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CNN recently profiled a Japanese swordsmith and the ancient, exacting process he follows to craft a katana.

The blades are forged from tamahagane, a steel whose layers contain differing amounts of carbon. Shimojima painstakingly heats, softens and then folds the steel in order to remove impurities and even out the carbon content.

​“A single layer becomes two layers, then two become four, four become eight and so on,” he explains. ​“By folding 15 times, over 32,000 layers are produced. However, it does not mean that the more layers, the better. There’s of course a limit, and if you exceed the limit you lose … the strength required to serve as a sword.“

Next, the sword is shaped — although it begins completely straight. As the steel is hardened through a process of repeated heating and cooling (known as yaki-ire), the differing densities in the blade’s structure create its signature curve.

​“In the space of 10 minutes, we heat up the blade to about 800 degrees centigrade and rapidly cool it down in water,” Shimojima says. ​“It seems like a simple process. However… it’s a matter of making a split-second judgment.”

I’ve long been fascinated by Japanese swords. They’re really quite beautiful in their aesthetics, simplicity, and utility.

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Men of Iron

Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron: A Fanciful Coming of Age Story in the Middle Ages

A rousing, strongly principled adventure story that I would’ve loved to read back in 5th grade (but I still enjoyed it as an adult).
Oct 17, 2018
Mary and the Witch's Flower

Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower Carries on Studio Ghibli’s Delightful Legacy

Mary and the Witch’s Flower could easily be mistaken for a classic Studio Ghibli film, and that’s not a bad thing.
Oct 7, 2018
The Endless

The Endless by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

While frequently billed as a horror movie, that term actually undersells this movie.
Sep 27, 2018
Double Negative

Low Tear Their Music Apart on Double Negative, with Stunning Results

Some of the most challenging music of Low’s career, but also some of the most daring, intriguing, and rewarding.
Sep 23, 2018
The Chairman

Ogre’s Chairman OST Captivates with Ominous, Haunting Synth Arrangements

The album’s blurred washes of ambience conjure a sense of growing dread — but there’s beauty to be heard, as well.
Aug 31, 2018

The Thirteenth Doctor

Jodie Whittaker, The Thirteenth Doctor

I finally caught the first two episodes of Doctor Whos new season, and already I like Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor way more than Peter Capaldi’s. The Twelfth Doctor always felt rather arrogant and mean-spirited. But Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor (so far) recaptures some of the quirkiness and humaneness that characterized Matt Smith and David Tennant’s Doctors.

I do find that Doctor Who is at its best when it balances the quirky and whimsical with the melancholy. So hopefully, we’ll see the new Doctor eventually face something nice and traumatic. (The second episode, ​“The Ghost Monument,” has some hints in that direction.)

I also like the new companions, who feel pretty normal and ordinary (as opposed to Clara Oswald and Amy Pond, both of whom had extraordinary backstories). Of course, this being Doctor Who, that could all change by season’s end, but so far, it’s nice to see some completely average and just plain decent folks traveling with the Doctor.

Finally, I thought the season première, ​“The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” was especially engaging. It moved at a good clip, and despite not having any big twists or turns, still felt pretty suspenseful. (Special kudos to Segun Akinola’s atmospheric incidental music.) That being said, the subplot about the brother searching for his abducted sister felt a bit tacked on (though perhaps it was there to introduce some elements that’ll be fleshed out later in the season concerning the Stenza and their activities).

Capaldi’s Doctor left me feeling pretty cool towards Doctor Who, such that I essentially ignored the last season. But Jodie Whittaker has brought back some of the joie de vivre, and it already feels more like the Doctor Who I knew and loved.

Men of Iron

Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron: A Fanciful Coming of Age Story in the Middle Ages (Review)

A rousing, strongly principled adventure story that I would’ve loved to read back in 5th grade (but I still enjoyed it as an adult).
Oct 17, 2018

Back in 2011, Joe Cornish wrote and directed Attack the Block, a fun alien invasion movie set in a rundown London apartment complex that should’ve received a whole lot more attention than it did. Afterwards, Cornish seemed to disappear (though he did co-write Ant-Man and was apparently in the running to direct Star Trek Beyond.)

He’s now returned with The Kid Who Would Be King, a modern take on the King Arthur legend in which a young boy discovers Excalibur, and must raise an army to fight an impending invasion of monsters led by the evil sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Oh… and it stars Patrick Stewart as Merlin the Magician.

