· Tutorials and Writeups · Frantic Christmas Preparation Montage Song

Alright, I support the light-hearted measures to encourage Advent music (great Advent playlist on Spotify here) according to the church’s calendar. But I recently heard a Christmas song playing that I wanted to know the name of (but was too slow on the Shazam reflexes). Describing it as an intense Christmas song got me Carol of the Bells which wasn’t it. I tried all sorts of combinations of describing the sound like Dun da da dun dun dun dun dun, Dun da da dun dun dun dun dun but this gave nothing. I went on to describe the song as a frenetic song often used in montages of frantically wrapping Christmas presents or last-minute Christmas preparation scenes. Describing that, along with mentioning Jingle All the Way and Home Alone, got me to Holiday Flight by John Williams which was very similar. It turned out the one I had heard was Trepak (Cossack Dance) by Tchaikovsky from The Nutcracker (thanks Musicstax). Of course, The Nutcracker!

While we’re at it, here’s Spotify links for the Home Alone soundtrack by John Williams, the Jingle All the Way soundtrack, the The Family Stone soundtrack by Michael Giacchino which features Trepak, and a wonderful comparison of nine recordings of The Nutcracker. Happy (soon to be) Advent!

· Shared · Wasabi

A week ago, researchers published findings (doi:10.3390/nu15214608) from a double-blind RCT in the journal Nutrients concluding that wasabi improves memory performance in older adults. Previous studies over the last few years have shown the spice provides anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, as well as improves neuroinflammation and cognitive function. It made me think of this nice look by director Edwin Lee at the root, “Wasabia Japonica”. For some reason this short piece really stuck with me.

The study, funded by Kinjirushi, used Kinjirushi wasabi extract capsules with 0.8 mg 6-MSITC once a day, citing a previous safety study (doi:10.3136/fstr.26.813) for the dosage; Kinjirushi is selling a similar item here (no affiliation, no endorsement) for about $67 for 60 tablets (suggesting twice the dose). Apparently there are also farms growing wasabi in Half Moon Bay, Oregon, and Washington State and if you can’t afford the fresh option, there is the freeze dried option, Sushi Sonic, at your local grocery store or from Great Eastern Sun.

Nice doc anyway. Bravo to Mr. Lee!

· Shared · Humanism

The humanities, rightly pursued and rightly ordered, can do things, teach things, preserve things, and reveal things that no other discipline can. They provide us with a lamp of illumination and a mirror of self-recognition. It is the humanities that instruct us in the range and depth of human possibility, including our immense capacity for both goodness and depravity. It is the humanities that nourish and sustain our shared memories, and connect us with our civilization’s past and with those who have come before us. It is the humanities that teach us how to think about what the good life is for us humans, and guide us in the search for civic ideals and institutions that will make the good life possible.

The humanities are imprecise by their very nature… Imprecise is not the same thing as inaccurate. The knowledge they convey is not a rough, preliminary substitute for what psychology, chemistry, molecular biology, and physics will eventually resolve with greater finality and precision. They are an accurate reflection of the subject they treat, the most accurate possible.

The distinctive task of the humanities, unlike the natural sciences and social sciences, is to grasp human things in human terms, without converting or reducing or translating them into something else—as into physical laws, mechanical systems, biological drives, psychological disorders, social structures, and so on. The humanities attempt to understand the human condition from the inside… Science teaches us that the earth rotates on its axis while revolving around the sun. But in the domain of the humanities, the sun still also rises and sets, and still establishes in that diurnal rhythm one of the deepest and most universal expressive symbols of all the things that rise and fall, or live and die.

The burden of the humanities by Wilfred M. McClay

· Journal · The Blue Cup and Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn

Did this 1986 painting of Lenin inspire Ai Weiwei’s 1995 artwork Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn? The painting was exhibited at the Whitney in 1987 which is when Ai was living in the nearby East Village. If you know, I hope you’ll leave a comment here.

· Shared · Platonists and Aristotelians

Every man is born an Aristotelian or a Platonist.

I do not think it possible that any one born an Aristotelian can become a Platonist and I am sure no born Platonist can ever change into an Aristotelian. They are the two classes of men, beside which it is next to impossible to conceive a third…

I believe that Aristotle never could get to understand what Plato meant by an idea… Aristotle was, and still is, the sovereign lord of the understanding, the faculty judging by the senses… But he confounded science with philosophy, which is an error

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, July 2, 1830

· Shared · Calamity Tourism

Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half’s worth of those professional, specialized tourists known as journalists.

–Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

· Shared · You taught me Waiting with Myself

You taught me Waiting with Myself —
Appointment strictly kept —
You taught me fortitude of Fate —
This — also — I have learnt —

An Altitude of Death, that could
No bitterer debar
Than Life — had done — before it —
Yet — there is a Science more —

The Heaven you know — to understand
That you be not ashamed
Of Me — in Christ’s bright Audience
Upon the further Hand —

–Emily Dickinson

· Shared · On Marriage

I delivered the following remarks during a wedding I officiated for two of my good friends and former roommates:

Some make marriage out to be a big challenge, like the Olympics of relationships, this huge, intimidating Herculean task. They say “marriage is hard” but I think it’s actually life that’s hard and marriage is a part of life. Marriage is an opportunity to make someone else’s life easier. And to receive a type of love from them that makes our life easier. This relationship is an opportunity for rest. Because as these two commit themselves to each other, this will allow them to rest and they will grow in closeness and intimacy that wouldn’t be available to them otherwise.

