Tag Archives: essay

grand fanfare for the heart

Sometimes, life surprises us with its unexpected in-between amuse-bouches when all seems drab and dreary. So here was something bright and cheery for my routine existential life; my letter to the editor of  BBC History Revealed was published in this month’s issue. AWESOME!

I was reading it on my Kindle Fire on the train and was delighted to read my own writing in print. It was written following my reading on celebrities who had fought in wars featuring on the June issue of the magazine. The original letter is as below, but the last paragraph was omitted in print.:

Dear Editor:

Although it isn’t about a celeb served in WWII, I would like to stretch the time and the theater of war to further and farther because the following celeb is worth noting.

James Garner was an excellent actor as well as an exemplary citizen. His major roles in “Maverick” and “The Rockford Flies” commanded his screen presence carved in the American television firmament with his rugged good looks and no-nonsense parlance that embodied proverbial American machismo. But what the public eyes saw in the actor was a reflection of his virtues: Garner was a decorated Korean war veteran, a recipient of Two Purple Hearts for his selfless service, valor, integrity, and honor demonstrated as a US Army private assigned to a combat team which sustained heavy casualties. In fact, Garner sustained several wounds on his face and hands resulting from shrapnel and a mortar round. Nevertheless, he was a fearless warrior in its true sense and threw himself against the showers of bullets to save his wounded battle buddies and to accomplish his missions with all his might. After the war, Garner pursued his career in acting and began to star in a number of war movies, such as “The Great Escape”. James Garner was a man of respect and honor.

Thank you for your reading! By the way, I am a subscriber to your magazine living in California. I enjoy reading every issue thereof during my lunch hour and commute to and from work on the train.

I am planning to get hard copies of the magazine as a keepsake and for distributing them to my family and friends. I am also glad to know that a magazine like BBC History Revealed featured my humble, imperfect writing. It is my opinion that a British magazine knows how to educate the public with universally interesting topics in plain English and witticism with a general reader in mind in comparison with its hyper intellectual transatlantic counterparts.

I am writing this on my Blog, so that I can remember in writing that it happened and that my writing was communicative to the editor despite my textual foibles. Nevertheless, I have the temerity to write in English to speak of Reason and Taste for its being a lingua franca, a modern-day equivalent of Akkadian. With timeless adages of George Orwell, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Kurt Vonnegut as patient and encouraging ethereal guardians, I write for sheer egotism of making my soul grow and expressing myself to the world, come what may. For this reason, I want to pat myself on the shoulders 🙂

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names do matter

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Some brand names have become unique nouns in days of our lives: a box of Ziplocs to carry leftovers from last night dinner for lunch, an iPhone that has become a safety blanket, a Kindle for all-around entertainment, and a box of Kleenex to wipe away make-ups or tears… Then there are the ubiquitous Starbucks stores for perk-me-up coffee or regular hangouts… The panoply of brand names is illustrated in the ordinary scenes of our daily life as a byproduct of endless human cultural and social enterprise. Hence, I think it worth noting the origin of some of the globally proverbial brand names of products that we are familiar with.

The first and foremost principle of naming a product is to make it as catchy and snappy as possible to effortlessly remember. In this regard, Nomitative determinism can be also linked to a name of a product because it can decide its longevity and popularity based upon the ingenuity of name that matches its purpose with brilliant ideas taken from literary inspirations, cultural influences, or historical artifices. Take Mazda, which is originated from Ahura Mazda, the ancient Persian God of light, wisdom, intelligence, and harmony, the highest supreme being in Zoroastrianism. It is also a symbol of eastern and western cultures. Nike is the winged goddess of victory with the resounding slogan of “Think Nike”. Starbucks comes from the chief mate in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. It is also interesting to know that the name Starbucks belongs to the famous wealthy Quaker shipowner of Nantucket in Massachusetts as featured in Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, a nonfiction narrative of the tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. And there is Yahoo, which is a deformed savage in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Some brand-names are curious blending of words. Vodafone stands for Voice, Data, and Telefone. Here is a classic example of ASICS, a Japanese sport goods company, whose cool name is derived from Latin, “Mans Sana in Corpore Sano,” meaning “Healthy mind dwells in healthy body.” Which is a motto of ancient Greek’s competitive spirit manifested in Olympiad. Then there is Volvo, meaning “I roll” in Latin, while Lego actually comes from Danish word for “play well”. And who else can ignore the presence of Amazon, the largest river in the world?

That which we call car, cellphone, or coffee by any other name would remain as functional and purposeful to make our life convenient and accommodate to our whims and desires. So why not give it a clever name to remember with a burst of pep? It’s all about the art of witty soul of brevity that penetrates the psychology of the mind in the world of adverts.