I’ll be honest: if this didn’t have Joe Cornish’s name attached to it, I’d probably file it away as something to maybe watch with my kids when it hits Netflix or Redbox. But because Cornish is behind this, my expectations are definitely higher. With Attack the Block, Cornish put some fresh, interesting twists on the alien invasion genre, and maybe he’s done the same here to the children’s fantasy genre.

We’ll find out when The Kid Who Would Be King is released on March 1, 2019.

Mat Honan’s review of the Pixel 3 is as much a critique of smartphones in general as it is a review of Google’s latest. ​“This is a great phone. I highly recommend it. But it’s no longer totally clear to me that the information systems we’ve built to help us navigate life are net beneficial to society. I mean, I think they are. But, Jesus. Jesus. What’s happening to us?” (That being said, I’d love for Apple to add that call screening feature to iOS.) Via

The impending war with the robots won’t be won in burnt out streets and urban hellscapes à la Terminator, but rather, on the dancefloor. Start working on your worm and running man while you still have time. And maybe your parkour skills while you’re at it, just to be safe.

By this point, My Bloody Valentine fans know to take everything that Kevin Shields says with a grain of salt. But the MBV frontman recently announced plans to release two new albums in 2019, instead of a pair of previously announced EPs. My Bloody Valentine’s most recent album was 2013’s m b v.

Luxury’s Lee Bozeman talks with The Living Church Foundation about musical tastes, his move to Orthodoxy, and the flaws of American Christianity.

Culturally, and all I know is American culture, we have moved radically toward self-identity and egalitarianism. Christianity is all about uncovering one’s true self as you unite to Christ. The more you become like Christ, the more you are truly yourself. That message does not get expressed at all culturally. Instead we are encouraged to be individuals without any paradigm, which seems to be leading to extreme narcissism and loneliness.

Related: My review of Bozeman’s excellent Majesty of the Flesh EP.

Is modern art trash?

Banksy’s latest prank — a painting that self-destructed as soon as it was purchased for $1.4 million at auction — has reignited discussions about the nature, purpose, and definition of art, with some claiming that it’s yet more proof that modern art is trash. As someone who spent a lot of time in college studying art history, I find that reasoning rather specious.

For starters, much of the art that we now consider ​“timeless,” ​“important,” or ​“classical” — the stuff that’s held up as ​“real” art as opposed to that modern crap — was often extremely commercial in its time. There weren’t necessarily any lofty artistic ideals associated with them (though some artists may certainly have had ideas for pushing art forward, starting movements, etc.).

During the Renaissance, guilds were frequent sponsors of artists. However, the art they commissioned was as much commercials or advertisements for their services as anything else. I wish I could remember the specific pieces, but I vividly remember my art history professor walking us through various paintings and sculptures and pointing out how particular elements were, in fact, intended to show off a guild’s power and prestige. In time, some of these pieces have come to be seen as ​“artistic” masterpieces, as something higher and nobler, but when they were created, they were essentially billboards.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t try to apply some objective standards when evaluating art. Neither should we be afraid to criticize art that we find immoral and objectionable or advocate for art that we consider beautiful and meaningful. However, our criticism ought to be tempered with some humility.

Art often gains value and importance over time, as later generations are able to better understand its social, historical, and aesthetic context — context that we’re simply oblivious to right now. (Conversely, art that’s considered important by its contemporary audience may easily fade away into obscurity within a generation or two.)

In other words, we shouldn’t be so quick to label all ​“modern” art as trash simply because we might think it vapid, unprofessional, silly, or inconsequential right now.

In their time, Van Gogh was considered a failure and an amateur, Monet’s impressionism was seen as a joke, El Greco was brushed aside with disdain and contempt, and J. M. W. Turner’s later work confused his contemporaries (to name but a few examples). It took decades, and even centuries, for their art to attain the status that it now possesses, that being the timeless and priceless work of masters. The same will almost certainly be true for some ​“modern” artists that are easily dismissed today.

Following a privacy breach that leaked the details of 500,000 users, Google is shutting down the consumer version of Google+, their failed attempt at a social network. (Yes, yes… cue the ​“Google+ has 500,000 users?!” jokes.) Here’s the kicker: they never reported the breach because they were afraid of the repercussions. Just another reminder that big tech companies like Google and Facebook don’t really care about you. Via

Google won’t be shutting down Google+ for another 10 months, but you can delete your account now if you want to. Via

Bassist Tim Chandler, who was a member of seminal Christian bands Daniel Amos, The Choir, and The Swirling Eddies, has passed away due to natural causes. He also played on albums by Randy Stonehill, Tonio K., Mike Stand, and Terry Scott Taylor (to name a few). Chandler’s last performance was on The Choir’s Bloodshot, which was released this past June.

