Ken Burns’s Greatest Themes
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953, Ken Burns is a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose career spans over 30 years. His first film, "Brooklyn Bridge," was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981. He was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director, and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary "The Civil War," the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. His other major films include "Baseball," "The West," "Jazz," and "The War." His most recent film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," premiered on PBS in 2009.
Question: Are your films patriotic?\r\n
Ken Burns: Well I don’t know what your definition of patriotism is, and mine is so complicated that it would take up some time. I do think that it is a form of patriotic expression. We have now come to use patriotism in the most superficial and politically isolating way. We use it to tar people whose opinions we don’t agree with or use it as a weapon to tell people why their opinions render them unpatriotic. That’s not what I’m interested in. I think that for some reason or another, this combination of an interest in film and an interest in American history has also formed in me a kind of deep and abiding love, not without criticism. Every one of my films because it deals with race is implicitly critical of the United States and the path that it quite often takes, but at the same time it understands something larger. I’m interested in listening to the voices of a true, honest, complicated past that is unafraid of controversy and tragedy, but equally drawn to those stories and moments that suggest an abiding faith in the human spirit and particularly the unique role this remarkable but also sometimes dysfunctional republic seems to play in the positive progress of mankind. That’s my creed and I think that is a higher form of patriotism.\r\n
Question: Do you consciously make films on subjects that appeal to “buffs”?\r\n
Ken Burns: The quirky appeal they might or might not appeal to others or so-called buffs, as your question says, doesn’t interest me at all. I’m interested in that complicated past. I’m interested in telling stories. The fact that my interest might intersect with others who are drawn to the Civil War is I guess, good, but that’s not what I need to focus on. All I’m trying to do is tell a good story and telling a good story is an incredibly difficult and hard undertaking that requires the talents of a lot of amazing people that I had the good fortune to work with to do that.\r\n
I’m not sure that your question is entirely correct. Buffs don’t sort of attend to these films. It is true that there are Civil War buffs and they find in my film and other books and other films that have been made a kind of reenergizing of their interests, but the films themselves exist quite above whatever superficial sentimental nostalgic relationship that so often buffs have. I’m disinterested in sentimentality and nostalgia and in fact it’s not only the enemy of good storytelling it’s the enemy of good history. I’d rather though not retire to a kind of rational world in which one and one equals two all the time. That’s the safety of the empirical world, the rational world. All of us want deep down in some unexpressed way for one and one to equal three and it’s that calculus that an artist pursues. It’s that calculus that drives you. That improbable mathematical possibility that one and one could equal three is part of what we do. We say all the time that we wish the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts, but we don’t really examine the difference between the sum of the parts and the whole and that difference is what makes art, art, which makes literature work, what makes us love, which compels the most important aspects of our lives and that has nothing to do with buffs.\r\n
Question: What do you see as the central themes of your work?\r\n
Ken Burns: I was interviewing for a film biography of Mark Twain more than ten years ago the novelist Russell Banks, and we were talking about Huckleberry Finn, which I believe and he believed was Mark Twain’s most important novel, and he said, you know, it’s our Iliad and our Odyssey, which really struck me. And he said though most of us share the same European tradition that produced the Iliad and the Odyssey, we Americans were grappling with two new themes that our European ancestors weren’t and so we required a new Iliad, a new Odyssey to help us grapple with these, and Twain alone among writers and philosophers and politicians of the nineteenth century knew and understood and was willing to deal with and entwine these two themes. One was race and the other was space, not outer space, but the physical geography of the United States. I don’t go looking for race in my films. It’s just there. You can’t scratch the surface of the most important event in American history, the Civil War without coming up of course against the question of race. You can’t deal with the story of baseball, another great subject, without understanding that its finest moment is when Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the grandson of a slave, made his way to first base at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. It’s about race. That so much of the biographies that we’ve done on Thomas Jefferson, on Mark Twain, on Elizabeth K. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, on Lewis and Clark, on Jack Johnson inevitably I don’t know a film with a possible exception of Frank Lloyd Wright that didn’t engage race in some way or another, not because we went looking for it, but because we had committed as we were to dealing with not a superficial portrayal of a certain event in American history it had found us and so race is always there.\r\n
The space is a different thing. The physicality of the United States works on us in ways where we’re so unaware. First of all we have this magnificent continent, particularly the western part of the United States, which has been a draw to people from all over, but we’re also because we’re a democratic society or a society trying to be democratic experience the freedom of movement at all class levels. Traditionally movement was of armies or of the very rich in Europe and in other situations that a family in a futile situation could stay for hundreds and hundreds of years in the same spot, but in American even the lowliest worker could travel and did and the national parks become part of the verifying of that co ownership of the idea of America as well as the physicalness of America, so we’re always bumping into a question of race. We’re always bumping into this question of the physicality, the space of the United States and it was nice to have someone as brilliant as Russell Banks, a great, great novelist in his own right, deliver it to us in such an easy understandable thing, but he was essentially describing what has engaged my energies for 35-plus years.
