Lessons from History

It is common practice to look back and conflate the events of the past with those of the present, seeking parallels, resonance, and answers from previous events that help explain today’s. We learn from others, from their experiences, and we like to find commonalities in our shared experiences, even from our or other’s historic past. We see ourselves reflected in our past and we … (more)

Remembering those who served

It’s at this time of the year, as we approach Remembrance Day, that I think most about my family, especially those who have died. I wish I had known when I was younger what I know today, so I could have asked them more about their lives, and about their service in the military, about their wars. I have read a lot about those … (more)

It’s Not a Wonderful Life

I’m convinced many Americans – Donald Trump among them – think Frank Capra’s famous film, It’s a Wonderful Life, was a documentary, not entertainment. It has all the elements of Trumpist utopia: a white, Christian, unquestionably patriotic, male-dominated, patriarchal culture where the bad guy gets away with stealing from others, and making himself rich at everyone else’s expense. No one stops him and everyone … (more)

A Cup of Mao Jian

The tea bag is an example of remarkable serendipity; an unexpected, simple invention that changed the world. But it was entirely unintended. Tea, from the camelia sinenis tree, is the most popular beverage in the world after water, and the most popular hot beverage period. Before the tea bag appeared, barely over a century ago, all tea was sold loose. Today more than 90% … (more)

Neanderthals: a love story

Squat, hairy, broad shoulders, a big nose, beetle-browed with a low forehead. As Blind Willie McTell wrote in his classic song, Statesboro Blues, “I know ain’t good lookin’, but I swear I’m some sweet woman’s angel child.” That line might have been written for early Neanderthal cousins. First described as dim-witted and brutish, our more recent assessment of them is far less critical, especially … (more)

Reading The Histories

I hadn’t always wanted to read Herodotus. He has a mixed reputation among historians, often cited as an unreliable source, gossip monger or simply as a fantasist. Sure, he’s the “father of history” as Cicero called him (or at least of historical writing) and penned the earliest surviving work of non-fiction, but he often doesn’t get the respect that, say, Thucydides gets for his … (more)

Wolf Hall reviewed

I have just finished watching the six-part BBC series, Wolf Hall, based on the two novels by Hilary Mantel. I am also about halfway through my reading of the first of the two, Wolf Hall (with Bring up the Bodies waiting in the bedside pile). The series conflates the two novels into six one-hour episodes. Given the length of the novels (Wolf Hall is 650 … (more)

Where is Che now that we need him?

Maybe it’s simple nostalgia, but it seems to me the world was a lot better off when the Soviet Union was around. Really. Bear with me while I explain. When the USSR was the main enemy of our loudly-proclaimed free and democratic society, we struggled to measure ourselves against its yardstick. If the USSR claimed to have the best chess players, we had to … (more)

Electing atheists

A recent story on Religion News discusses the DNC’s concerns about former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ religion. Not that he was Jewish, but that he might be a closet atheist. And that send the DNC-crats over the roof. Scary, eh? You can’t elect an atheist in America. You can elect liars, cheats, adulterers, misogynists and creationists (and sometimes all in the same person…). But … (more)

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