When you think of The Chronicles of Narnia, chances are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian come to mind. But Tyler Huckabee makes the bold statement that The Horse and His Boy is the best Narnia novel.

This book’s delights abound, but for starters, there’s the simplicity of the plot, which is as straightforward an escape story as they come. Things clip along in a straight line at a brisk place, with little time spent depicting the flora and fauna of Lewis’ imaginative world. The fact that so little of the book takes place in Narnia makes the bursts of magic in this stranger land feel more enlivening and satisfying when they do appear.

Huckabee also makes some good points re. the book’s treatment of both its female characters and Aslan.

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Studio Ponoc’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower Carries on Studio Ghibli’s Delightful Legacy (Review)

Mary and the Witch’s Flower could easily be mistaken for a classic Studio Ghibli film, and that’s not a bad thing.
Oct 7, 2018

As I’ve begun to distance myself from Twitter’s services, I want to use fewer embedded tweets in my posts. I don’t want to rely on Twitter not screwing something up with how embedded tweets work, and of course, I want to show something even if a tweet gets deleted. But screenshotting tweets has always been frustrating, simply because the end result never looks right. But after some searching for a better method, I discovered Cameron Adams’ extremely clever ​“screenshot a tweet” service, which uses Twitter’s API to generate a really nice, professional-looking screenshot.

Earlier tonight, my son and his friend were reading my copy of The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, and taking turns with each frame. Which was incredibly sweet in and of itself. But hearing Calvin’s dialogue in their voices reminded me of when I read the strips in the newspaper as a kid. And they’re still just as clever, funny, imaginative, and delightful now as they were 30+ years ago. (Hearing the boys read this strip in particular really made me chuckle.)

The Sasse Situation

Ben Sasse
(CC BY-SA 3.0)

To the surprise, sadly, of absolutely no one, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. I say ​“sadly” because I like Sasse. I think he’s a smart, decent guy, and I’m sure that if you were to meet him for dinner or a beer, you’d enjoy some great conversation.

As an elected official, Sasse often says great things. He recently took to the Senate floor and talked about the importance and necessity of the #MeToo movement, the seriousness of sexual assault statistics, and the awfulness of President Trump’s behavior (“he is dispositionally unable to restrain his impulse to divide us”). If you read his Senate speech transcript, it all sounds really nice, with words that ring with passion and moral clarity.

But what frustrates me to no end is that when it comes time to vote — to actually do something — Sasse never seems to follow through on his words. Instead, he almost always stands with the Trump/​party line (or to be more precise, 86.8% of the time). Or as this recent Rolling Stone article puts it, Sasse makes a powerful display and then… returns to business as usual.

It’s hard not to become cynical at this behavior, or to see it as a mere self-righteous display (i.e., he wants us to see him as an outsider speaking truth to power, even as he sides with power again and again). I don’t doubt that deep down inside, Sasse is probably disgusted by Trump et al. But one of these days, I wish he’d stop playing it safe and make his voting match his rhetoric.

Monica Hesse: ​“For all the stereotypes that linger about women being too fragile or emotional, these past weeks have revealed what many women already knew: A lot of effort goes into protecting men we love from bad things that happen to us. And a lot of fathers are closer to bad things than they’ll ever know.”

As a father myself, this is hard to read and difficult to think about. But as I’ve talked with Renae and read the thoughts, tweets, and posts of many women I know, it’s become increasingly clear that men need to step up — and more importantly, we need to listen. There’s so much going on that we’re blind to simply by virtue of being men.

Khoi Vinh has noticed something really special about the public library: ​“Even more radically, your time at the library comes with absolutely no expectation that you buy anything. Or even that you transact at all. And there’s certainly no implication that your data or your rights are being surrendered in return for the services you partake in… All of that seems exceedingly rare in this increasingly commercial, exposed world of ours. In a way it’s quite amazing that the concept continues to persist at all.”

Neuroscientist Michael Egnor argues that purely materialistic views of the mind are too limited. ​“By contrast, the classical understanding of human nature is that we are free beings not subject to determinism. This understanding is the indispensable basis for human liberty and dignity. It is indispensable, too, for simply making sense of the world around us.”