Thomas Bayes, it has gained increasing relevance in the Big Data revolution.

Video by 3Blue1Brown

‘They told us to stay put’: the South Korean ferry disaster that sank lives and trust

On 16 April 2014, the ferry MV Sewol sunk off the coast of South Korea, killing 304 people – the vast majority of them high-school students on a field trip. Like many other tragedies, the event made headlines around the world before quickly fading from the international news cycle. In South Korea, however, facts about the incompetence, government failures and lapses in responsibility that led to the Sewol’s sinking emerged slowly over the course of several years, prolonging pain and stoking anger to the present day. The documentary In the Absence by the South Korean director Yi Seung-Jun is a devastating account of the sinking and its aftermath – from the first signs of trouble at sea to the years-long struggle by bereaved families demanding accountability and justice. Combining original material with real-time audio and video of the tragedy, the film offers an extraordinary, chilling account of the consequences of following instructions from inept authorities – and the profound breakdown of public trust that follows such a disaster.

Director: Yi Seung-Jun

Producers: Gary Byung-Seok Kam, Park Bong-Nam

Website: Field of Vision

Dadaism ridiculed the meaninglessness of modern life – with captivating results

Dadaism was an avant-garde artistic movement born amid the wreckage of the First World War in Europe and formed in reaction to the perceived meaninglessness of modern life – in particular, of capitalism and its violence. The Swedish artist Viking Eggeling’s stop-motion animation Symphonie diagonale is considered both a Dadaist masterpiece and an early example of experimental animation. Basing the imagery on drawings he created alongside the influential German artist and fellow Dadaist Hans Richter, Eggeling revised and screened several versions of the short from 1922 up until his death in 1925. Shown as a silent film upon its release, this version of Symphonie diagonale features an original score, exclusive to Aeon. The contemporary Illinois-based composer William Pearson intends his music to react to Eggeling’s original vision in both style and composition, with playful, occasionally mechanical organ sounds, and melodies forming in sequence with the visuals emerging on screen.

Director: Viking Eggeling

Composer: William Pearson

Researcher: Tamur Qutab

The eerie serenity of a summer’s day by water, before one of history’s bloodiest battles

‘We laugh and for one heartbeat forget to be afraid…’

The Battle of the Somme, fought by French and British forces against the German army in northern France in 1916, was one of the bloodiest in history. It lasted 140 days and resulted in more than 1.5 million casualties. The Scottish artist Herbert James Gunn (1893-1964) served as a rifleman, and painted The Eve of the Battle of the Somme in the field, just hours before the attack on ‘the Boche’ began on 1 July 1916. He depicts a scene of eerie serenity: young men relaxing by water on an idyllic day, watched by a menacing line of army tents, a foreshadow of the unfathomable bloodshed that followed. Commissioned by the UK charity The Poetry Society, the short film The Big Push reinterprets Gunn’s painting through impressionistic paint-on-glass animation. It is set to an eponymous poem written and read by the contemporary Scottish poet John Glenday, inspired by Gunn’s painting.

Directors: Laurie Harris, Xin Li

Website: Mosaic Films

The legendary debate that laid down US political lines on race, justice and history

In 1965 at the University of Cambridge, two of the foremost American intellectuals were challenged with the question: ‘Has the American Dream been achieved at the expense of the American Negro?’ From William F Buckley’s highly stylised posturing and pointing, to James Baldwin’s melodious rhetorical flourishes and memorable scowls, what’s become known as the ‘Baldwin-Buckley Debate’ now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history. Baldwin, the famed African-American writer, whose reputation as a progressive social critic and visionary Civil Rights activist has only risen in the intervening decades, argues that the very foundation of US society is built on the dehumanisation of its African-American population. Meanwhile, Buckley, the leading US conservative intellectual of the period, argues that African Americans would be best served by exploiting their country’s many freedoms and opportunities, rather than pointing a collective finger at discriminatory structures and institutions. In both cases, their positions presage contemporary divisive debates in the US, though one wonders whether such an event could happen in today’s political environment.

While usually reduced to short clips, the full hour-long debate – presented here in its entirety – is a remarkable historical document in its own right. Conducted in front of a large, almost entirely white and predominantly male audience at the Cambridge Union, the encounter offers a sense of campus intellectual life in the mid-1960s through the atmosphere in the room, the things that made people laugh, and the particular references made by the debaters. After the always eloquent Baldwin evokes his personal experience to describe a perpetually disorienting and demeaning existence for African Americans, Buckley responds with facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice – to argue that there’s an American Dream available to all those who would pursue it. In the end, Baldwin prevailed, earning an ardent standing ovation and a landslide victory in the Union’s vote on the motion raised.

Website: The Cambridge Union

Audio restoration: Adam D’Arpino

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