• the towers’ purpose?


      The guidebooks’ bizarre explanations that I came across when writing “Misguided” were not much clarified by my follow-up research. What does Wikipedia have to say? Not very much. The site mentions that the Guelphs and Ghibellines conflict and family rivalries “resulted in families building tower houses of increasing height…. The rivalry was finally restrained […]

  • the flat earth myth’s appeal


      Scholars are clear that the earth’s true shape was never lost. It is well established that educated people, from at least the 14th century on, recognized sphericity. Since the curvature of the planet is visible during an eclipse and during sea travel, this is not surprising. What is surprising, is that the myth was routinely […]

  • how basic knowledge gets lost


      Since the Trump election, we have woken up to the prevalence and danger of  fake news in America. Carefully designed to warp public opinion and spread by social media using high tech analytics, it has become a major threat to our democracy. Huge segments of the population no longer trust in expert opinion, even in logic. But this […]

  • misguided


      Once it was Baedeker or nothing. Now a slew of guidebooks compete for the privilege of answering the traveler’s every question. Usually I take along only one book, but on one trip to Northern Italy many years ago, I packed four: Fodor’s for the basics, Michelin for authoritative facts and maps, and, just in […]

  • the origin of Romeo and Juliet?


      When I wrote the essay, Misguided, I assumed the Romeo and Juliet story was fictional. But when I looked into the matter, I found a lot of confusion. Wikipedia doesn’t answer the question but its information does help explain why the guide books were confused. Of the several plays that predate Shakespeare’s (which was written […]

  • why the Pisa tower leans?


      As for the Tower of Pisa’s tilt, Wikipedia is explicit on the cause: an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The theory of the intentional tilt seems to be as crazy as you might think. Some of the guidebooks’ confusion, however, might be attributed to […]

  • the bugs and us


      My parents, like the Monarch butterflies, wintered in Central Mexico. Fleeing icy Manhattan to join their friends in Palm Beach or Palm Springs would have been too easy. Instead, after my father retired from dentistry at 80, they set up house in Ajijic, a small lake-side village outside Guadalajara with a big ex-pat community […]

  • ‘butterfly’: a linguistic anomaly


      How can we account for the world-wide variety in word ‘butterfly’? The most interesting essay on this linguistic mystery comes from William O. Beeman, of the Dept of Anthropolgy, Brown University, 2000: The Elusive Butterfly. He notes that since the 19th century, “one of the bedrock principles of linguistic analysis” has been that most words […]

  • Why the butter in ‘butterfly?


      Whether it is their metamorphosis, their vibrant colors, their gentle fluttering, their beauty, something about butterflies touches our imaginations. They transcend our negative associations about insects and seem more fairies than bugs. Perhaps this accounts for the great variety of names for butterfly in different languages. The “monarch” was named by a 19th century […]

  • faint hope for the Monarchs


      The Monarch figures for 2017 were released in February: down 1/3 from the previously year, which was only slightly better than the figures for 2014 and 2013, the lowest in at least 20 years, a decline of more than 80% in recent decades. According to a report in the New York Times by Michael Wines there […]


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