Marriage is timeless: a non transactional relationship. What a relief is that! So many of our relationships are transactional. We go about life saying: I will be for you what I should be if you will be what you should be. It’s all about conditions. And expectations. It’s how we do business with one grocery store rather than another. It’s the same way we get stuff done at homeowners association meetings.

And what do we have here? Hear an intimidating vow: I will be for you what I should be, even if you are not what you should be. That is what sets this apart. It’s how we learn what love truly is. It’s reckless. It’s unguarded. It rushes in. It can’t be reasoned with. It is stronger than death. It does things that defy logic. It does things that defy self and self-interest.

By going there with someone, we allow them to go there. And when they go there, they enable us to go further.

The difference between this type of relationship and those transactional types is kind of like the difference between joy and happiness.

When we are happy, it’s often due to conditions. Or related to the present circumstances. We have a nice meal. It stops raining. We get a promotion. We are happy.

But joy is different. Joy can be found in the midst of good conditions, or in the midst of suffering. Joy is related to hope, optimism, and the future. Even when things are going terribly wrong, and we’re unhappy in that moment, we still are able to access joy.

This timeless tradition these two are entering is meant to be like that. It’s in the covenant they will enter: “In sickness, and in health”. Come what may, you’re my ride or die. I’m no longer evaluating you; I’ve chosen. I’ve piled my chips and I’m all in.

If we think about our married life as a challenge to undertake to prove ourselves, it could become something like a chore. But if we see married life as a gift given to us, meant for our and our partner’s rest, we see things differently. We’re not meant to locate our ultimate source of rest in our spouse. That’s a burden no one should be tasked with because no human can provide what God alone can provide. But when we understand that our spouse is meant for our rest–a gracious glimpse of Eden in a world of toil–and that they are seeking to help us rest, we develop deeper affinity and appreciation for them, realising they are the answer to things that no one else is. And when we understand ourselves as instruments of our spouse’s rest, maybe we don’t shout at them when they lock the keys in the car; that’s not very conducive to rest. Maybe we don’t bug them when their socks are left on the chairs the fifth time.

[They] are today beginning a new chapter of their life, dedicated to creating that environment for each other. And we’re so privileged to cheer them on.

· Shared · The Realism and Formalism Spectrum in Film

Don’t have time to complete a Film Studies class? This video by Patrick Willems gives one a better overview in 11 minutes than your average academic lecture could. (You can disregard everything about the Marvel movies and color grading in the beginning.)

Bonus? Check out this video essay by Kogonada for the BFI’s Sight & Sound comparing Vittorio De Sica’s Terminal Station and David O. Selznick’s Indiscretion of an American Wife.

· Shared · Confessio

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! 1500 years ago, Patrick wrote an autobiography, telling the story of how he was kidnapped by the Irish in his own words. You can read it here.

· Shared · Focus on Others

Love is the pleasure of focusing on the virtues of another.

–Noah Weinberg, Orthodox Jewish rabbi and Torah scholar

· Shared · Amusing Cynicism

We learn to tolerate, like a low flame on the fire or like a low fever in the body, a “reasonable temperature-level of admitted cynicism.” We learn to feel that it is not intolerable to “be” self-compromised if one is open and amusing in discussion of that matter; or, again, that cynicism, charmingly admitted-to and interestingly described, in some sense cancels itself out. It is not corrupt to “be” corrupt so long as a person is perceptive and articulate concerning his corruption. At this point, as we know, the word itself becomes a distant and quite bearable designation, one scarcely having to do with our own being any longer, but a label identified rather with some interesting character of our late-at-night imagination.

Few people end up totally cold and icelike and removed from their own feelings of self-accusation, but it is a type we strive for and it is a model to which we often gruesomely aspire. It is this, that we should strive with all our hearts to find such desert regions, that appears to me most frightening and most horrible.

–Jonathan Kozol, The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home

· Shared · Avoidance of Thought

“It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.”

–Alfred North Whitehead

“Avoidance of thought is a Good Thing. In some areas all this is noncontroversial, even obvious. Consider such practices as cooking, carpentry, playing a musical instrument, horseback riding and other sports. Each builds upon a foundation of physical skills and in each case mastery consists of performing with automatic facility. As a beginner you move slowly, thoughtfully, with conscious attention. In a disciplined way you repeat the same movements again and again. Think of Audrey Hepburn at the cooking school in Sabrina: “one-two-three, crack. New egg. One-two-three, crack. New egg…” Think of the scales and arpeggios with which as a budding pianist you train your hands. As you practice, you speed up and your movements alter so that they are less in your mind than “in your fingers”. The skill is gradually incorporated into muscle memory. Similarly when you learn a new piece, you move via repeated practice from conscious attention to unconscious mastery.”

–Ethan Akin

· Shared · For the Widows and Orphans

10 years ago my friend Shahab shared this song with me and I still count it among my very favorites ever. love ya Sufjan!