Weekend Reads: Middle Ages vs. the Renaissance, Music Mail-Order Memories, a 693-Year-Long Song, Oscar Diversity, Godzilla

Recommended weekend reading material for September 12, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles. I hope they provide you with some good weekend reading material.

I’m starting this weekend’s newsletter with a history lesson. If you have 30-45 minutes to spare, then I highly recommend this lengthy piece by Ada Palmer about our popular misconceptions of the Black Death, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, and how they affect our approach to the current pandemic.

As a Renaissance historian, I feel it’s my job to shoulder the other half of the load by talking about what the Renaissance was like, confirming that our Medievalists are right, it wasn’t a better time to live than the Middle Ages, and to talk about where the error comes from, why we think of the Renaissance as a golden age, and where we got the myth of the bad Middle Ages.

I try to include short blurbs from the articles that I share so that you have an idea of what you’ll be getting into before you click the links. There’s so much from this piece that I find fascinating and want to share, but you’ll have just to trust me and dive in.


I really enjoy the glimpses that Grape Japan provides into Japanese culture. For example, who knew that Japan was “a bread-lover’s paradise?

As for the varieties, it is generally harder to find rye bread or whole wheat bread, not to mention gluten-free bread in Japan compared to other countries. However, Japan is a bread-lovers paradise thanks to the incredible selection and the unique but delicious flavors you'll find.

Related: When our family spent a month in Japan many years ago, we were introduced to the simple delight that is yakitori. Suffice to say, if we ever make it back to Japan, this mountain hut-themed yakitori restaurant is on the “to visit” list.


The cast of the Princess Bride is reuniting (online, anyway) for a live read through the movie’s script to raise money for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin — and Ted Cruz isn’t happy.

Cruz, a high school actor, frequently quotes the Princess Bride. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Cruz used the movie to make analogies to policy positions or just entertain would-be voters. He even did impressions of the actors at times. He has said repeatedly that “The Princess Bride” is his favorite movie.

Tyler Huckabee has the best response to Cruz’s complaint: “Didn’t take you for a ‘standing up to the guy who dishonored my father’ movie kind of guy.”


I really resonate with Lars Gotrich’s memory of music mail-order catalogs.

Not every CD or 7” was a hit, but with a 56k dial-up and very few local resources (or friends with shared passions), I treasured that trial-by-fire education. Four-six weeks after making an order, I’d eagerly run to the mailbox after school. Ripping open the padded envelope, I’d rush to my room, load up the CD tray and crank it until my parents yelled at me to turn that racket down. Those packages were lifelines out of a bored, teenage suburbia.

As convenient as services like Bandcamp and Amazon are for acquiring music, there are some days when I really miss poring over the Soleilmoon, Projekt, and Tooth & Nail print catalogs.


Earlier this month, people gathered at a German church to listen to a chord change in John Cage’s 693-year-long song.

On September 5th, 2001, a specially built organ installed in Halberstadt, Germany’s St. Burchardi Church began its rendition of Cage’s “Organ/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible),” an eight-page composition written by the composer in the 1980s with the intention of, as the title suggest, being played as slow as possible.

Watch a video of the change here. The next chord change is scheduled for February 5, 2022, and if all goes according to plan, the song will conclude on September 5, 2640.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently released new guidelines for “Best Picture” Oscar candidates in order to encourage diversity. Alissa Wilkinson breaks down the guidelines and considers the effects they might have on the movie industry as a whole.

There are four categories of inclusion standards. You can read the full standards on the Oscars website, but they basically break down into two big buckets: standards promoting more inclusive representation and standards promoting more inclusive employment. Movies will need to meet the standards in two of four categories in order to qualify.


In news that should surprise absolutely no one, it turns out that there was no plan to the Star Wars sequels, particularly with regard to Rey’s lineage.

In the segment, Ridley says what many have assumed and teased in leaked behind-the-scene story form. She had no concrete clue about Rey’s origins in The Force Awakens, and barely knew about the reveal while shooting Rise of Skywalker.

“At the beginning they were toying with an Obi-Wan connection,” she tells Gad. “There were different versions. Then it really went that she was no one. Then it came to Episode 9, and JJ pitched me the film: ‘Palpatine’s grandaddy.’ And I was like, ‘Awesome.’”

Ridley says, two weeks after hearing the news, Abrams backtracked. Maybe that wasn’t the direction they’d go.

Regardless of how you feel about sequels — you can read my reviews here, here, and here — I think we can all agree that they were far from the films that they could, and should, have been.


Daniel Dockery writes about the factors that gave rise to Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion and Shin Godzilla.

This focus on earthly intervention by a divine presence is definitely a theme in Evangelion, but it also applies to Godzilla, a borderline invincible behemoth that was created to remind man of its mistakes. It’s this kind of provoking thoughtfulness (among other things) that might have alerted Toho Studios of Higuchi and Anno’s potential proficiency in re-igniting the slumbering Godzilla franchise.

Neon Genesis Evangelion began streaming on Netflix last year. To mark the occasion, I wrote a lengthy piece examining the Evangelion franchise’s origins, themes, and legacy.


With more web browsers being powered by Chromium (which is developed by Google), and Mozilla’s financial difficulties, we risk losing browser diversity. But is that a bad thing?

It’s hard to quantify this, but if all aspects of the Web (development, browsing, searching, hosting) are ceded to a single corporation, all it takes is one heavy-handed manager or executive hellbent on hitting some OKRs to push their thumb on the scale of the Web. If the Web is governed by a single corporation, it will start looking like that corporation’s vision of the Web, ultimately limiting its own potential. Trading short term gain on new shiny features for long term vision.

Via CSS Layout News.


They said it couldn’t be done. They said he was mad. But programmer Foone Turing figured out how to play the classic first-person shooter Doom on a pregnancy test (sort of).

It’s important to note that Foone did replace the display and microcontroller, so the only part of the original tester is the shell. However, getting Doom running and playable on a 128x32 pixel monochrome display at 1bpp is still an impressive feat.

File this under “Levels of nerdery that I can never hope to achieve.”


From the Blog

Earlier this week, the first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated (‘round these parts, at least) adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was released online. Dune is considered one of the greatest sci-fi novels of all time, but its road to the big screen has been a bit bumpy over the last few decades. However, if anyone can pull off a good Dune adaptation, then I have faith that Villeneuve — who also directed 2016’s Arrival and 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 — is the one to do it.


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