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the ancients already knew it

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The brain is a foundation of the universe that controls our physical as well as mental being. In a similar manner of the cosmos constantly moving across the great divine space, the brain fires nerve cells called neurons and expands their territories from the physical realms of perception to the world of consciousness, which creates a model of our own reality. The brain is the leviathan enterprise that puts together the tesserae of our existence under our constant attentive care of its functional longevity by understanding its fabulous varieties that neither age cannot wither away nor custom can stale away.

Our brains keep learning and adopting throughout our lives by the two neurological processes: Neurogenesis by which the brain creates neurons and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire the connections between the neurons. These processes continue to change and grow our brains into very old age as scientifically corroborated by the finding of these neurological processes in the brains of 70-year-olds with terminal illness. Also, Albert Einstein whose brain was dissected after his death to unravel the secret of the genius was found to have more interconnections between the neurons in his brain. This is very telling evidence because Einstein was considered “slow” during his high school years. What Einstein made genius was his use of imaginations and reasoning skills that required of him the use of the faculties of the mind to the extent possible by firing and wiring millions of neurons. To further illustrate the wonder works of neurogenesis and neurolplasticity, scientists have found it in the avian world. Unlike other birds, canaries produce new melodies every ear to attract a mate. On examining their brains, scientists discovered that canaries generate each neurons each spring.

The theory of the brain is not as complex as it seems. Simply put, thoughts are like “sparks” rising from a campfire or sunlight’s igniting fire when focused through a magnifying glass. A thought repeated with intense focus becomes concentrated mental power, which becomes a dominant, archetypal energy that authorizes our thoughts and actions. These thoughts in the form of neurons form neural networks, which are like paths through a meadow. What we should do is a change in our brain by rewiring the neural pathways that drive our thought and actions. Einstein, whether or not he knew about neurology, constantly expanded the neural networks by engaging himself in finding a Rosetta Stone for Relativity Theory and other questions of the Universe.

The workings of the brain are in conjunction  with the upkeep of physical exercise, social interactions, and new daily challenges because they are portent stimuli to ignite ongoing mental sparks in the brain. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew about the key elements of keeping the body and mind fit with the slogan of “Mans sana in corpore sano” (Sound mind dwells in healthy body.” Father of western narrative history Herodotus noted a holistic connection between diet, drink, exercise and lifespan. Socrates pointed out that many people did not think clearly because their body wasn’t in good health. His pupil and founder of Lyceum Aristotle added that physical exercise was essential for general mental and physical capacity. Then there was famous Roman orator, writer, and statesman Cicero proclaimed that soundness of mind depended on applying one’s energies to something of interest. This relates to the empirical finding of keeping the mind fit and alert in spite of horrible existential situations as evidenced by founder of Logotheraphy Viktor E. Frankl, who endured the horrors of daily life at Auschwitz and other subsequent concentration camps by persistently forcing this thought to turn to drafting his books on the tablet of his mind to publish them after the war. It’s both a priori and a posteriori illustration of how channeling one’s interest to intellectual or creative activities keeps his mental state stable and fit in such a dreadful mire of despondency and atrociousness.

In light of the above, it is not a hyped fashionably cliched mantra that we are what we think and what we do all the time. Popularity of self-help literature bestriding the bestseller charts has the origin of truth in the workings of the brain in the form of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. For my own brain at the moment of writing this essay is firing and wiring neurons, expanding the neural pathways and the yonder territories of my consciousness. The brain is then also plastic because it is being shaped by everything we do and what we opt not to do. It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy without recourse to deities or even demons. Consequently, the more actively we use our brain to accomplish new daily challenges by fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks however trifle and insignificant that may seem and learning something creative or intellectually stimulating, the healthier our bodily and mental health becomes. Which is elegantly summed up by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Still achieving, still pursuing… Learning to labor and wait.” For this reason, the brain and the mind are concomitantly intertwined to constitute our wholeness so fascinating, so awesome that even a Psalmist praised God because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Surely, the praise is worth the singing, for our brain and its works are indeed a wonder.

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leonardo’s horse that came alive

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“Il Gran Cavallo” in San Siro, Milan, Italy

It was meant to be the largest horse in the world when the future Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci in 1482 to conjure it up from the phantasmal world of the artist with his magic chisels. This fantastical statuesque beast, “Il Gran Cavallo” (aka “Cavallo”) was soon to be cast in bronze, standing 24 feet high as the greatest equestrian statue in the world, following the clay model of the equal height made by Da Vinci. Then war broke out in 1499, ravaging Milan and engulfing the clay horse, leaving Da Vinci alone with the original sketches of Cavallo to go back to the drawing room. Such was Da Vinci’s plan to restore the aborted birth of the magnificent bronze horse before it became indefinitely suspended by his death.