Recorded November 25, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
Inspired by Twain's own example, the "Mark Twain" documentarian seeks to explore quintessentially American issues of "race and space."
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The images and our best computer models don't agree.
A trio of intriguing galaxy clusters<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzNDA0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkzNzUyOH0.0IRzkzvKsmPEHV-v1dqM1JIPhgE2W-UHx0COuB0qQnA/img.jpg?width=980" id="d69be" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2d2664d9174369e0a06540cb3a3a9079" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The three galaxy clusters imaged for the study
Mapping dark matter<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d904b585c806752f261e1215014691a6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fO0jO_a9uLA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The assumption has been that the greater the lensing effect, the higher the concentration of dark matter.</p><p>As scientists analyzed the clusters' large-scale lensing — the massive arc and elongation visual effects produced by dark matter — they noticed areas of smaller-scale lensing within that larger distortion. The scientists interpret these as concentrations of dark matter within individual galaxies inside the clusters.</p><p>The researchers used spectrographic data from the VLT to determine the mass of these smaller lenses. <a href="https://www.oas.inaf.it/en/user/pietro.bergamini/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Pietro Bergamini</a> of the INAF-Observatory of Astrophysics and Space Science in Bologna, Italy explains, "The speed of the stars gave us an estimate of each individual galaxy's mass, including the amount of dark matter." The leader of the spectrographic aspect of the study was <a href="http://docente.unife.it/docenti-en/piero.rosati1/curriculum?set_language=en" target="_blank">Piero Rosati</a> of the Università degli Studi di Ferrara, Italy who recalls, "the data from Hubble and the VLT provided excellent synergy. We were able to associate the galaxies with each cluster and estimate their distances." </p><p>This work allowed the team to develop a thoroughly calibrated, high-resolution map of dark matter concentrations throughout the three clusters.</p>
But the models say...<p>However, when the researchers compared their map to the concentrations of dark matter computer models predicted for galaxies bearing the same general characteristics, something was <em>way</em> off. Some small-scale areas of the map had 10 times the amount of lensing — and presumably 10 times the amount of dark matter — than the model predicted.</p><p>"The results of these analyses further demonstrate how observations and numerical simulations go hand in hand," notes one team member, <a href="https://nena12276.wixsite.com/elenarasia" target="_blank">Elena Rasia</a> of the INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Trieste, Italy. Another, <a href="http://adlibitum.oats.inaf.it/borgani/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stefano Borgani</a> of the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, adds that "with advanced cosmological simulations, we can match the quality of observations analyzed in our paper, permitting detailed comparisons like never before."</p><p>"We have done a lot of testing of the data in this study," Meneghetti says, "and we are sure that this mismatch indicates that some physical ingredient is missing either from the simulations or from our understanding of the nature of dark matter." <a href="https://physics.yale.edu/people/priyamvada-natarajan" target="_blank">Priyamvada Natarajan</a> of Yale University in Connecticut agrees: "There's a feature of the real Universe that we are simply not capturing in our current theoretical models."</p><p>Given that any theory in science lasts only until a better one comes along, Natarajan views the discrepancy as an opportunity, saying, "this could signal a gap in our current understanding of the nature of dark matter and its properties, as these exquisite data have permitted us to probe the detailed distribution of dark matter on the smallest scales."</p><p>At this point, it's unclear exactly what the conflict signifies. Do these smaller areas have unexpectedly high concentrations of dark matter? Or can dark matter, under certain currently unknown conditions, produce a tenfold increase in lensing beyond what we've been expecting, breaking the assumption that more lensing means more dark matter?</p><p>Obviously, the scientific community has barely begun to understand this mystery.</p>
Scientists have found evidence of hot springs near sites where ancient hominids settled, long before the control of fire.
Astronomers spot an object heading into Earth orbit.
Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
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