The story of the unfinished Leonardo’s Horse piqued my usual counter-popularity curiosity when I came upon an article in a magazine on the train. Since this year sees the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, many an article has featured the masterpieces of Da Vinci and the background stories thereof, but to me none other than this story about Da Vinci’s last masterpiece is intriguing and worth the writing. In fact, this “Horse that Never Was” had spanned a phantasmagoria of imaginations throughout the centuries until a certain American art patron named Charles C. Dent intended to make it his lifelong goal to bring the abstract equestrian statue to reality in 1977 when he first learned about Leonardo’s incomplete project about which the National Geography magazine covered. Upon his death in 1994, American sculptor Nina Akamu continued to carry out where her Renaissance predecessor had left off based upon the surviving sketches as a substratum of artistic guidance and completed a bronze sculpture of the horse in 1999, which was dedicated in San Siro in Milan, Italy. The great statue of Cavallo is a sight to behold with poised magnificence: it commands a sense of legitimate attention in a moment of suggestively continuous galloping that looks wholly authentic and real, rendering a majestic impression of dynamic continuity to marching music as pomp and pompous as Radetzky March.

Da Vinci’s creation of the great horse proves to be his last masterpiece that truly links the past with the present and the future by the medium of art. It weaves the subjectivity of time into a grand tapestry of history and betokens cultural achievements as an intelligent collective enterprise. Akamu wonderfully re-created the great horse by internalizing the artistic sense of the Renaissance period by devoting her years of studying Italian Renaissance works of art in Italy as she pursued the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism in the field. Also, her love of animals, especially horses, contributed to the anatomical study of and aesthetic perspective on Leonardo’s Horse. Akamu’s recreation of Cavallo manifests beauty that penetrates minds of the beholders and lingers there in solipsistic ecstasy so deep and intimate that it feels almost physical. For our faculty, as it interacts with a plight of fantasy, is rather instinctive than reasoning; rather sensual because it delights in pleasure than because it thrives in disciplines. That is why “Il Gran Cavallo” is a gorgeous piece of art.

Lifeline advice from Francis Bacon

Some wise people take shadows for true substances. Like medieval mounted knights in body armors, they skillfully protect themselves from the exploitation of their true substances in everyday interaction with the people they are forced to work with. How the wise accomplish this art of shielding amounts to an art of war in its defensive and offensive strategical tactics as well as to a discipline of cognitive behavioral therapy in its practical approach to noogenic neurosis or existential crisis. English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) knew all about this intricacies of human nature in conflict with existential planes, ergo he advised to the posterity how to keep our individuality from pressure of false conformity under the pretext of socialization.

According to Bacon, simulation and dissimulation are an armor and a shield to guard oneself from being a subject of malicious gossip or cruel bullying, if used wisely. The dichotomy of two principles is simple: simulation as being what he is not. That is, he pretends to be someone he’s not. Dissimulation as being what he is not by way of concealment. However, simulation and dissimulation should not be confused with signs of diffidence or cowardice. On the contrary, it is for the benefit of anyone whose softness is often mistaken for weakness, his hamartia in all things he hopes to achieve. In fact, Bacon posed the advantage of simulation and dissimulation as thus: (1) to quell opposition and to surprise – that is, being a wolf in sheepskin can be a good thing in social interaction as long as you do not hurt anyone with claws and teeth; (2) to reserve a fair retreat to a man’s self – which means by concealing himself to a certain measured degree, he can protect himself in a situation that he feels inappropriate to him. It’s better kept to yourself in a situation that feels and seems a bit averse to you; and (3) to discover the mind of another by letting the other party open himself and turn his freedom of speech to freedom of thought. Simply put, let the other one do the talking until the tower of barbel rings the bell of the talker’s mind to retreat into his chamber of thought. In the end you will remain unsullied by the pompous self-revelation.

As a coin has two sides to it, the principles have the disadvantage that is inescapable. It casts a shadow of fearfulness that discourages people to flock around the quiet one. Also, it transmits a false impression on others who might otherwise corporate with the the reserved one, which then unfortunately begets a deprivation of camaraderieship or closeness that the thoughtful one does not deserve. Hence, it will be the best to concoct doses of (1) prepossessing demeanor; (2) secrecy in habit; and (3) concealment in use – all for the power to feign, so as not to get hurt unnecessarily by those whose intellect, characters, personalities, and habits do not amount to your class and thus are unworthy of even tying your shoelaces. Bacon’s elegant treaty of simulation and dissimulation may seem heretical, treacherous even to the minds of today’s world where stark self-revelation is highly prided and treasured as a modus operandi of self-empowerment paddled by motivational speakers, clinical social workers, therapists, celeb-turned authors, etc… However, of all the chanting mantras of “being yourself”, Bacon’s method of being yourself by means of simulation and dissimulation to guard your most sacred mental sovereignty is still powerfully resonant with its practicality that strikes the hearts of those whose mildness is used against by the rabble.